Technical Communication Poll: Content Consumption Preferences

Back in the old days, when I was a student in mass communications, I recall a professor discussing  the fact that everyone has an opinion about advertising.  We’re all exposed  to thousands of commercial messages in any given day, across every possible medium, and with all that exposure we’re bound to have an opinion or two about those messages–at least the ones that cut through the clutter.  Given the prevalence of  assumptions about how customers don’t read the documentation, it’s pretty likely that everyone has an opinion about technical communication content as well. If you haven’t already checked it out, head over to Sharon Burton’s website to find out more about her recent surveys on customers and documentation, and listen to her webinar on the eye-opening results.

It may be that opinions on the helpfulness of technical communication content have at least something to do with the ways in which we consume it.  And these days, technical communicators are being tasked with producing so much more than perfect-bound user manuals (indeed the number of folks who produce commercially printed documentation seems to be shrinking daily). How we consume content could be impacted by short-attention-span-itis and the need for instant gratification, in addition to the traditional ideas of visual, auditory, and kinesthetic learning styles.

This week’s poll asks about your preferences for consuming technical communication content. If we had a really fancy poll mechanism, we’d break it out demographically, but our non-scientific  polls are designed to take a snapshot and spark discussion.  We’re curious when you consume technical communication content, how you prefer to do it.  Are you a traditionalist, who enjoys holding a book and turning pages? Would you prefer an all-video, all the time approach to get information relevant to you? Or are you someone who prefers eBooks or easily found web pages to skim and and highlight? We’d also love to hear your thoughts on how your own preferences might impact the types of technical communication you produce and the channel(s) by which you deliver it.  It’s an endlessly fascinating conversation, and we invite you to be a part of it. Feel free to post a comment here, or start a new thread on the TechWhirl email discussion list.

How do you prefer to consume technical communication content?

View Results

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Mark Baker

10 years ago

My something else is: interaction with an expert, in person, over the network, or recorded. I want the colloquium.

Kathleen MacDowell

10 years ago

This survey is interesting in terms of how our approach to information is changing, but I don’t think it reflects the ultimate utility of an information format. For example, I selected printed books, but there are times when I’d find online help, a short video, or a pdf/e-book most helpful. I should qualify my comments as applying to something new, something I’m learning.

The main utility of any information is in how well it’s presented. While I enjoy using an e-reader for leisure reading, so far I haven’t found any guide that was well enough organized/written to be helpful on an e-reader. The same issue is true for all presentation formats, which is one reason I find a printed book most useful–given time, I can learn how things “should’ be connected, even if it isn’t well organized or written.

One of the things I like best about online help or any type of searchable content is the ease of findings topics and references, so they definitely have a place in my world. (Tables of contents and indexes work just as well in a paper book, if they’re done correctly. ) Short videos can be a wonderful way to illustrate something complex. So ideally, I’d have at least 3 sources available when I’m learning something new. And as Mark mentioned, talking to an expert can be extremely helpful too.

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