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Tips and Tricks: 10 Heuristics for Evaluating Documentation Usability

TechWhirl WebsiteTechWhirl Website United StatesPosts: 396 admin
edited September 2013 via Wordpress in Technical Writing and Communications
imageTips and Tricks: 10 Heuristics for Evaluating Documentation Usability

Summer Rerun: We aim to produce documentation that is useful to users. That is, we want our users to find the right topics and use them to achieve their goals with the software. I use ten Documentation Usability heuristics, or rules of thumb, to design, evaluate, and course-correct technical content before the ship date. Using these heuristics can help content developers catch most structural errors, and provide insight into the actual user experience with the documentation.

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  • Larry KunzLarry Kunz Posts: 15
    via Wordpress
    Thanks, Ena. This is a good list. In fact I'm going to recommend it to the students in the Tech Comm certificate program in which I teach.

    With the exception of #10, the list is equally good for all subject-matter areas. Not just software.
  • EjazEjaz Posts: 1
    via Wordpress
    Heuristic analysis of a documentation is a post action. During heuristic analysis, we find usability issues in the documentation. Correcting those changes in the documentation become a huge task, time consuming, and cost incurring.

    So it is better to follow usability principles for the documention from the concept stage. We should treate the documentation as a product, and apply the usability principles.

    Here is what we can do:

    1. Understand the application and the business - Learn the domain - so that it is easier to document.
    2. Define the business goals for creating the documentation and ensure these are acheived once the documentation is done.
    3. Check for technological Constrains, if any - for example, platform dependency of the Help files.
    4. Check for the Marketing / Branding goals - For example - whether the template is in line with the marketing/branding policy.
    5. Create a User Profile - this includes environmental profile and persona (persona is created when the real end-user is not available around). For example, if the application caters more specifically to senior citizens (say, an insurance policy application for senior citizens), such users would require bigger fonts in the documentation; and so on. Similarly, if the application is mobile gaming, so you know it's more youth specific - in such a case, you may use a few bright fonts/ colors.
    6. TOC/ Content Organization - logical flow
    7. Usability Testing - This is most important - this helps us to know the specific difficulties the user might encounter while using the document. Ideally, list the most general tasks, and allow the user to find help for. Note the difficulties that the user encounters, and correct the documentation accordingly. Also, note the tasks that the user could easily navigate to, so that you know what works.
    8. Implement the findings of the UT.

    I am sure, you all can add to this.
  • EnaEna Posts: 3
    via Wordpress
    Ejaz, you are right on. Heuristic principles are also design principles. It is best to design with them in mind and then evaluate against them.
  • smajorssmajors United StatesPosts: 21
    I like this article. I'm wondering if you know of any useful documentation feedback evaluation type of forms or templates that incorporate some of these characteristics?
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