User and task analysis – or, how do I start writing anyway

My writing teammates and I are working through our favorite ways to start a project and do user and task analysis. The exercise forced me to write down what it is I do when starting a new project.

My formal training began in graduate school but my practical training happened at only two different companies, Rockwell Software and BMC Software.

But the basic principles I follow are: do task analysis by reading everything available about the feature, reading about the typical users (personas are great for this goal), searching the internet for examples of the features in use, and then interviewing people to fill the gaps in the information available to me.

Next, I start by outlining what topics should be written and if there is a set of templates available I will always use those to the fullest. I guess that my outline-first approach is why the TOC standards are important to me. If I’m editing existing content I keep the users’ goals in mind while editing.

I have used the Hackos and Redish book User and Task Analysis for Interface Design and I like it. Also, I have A practical guide to usability testing by Dumas and Redish on my bookshelf.

Usability is so integral to task analysis, which is why much on the web is usability-based rather than writing-based I believe.

Basic task analysis:

Task analysis grid using an Excel spreadsheet: (Fixed link using

I’m using this spreadsheet only slightly modified to analyze user tasks for setting up a certification program and it has been so helpful so far.

Six Steps to Better Interviews and Simplified Task Analysis:

I’m sure that this post doesn’t capture all of the things I do when approaching a writing assignment but it helps to write it down and analyze my methods to look for improvement.


  • September 19, 2007 - 7:32 am | Permalink

    Excellent stuff as ever. The overlap between task analysis and usability is yet another layer I’m having to work into my thoughts on writing in an agile development team, task oriented documentation that keeps a minimalist approach…

    Or something like that, it sounded right in my head.

    P.S. You have two paragraphs repeated in there.

  • September 19, 2007 - 7:40 am | Permalink

    Oops. Thanks Gordon, I corrected the paragraph repeat!

    And hey, it looks right on the screen, too. You’re on to something there.

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  • Chris Nooney
    January 6, 2009 - 11:12 am | Permalink

    I am looking for a program I can purchase that has task analysis already completed for the adult MR population. They are a higher functioning group. I have the Murdoch system but it is too low functioning for them

  • March 4, 2009 - 11:53 pm | Permalink

    Hey Anne,

    I’d love to see the modified version you’ve worked up and know more about how you’ve adapted it for your own use.

    Glad you found it useful.

  • October 2, 2012 - 2:37 pm | Permalink

    Stumbled across this blog post while looking for resources on task analysis. Todd Warfel’s analysis grid intrigued me, but I wasn’t able to reach the actual via your link. I found the pdf and excel file hosted here:

    Looking forward to returning to your blog!

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