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: http://www.usabilitynet.org/tools/taskanalysis.htm
Task analysis grid using an Excel spreadsheet: (Fixed link using archive.org).
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.