What’s the Buzz About User Assistance?
Have you come across the term “user assistance” when working in the product documentation space? Have you thought about what it means or what it encompasses?
If you’re a technical writer who’s interested in understanding the big picture, then this blog post is for you. In my previous blog post, I spoke about information architecture and how it helps you deliver quality user assistance. But in order to deliver quality user assistance, you need to know what user assistance is all about. In this blog post, I delve into the different facets of user assistance and help you see that product documentation is just a part of user assistance. There’s so much more to it so let’s get right in.
User assistance is a term that has existed for quite some time. The reason that we prefer to use “user assistance” instead of “technical writing” or any other term is because products and software have evolved exponentially. Well-worded content that describes how software works is no longer enough. Users expect engaging and helpful information that’s woven into the technology they use.
So when we talk about user assistance, the following facets come into play:
User Experience (UX)
User assistance is a pivotal part of user experience. By working with UX designers right from the get-go, you get to shape the software and give it character. Participating in user research gives you perspectives from end users and can help you in figuring out what content would or would not work for your users. UI mock-ups having the right texts already in place helps development to start working with the right information in place.
A great user experience depends on great design. All it takes is a few seconds for your user to get a first and lasting impression of your product. Simplified and harmonized graphics, professional audiovisual content, embedded how-to videos – these are examples of user assistance deliverables that also need to be well-designed. Design is a space where consistency plays a crucial role. Keeping your graphics in line with your design brings the consistency across your product. Design is also about how things work, how intuitive the products are, and how much learning is required to use them.
Tone and Language
This facet of user assistance is a no-brainer. From user interface texts to messages on the screen to context-sensitive help, the language you use to convey the right information is very important. What you write and how you write it is fundamental to connect with your user. It isn’t about short or long texts, or the amount of information you display – it is about using the right terms, being inclusive, being consistent with the texts across your portfolio of products, giving feedback messages to the user at the right time, and wording your error messages positively. These aspects of user assistance help in ensuring a good user experience.
The best help you can provide users is by giving them information right there on their screens when they need it the most. Whether they’re stuck in a task or unsure of what’s the next step, or they need more information about screen elements, context-sensitive help can come to their rescue. You’re not only helping them save time but also ensuring that they don’t jump to another place or move away from their screen to search for relevant information.
The age-old but still very relevant facet of user assistance is writing product documentation. Structured and concise information about features and processes with examples and in-depth content when required is what your users need to work with your product. Using images, illustrations, or screenshots that are accessible and translatable help describe information faster. Product documentation works only when it is not overwhelming for your users.
The world today runs on social media. Taking advantage of social media to engage with your users in the channels that they use, is a game-changer. When your users ask questions or raise issues that can be resolved by user assistance, you can offer concrete and immediate answers and incorporate the solutions back into user assistance. Instead of asking your users to search the traditional user assistance channels for information, social media gives you the opportunity to interact with them in real time.
Did this blog post help paint the big picture about user assistance? Has it given you a perspective about why user assistance is bigger than product documentation or technical writing? Think about the facets of user assistance you have incorporated in your product and which ones you’d like to look at more closely. What are your thoughts about user assistance? Do share this blog post with a friend who might benefit from it.