For manufacturers, technical documentation can play a vital role in the company’s success. But not all technical documentation is created equal. What are the best ways to measure the success of your documentation?
Whether you’re a supplier to a manufacturer or a product manager, it’s critical to use technical documentation quality metrics. The challenge is that there are a number of criteria that could potentially be used. In fact, we often see companies using such productivity metrics as number of words, pages, or hours spent on the documentation. While such productivity metrics can be useful for benchmarking and planning purposes, they are not the most relevant gauge of quality.
One key reason to look beyond mere productivity metrics is that technical writers and instructional designers are not production workers; rather, they are closer in their function to customer service providers. Often, technical documentation and user manuals represent the first means of support for customers and end users who are seeking information about a product’s use, or need help with troubleshooting. The customer’s perception of a company’s quality relies heavily on the accuracy of the technical documentation that comes with its products.
The chief goal of technical documentation is to give users relevant product information that is accessible, clear, and accurate. As a result, the best technical documentation quality metrics are those that tell you whether the documents are used and achieve their purpose.
3 Ways to Use Technical Documentation Quality Metrics
Technical documentation quality metrics can come in many forms depending on the purpose of the document, which can range from general education and instruction about a product or process, to quick-start guides, reference guides, and troubleshooting guides. After determining the main purpose of a given piece of technical documentation, choose metrics that will help you determine how effective it 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 needed for device installation
Measure: average installation time
Purpose: to identify malfunctions or symptoms within the system
Measure: number of field service deployments
Documentation quality can be measured in many ways, including accuracy, completeness, user-friendliness, grammar, and more. Problems may arise, however, when the technical writer, product manager, and users have different expectations of quality, or about the way it should be measured under different circumstances. The best measures of success are the top 1-3 aspects that will indicate quality for the user. Conduct usability studies or talk with users to learn which aspects of quality are important to them. Then create success measures around those aspects.
Customers typically use technical support for two reasons:
A product or a feature doesn’t work as designed
They cannot determine how to use one or more features of a product
Both of these reasons result from failures in usability — a key component of effective technical documentation. If users cannot find and interpret the instructions in a given piece of technical documentation, they will find it lacking in quality, no matter how well it adheres to grammatical or other standards.
Start Evaluating Your Documentation Today
The three success measures described here are meaningful and quantitative ways to gain insight about the effectiveness of your technical documentation. Measure your documentation by these standards, and you’ll know exactly where to focus your efforts in order to make your documentation more effective in the eyes of your users.