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Technical Writing and Quantifying Results: The Impossible Dream?

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Whether in medical writing or general technical writing, there is a clear understanding that a document needs to be helpful and it needs to provide a certain amount of information to the user. But is there a way, after the writing is done, to determine the effectiveness of the document?

Let’s take the example of a user manual that might be used in a hospital for a certain medical device. When a person uses the content of the manual, they can expect to have a positive result, assuming the content of the manual is accurate and well designed.

In this example, is it fair to say that hospitals that use this manual and have positive results with the documented device are able to quantify the results of the technical writing? That’s where things become unclear. Though the document’s information is being used, there’s still a case for human error and device error – beyond misunderstanding its content – that can cause the outcome to be less than desirable, even though the actual document is correct.

Perhaps this is not the best example of a technical document whose results can be quantified, but it begs the question: is there a way in which a company can determine the effectiveness of a technical document?

  • Results
  • Number of users
  • Number of problems/negative outcomes

In the case of results, the more positive the results, the more effective a document might seem. The more users a document has may indicate that it’s become known that the document has helped others in the past and, as a result, the document has become a trusted resource. Likewise, if there are fewer negative outcomes for the documentation, there might be a stronger case for its effectiveness.

But what do you think? We’d love to know. Please leave a comment with your thoughts.

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