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Technical Documentation Success Measures: How  Do You Identify Quality and Effectiveness?

documentation-success-measures-NovatekFor manufacturers, quality is one of the most important criteria for technical documentation. Whether you're a supplier or a product manager, understanding how to measure the quality of technical documentation effectively is critical. So often we see productivity metrics applied, such as number of word, pages, and hours. While productivity metrics can be useful to benchmark and plan, it is important to remember technical writers and instructional designers are not production workers, they are customer service providers.
Technical documentation and user manuals are the first means of support for end users who want learn more about a product or need troubleshooting guidance. The perceived quality of the product relies heavily on the quality of the technical documentation.
The goal of technical documentation is to provide users with relevant information about a product that is easily accessible, has clear understanding, and can be accurately applied. Technical documentation is typically measured quantitatively, by productivity, output, or mechanics. However, true success of quality documentation and user manuals is measured by how the document is used and whether it achieves its purpose.
The three success measures below are meaningful and quantitative. Use these to gain more insight on the effectiveness of your technical documentation:

3 Ways to  Measure the  Success of Technical Documentation

1. Purpose
Technical documentation comes in many forms with varying purposes, including education and instruction, quick start guides, reference guides, and troubleshooting guides. Each of these pieces should be created with a specific purpose. When determining the main purpose, choose metrics that will determine how effective your documentation is in achieving that purpose. For example:

  • Purpose: to perform tasks independently without manufacturer assistance
    Measure: number of customer support calls
  • Purpose: to shorten the time for device installation
    Measure: average installation time
  • Purpose: to identify malfunctions or symptoms of the system
    Measure: number of field service deployments

For more help identifying your technical documentation success measures, download our Documentation Success Measures Guide:

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2. Predictor of Quality
Documentation quality can be defined in many ways such as accuracy, completion, error-free, user-friendly, grammatically correct, and more. Problems arise when the technical writer, product manager, and users have different expectations of quality, which may also vary under different circumstances. The best success measures are the top 1-3 things that will indicate quality for the user. Conduct usability studies or talk to users to learn what is important to them. Then create success measures around the audience's expectations.

3. Usability Failures
Customers typically use technical support for two reasons:
  • They've encountered a product failure where a feature doesn't work as designed
  • They're frustrated or confused because they cannot figure out how to use a feature
Each of these are the result of a usability failure. Usability is a key component to effective technical documentation. No matter how well a document adheres to standards or is grammatically correct, it is missing a key quality component if users cannot find and interpret the instructions. Measure usability failures and you'll improve quality in ways that makes a difference to the users. 

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Managing Technical Documentation

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