In a podcast-interview I did with Tom Johnson, I mentioned this framework as a way to evaluate technical documentation requirements. The components of audience, market, and product aren’t anything new, nor is considering them in documentation planning. What’s been missing, however, is an effective way to understand them in a way that informs documentation.
This framework is my latest iteration on how to apply the 12 cognitive dimensions of API usability to technical documentation. These dimensions, by themselves, are very difficult to apply for various reasons, but I think the notion of identifying the components and elements of an interaction can be useful—but the method must be usable. So, I’ve taken a step back from the level of detail the 12 dimensions to these three.
In this framework, it’s essential to consider, not just the documentation, but the entire customer experience in which the documentation will reside to correctly assess the requirements. I’m still thinking out loud because I think that there’s some value in lingering on the question(s) before diving into the solution process.
So to review the framework’s components…
These are the people who will (or who you expect to) read the content. Content includes anything you write for someone else to read. The boundaries of this depend on a lot of local variables, but should include all the content of the entire customer experience. Your audience might be segmented into groups such as business/purchase decision makers, direct users, indirect users, support, development. You should know how they all interact with the entire customer experience.
For this analysis, the market is the space in which your company or product is acquired. It could be an open-source product that offers a service or benefit similar to others. It could be downloaded from an app store. It could be something sold door-to-door. How your product appears in the space it shares with other similar products influences your content priorities. The more you know about the relationship between your product, its competitors, and its customers, the better you can assess those influences.
Finally, there’s the product itself. How does it work? What does it do? How is it designed? What are its key features and benefits to the customer? What are its challenges? Knowing how the product’s features interact with the customer (i.e. audience) has a significant influence on the documentation.
And so, that’s where it begins. I’m still formulating the questions, and I think the questions are the key to bringing this down from a theoretical notion to something that can be applied by practitioners.
It all starts with knowledge (as opposed to assumption and conjecture) and that usually comes from research. With regard to research, I found these articles to be interesting:
- The Secret Cost of Research was written about user and customer research, but applies to content
- Seeing the Elephant: Defragmenting User Research provides a high-level view of research in practice
Next, I’ll look at the questions that are specific to each component.