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Getting documentation feedback via customer forums – a story of UX and UA

I spend a few minutes each day trawling our online question-and-answer forum, answering questions when I can, and keeping an eye out for posts directly related to the documentation. This paid dividends yesterday when a customer asked where he can download the offline version of our documentation. After giving him the link, I delved a little deeper into his reasons for preferring the offline to the online version. It’s an enlightening discussion.

Kevin’s primary requirement was the link to the downloadable documentation. His question is therefore titled, Offline Confluence Documentation. I gave him the link. That was easy.

But the forum post also explains why Kevin wants the offline documentation. He mentions the fact that the online documentation was unavailable when he needed it. We did indeed have several problems with the server, now fixed.

It was this bit of Kevin’s post that caught my attention:

(Also the documentation has gotten much harder to use for experienced users because we need to wade through pages of fluff before we get to content found in the old user manuals right on the top level).

He had put that bit in parentheses, almost as if it’s not so relevant. That in itself is a worry for us as technical writers. We don’t want customers feeling that there’s no way of getting the documentation improved or getting their voices heard.

Also very interesting is the fact that Kevin describes himself as an experienced user. He knows the product (Confluence wiki) and he therefore also has an expectation of how the Confluence-based documentation will work. He wanted a quick fix for a problem (how to recover a deleted page) and was frustrated enough to resort to PDF to find it!

So I asked Kevin if he’d be kind enough to give more details about why the documentation has become harder to use.

His response was awesome. He described his troubled workflow in detail, giving us technical writers an excellent insight into how an experienced user is navigating through our documentation. If you’re interested in the details, take a look at this comment and the subsequent discussions.

It’s great when people take the time to respond like this. It shows a high level of commitment to the product and the various types of help that we offer, including the documentation and the forum. It also shows how willing people are to help each other. Thanks so much, Kevin!

Rewarding humour in online help forums

One of the contributors in our online question-and-answer forum, Daniel Stevens, has a quirky and amusing style of writing. His entries are always relevant, but he nevertheless manages to inject some humour that makes for easy reading and invites quick responses from other forum users.

My first aim in writing this post was to share the fun of reading Daniel’s forum entries. Then I thought about the bigger picture. The idea of humour in an online help forum is an interesting phenomenon, especially for technical communicators.

First, the fun. Here’s a screenshot of one of Daniel’s posts, called Is there a flood control function on the “Like” button?

And here’s another, Why can’t I upload icons for new priority, issue and workflow step entries?

Have you encountered similar witty posts in user forums? What do you think about the idea of rewarding such entries? This particular forum, Atlassian Answers, is clever about awarding badges and points for popular questions and good answers. Each contributor to the forum builds up a “karma score”, which encourages people to keep contributing. So, should there be a specific score category for funny entries?

As one of my colleagues pointed out, the social review site Yelp invites readers to click a button saying whether a review is “useful”, “funny”, or “cool”. Should a user forum do the same?

If the forum starts rewarding humour entries, might that lead to irrelevant and silly content? My opinion is that there may be some of that, but on the whole people are in the forum to get a question answered, or to help other people with their questions. A touch of humour just makes the posts flow better, and most people will recognise that fact. People who don’t have a bent for humour won’t bother to spend the time trying to be funny. Or is that a naive assumption? 🙂

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