I have been scanning through some of the presentations at the STC Summit that I had to miss due to the packed schedule, and Scott DeLoach’s presentation, Best Practices for Developing User Assistance caught my eye. He has slide after slide of Facts listed based on research in user assistance. Facts from those important and difficult-to-uncover research studies in the ways people read help and read on the web. The citations are excellent!
He starts by separating out the stages of use, saying 80% of your readers are in fact the casual user (novices and advanced beginners), and the other 20% are power users (competent performers, proficient performers, and expert performers). These definitions come from Dreyfus and Dreyfus’s Mind over Machine: the power of human intuition and expertise in the era of the computer.
The great thing about Scott’s presentation is that he offers citations for each of the claims he makes, even when (and especially when) there is a slight difference in interpretation that may affect your design or writing decisions.
Of special interest to me is his claim that the Power Users are the ones who want online communities. For some companies, I wonder if that means that building an online community is considered to be “icing on the cake” and a project that can’t be funded because it targets a smaller group of users. In companies with mature documentation sets, though, it seems like building an online community with the available tools would be a natural next step for technical writers.
What do you think? Do novices and beginners want a community online? Or are communities reserved for the power user?