Peer Review and User-Testing of Documentation Project

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The goal of user-testing (sometimes called usability) is to test the functionality and usefulness of documentation or an actual product. It's a step on the way to improving product design and documentation--the overall usability--of something, then to use the results of the testing to improve the product and its documentation. In this instance, your goal is to test your documentation to see if average users can make sense of it, can follow the directions or guidelines to complete a task, and can do so efficiently. In many cases, user testing is conducted F2F, live, but since that's not an option in this case, here are some steps you can take. Authors/designers can use this information to improve the documentation before it is distributed to the world.

Setting Up User-Testing

1. Prepare the documents you want your subjects to use in easily accessible digital form (e.g., PDF, HTML).

2. In a cover message (in your blog post), very briefly explain to the users what the documentation will show them, then tell them what software (or product) they need to reference to complete the testing.

Conducting the User-Testing (15-20 minutes)

3. User-Testers should attempt to follow all the steps described in the documentation to complete the process. Take notes whenever the documentation seems to break down or is hard to follow. If you don't understand something, make a note of it and attempt to proceed.

Responding to the Documentation (15-20 minutes)

4. In a comment to the author's submission (blog post), describe your process of testing the documentation in some detail, complete these steps and answer the associated questions:

  • Consider what the documentation asks you to do: What is its overall purpose or goal?
  • Respond to each step with a note about whether the directions were clear and easy to complete, or not. If not, try to explain what information was needed, or what happened when you attempted to complete the step.
  • Review the use of visuals. Were the supporting visuals easy to read and clearly labeled? Which ones, if any, need revision in terms of quality and appearance?
  • Did all of the visuals help you complete the documentation successfully? Which one worked best?
  • Check to see if the visuals were annotated (tagged, labeled). Were annotations on the visuals clearly legible? Did they provide useful information?
  • Is the writing generally clear and error-free? If there are any major mistakes in punctuation, spelling, or mechanics, point to them.
  • Is there a good balance between visual and verbal content?
  • Sum up: what's the most important thing the author can do to improve the documentation?


5. After the user-testing has been completed, the author should review the results and revise, making note of what seemed to be the most difficult steps, what might need more explanation, and which visuals ought to be improved or annotated.