The quality of technical writing is hard to measure. While analytics for word and page count, the number of articles written, and ratings such as “Was this page helpful?” abound – there are no official quality metrics for technical writing. Much of a technical writer’s work is not writing; rather, it involves research, conversations, testing, gathering input and sources, screen captures, reviewing, etc. Our output rate varies based on the complexity and length of the topic and the time it takes to complete all these various tasks.
Despite all of this, people do indeed like to measure things and with good reason. With that in mind, what metrics matter when it comes to technical writing? There is some overlap here, but ask yourself the following questions:
Is your documentation usable?
Assessing the usability of a document considers how easy it is for users to understand the text, graphics, and other content, whether that user is a beginner or more advanced. One important concept is “findability,” – how quickly a user can locate information. Do its readers find it easy to access and find not just section headings but the particular information they need?
Is it accurate?
The accuracy of a document depends not only on the facts being presented properly, but also on the descriptions, tables, and illustrations being correct and up to date. It also requires proper spellings (e.g., Snagit vs. SnagIt), acronyms, and common usages in the context of the document.
Are you maintaining a high standard of quality?
There are two ways to look at quality when it comes to a technical document. The first way includes questions such as:
- Is it clear?
- Was it written with the intended audience in mind?
- (And most importantly!) Does it help its users do their job better?
The second way to look at quality when it comes to a technical document is the writing quality – the grammar, mechanics, style guidelines, etc. After all, even a misplaced comma can decide a court case.
Are you being concise?
Conciseness comes back to the idea of reducing word and page counts. Technical writing is not verbose and nothing extra is added. This not only adds to the clarity of a document, but can also affect the costs of distribution, storage, and printing.
Are your documents complete?
What counts as completeness in technical documents can vary. Some documents, such as quick guides or inserts, only give the highlights, and the user must learn the rest on their own. Others are for regulated industries and must include specific information related to laws and regulations. The level of completeness must always be measured against the needs of the user and the intent of each document.
The importance of these metrics is subjective, which can make them tricky to measure. But employing metrics is a great way to maintain quality and usability in your documentation set. Decide which metrics are most important to you and find the way to best measure them for your use, whether that is page visits, support calls, ratings, completeness, or other methods. The end result will be a better experience for your users, not to mention less stress on your call center.