End-User Collaboration and Feedback

For the products that I document, the help documentation is installed and/or available as WebHelp for every product and every customer. They don’t have to go online to find it; they just click in the product to open the Help. This makes the help topic the perfect place for a feedback form—on the same page where they were looking for or found the help they needed to use the product to its full potential. Why do I want a feedback form on every help topic? Enabling collaboration in Help allows users to contribute and share information. Their feedback would allow me to refine and improve the Help and product usability, and assist with sales/marketing efforts. Users’ shared comments improve the Help experience, and gives the user a sense of “ownership” of the Help content (which means they’ll use it more).

Getting Management Buy-In for Feedback

Managers are often loathe to spend money for a technical writer, let alone for user feedback. Explain to your manager the many benefits to user feedback. Not only can it improve the help itself, but also can serve as a marketing tool. (i.e., who is using our product help, and therefore, who is using our product?) Comments can be used in marketing materials (minus any identifiers like full name or company name).

This is from http://www.uxmatters.com/mt/archives/2010/04/user-generated-content-embracing-social-networking-to-deliver-more-engaging-technical-documentation.php:

Business Benefits and Risks of UGC for Technical Documentation

User-generated content can help businesses reap additional benefits. Reader commentary can be instrumental in identifying the concerns of users. Based on user feedback, we can modify content to suit the needs of our audience. Creating more effective technical documentation also reduces the cost of helpdesk support. At the same time, UGC can serve as a strong marketing tool. A product’s audience can best reflect its proper market position. Good testimonials that a product’s customers or users have provided can work wonders in increasing its user base—delivering on the promise of greater adoption.

Feedback Management

Certain websites exist for the sole purpose of feedback form management and tracking, with varying levels of complexity.

Adobe Forms Central allows you to design your own feedback form, and the responses are stored on their website. However, it’s not free if you want more than one form or more than 50 responses. Their “Plus” plan is $143.88 per year, which allows unlimited forms, with a max of 5,000 responses per form. You can view the form that I made (from their templates) here. Adobe provides a link to the survey that you can email, embed in a webpage, or even send via Twitter. In the administration pages, one page shows the comment and the respondent’s email address in a spreadsheet format. You can also export the responses to Excel. A Summary Report has charts and graphs of data gathered.

Survey Monkey is widely used and has free and paid levels starting at $204 per year. As with Adobe Forms, it involves linking to an external website.

I think Survey Monkey and Adobe Forms are more than what I need regarding Help usage, plus the jumping out to an external website with no tracking of which topic they were on when they decided to submit a comment is a problem.

MadCap Feedback integrates with MadCap Flare (competitor to RoboHelp) and works with their Feedback Server or MadCap Hosted Service. In addition to comments, it allows you see which search keywords were entered by users. From their user guide:

“Let’s say that many users are entering the search term “sofa.” Unfortunately, you have not used that word in your project, so users are unable to find the topics that they need. However, you have used a similar word, “couch.” Therefore, in the Synonyms Editor, you enter “couch” as a synonym for “sofa.” The next time a reader enters “sofa” as a search keyword, topics containing the word “couch” will be returned in the results.”

Of course, I can do something like this in RoboHelp, too—IF I know which words they are using and not finding what they need. MadCap Feedback can work with any WebHelp (not just Flare projects). This app would provide a more detailed view of how our customers use our software and the Help files. The advantage to MadCap Feedback is that it was developed for exactly this purpose. They have group and one-on-one training ($$) for installation and setup. But Feedback is not cheap: $2,499. (Their Hosted Service is a monthly charge.) I imagine this would be something to try after trying a free or low-cost method to determine if I really want to do this.

Self-created and self-managed form

The alternative to online forms/survey managers is to create my own form, manage the inflow of emails, generate reports, and create/manage the database myself. If we have a tool that we’re currently using that could be expanded for this purpose (and includes reporting) that would be even better.

The design of the form would depend on the information that we want to gather, such as:

  • Was the information easy to find?
  • Was the information clearly represented?
  • Did this information solve your problem?
  • What can we do to improve this information?
  • What were you searching for?
  • What search words did you use?
  • Overall, how would you rate this Help documentation?

Of course, that’s too many questions. At the very minimum, I want to a display a comment box and ask them to leave a comment. When they click Submit, it would send an email to a dedicated mailbox, not to my mailbox. I would add something like this, at the bottom of every help topic:

Feedback Form

I already have the text above at the bottom of every help topic, plus “Leave compliments or complaints regarding the help in the User Forum.” But I’ve never found anything in the User Forum specifically for the Help. I think allowing users to comment directly in the topic, versus linking to yet another web page, would encourage more users to provide feedback.

Do you ask for user feedback? If so, how do you do it? If not, why not?

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2 thoughts on “End-User Collaboration and Feedback

  1. I agree. Users are often not in an objective state of mind when they’re using help and so may not give useful feedback. I often scour our user forums, though, to see what issues they’re having. Then I try to adjust the help to help the next person find an answer to the problem. I wouldn’t want to use unedited user-generated content in my help files, but I would use it to fine-tune my content. MadCap Flare lets users comment at the bottom of every topic (if you have the add-on for that). I think that could be misleading or distracting.

  2. Karla

    This is an interesting topic of discussion – whether to seek user feedback on our documentation. originally, I had not been in its favor because to me, ensuring quality is our responsibility and to anticipate that users may suggest us scope of improvement may give us a reason to be relaxed during review or process-adherence. I talked about in detail at my post http://enjoytechnicalwriting.com/2012/06/20/user-comments-and-feedback-on-technical-documentation/.

    However, over last few months, I have seen the trend towards User-Generated content to be part of technical documentation. I would rather have users participate to discuss and answer their questions or some best practices and experiences of using specific features of a product, and not really to ask if the ‘information was useful’. I sense that more than 50% of users do not answer this question objectively – sometimes they are not sure whether they found it useful, or they may merely say YES or NO even if partly satisfied. I am sure what we can derive from these numbers. And even otherwise, if we as technical writers cannot ensure whether information in a particular procedure is useful, we cannot rely on users’ experience with the product and procedures.

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