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Technical Documentation Success Measures: How Do You Identify Effectiveness?

Technical documentation and user manuals are the first means of support for end-users who want to learn more about a product or need troubleshooting guidance. Therefore, technical documentation should provide users with easy-to-understand, accessible, and relevant information about a product that can be accurately applied. Whether you’re a supplier or a product manager, understanding how to measure the quality of technical documentation effectively is critical. We often see productivity metrics applied, such as number of words, pages, and hours, but remember, technical writers and instructional designers are not customer service providers – they are not production workers.

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

Each piece of technical documentation 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:

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

2.  Predictor of Quality

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 based upon the audience’s expectations. Communicate the success measures to the technical writer and product manager so that they are aligned.

3.  Usability Failures

Customers typically contact 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. 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 have the opportunity to improve the documentation and make a difference to the users.