Step 3: Organize Information from the user’s perspective
Have you ever noticed how easy it is for two people to look at the same situation, and yet see things very differently? Of course, if you’re married you know exactly what we’re talking about. If you’re unattached, all you need to do is turn on the news—this is a presidential election year, and the candidates’ differences of perspective are feature stories every day.
When people don’t share the same perspective, communication is difficult. Differences of perspective cause problems for users of documentation, too. In the third of our 6 Steps to Better Compliance Documentation, we look at how keeping the user’s perspective in mind can help you create more effective, more compliant documents.
Organize information by taking the user’s perspective
If you’ve been following the steps in our previous blog entries, at this point you’ve broken down your information into its components. Now it’s time for you to look at this information from the perspective of a user of your document. Think about what users need to do, and what they need to know in order to do it successfully. “Walking a mile in the user’s shoes” will help you organize and sequence the information in ways that support performance and minimize errors and risk.
Don’t bury important details
Look for the details that may be important to your users. For example, the information you’ve gathered tells you that when performing a metal grinding procedure, employees are required wear safety goggles. When you write the procedure, you need to bring this requirement to the user’s attention very early in the document, and feature it prominently. Never bury important details like this in dense text or leave them for the notes at the end of a procedure. Organize and sequence your information in ways that support employee safety and compliance.
Anticipate users’ questions
As you organize the information, keep asking yourself what questions may arise. Can you expect everyone in your audience to understand everything you’re writing, or might less experienced users have questions about some of the information? If they can’t find answers in the document, they’ll probably turn to their supervisors or coworkers. What if the answers they get are the wrong ones? By anticipating their questions, you ensure that you give users all the information they need.
Questions for you to keep in mind
To make sure you always put yourself in the user’s shoes, keep these questions in mind.
- Are you presenting information in the right order for your audience to access and use it?
- Have you explained any new concepts so less experienced users can understand them, while making it easy for experts to skip this information?
- Are you placing important cautions and warnings where they belong, before a procedure, so the user notices them right away, instead of burying them in dense text or putting them in notes at the end?
Taking the user’s perspective is an important step towards improving the quality and effectiveness of your compliance documents.
In our next blog entry, we’ll go on to Step 4, and look at ways to ensure the consistency of your documents.