What is usability engineering? Usability engineering is based on cognitive research and the psychology of human behavior. Usability engineering for documentation reduces comprehension errors and therefore improves performance.
What are user documents? Policies, standards, guidelines, processes, and procedures are all behavior-enabling (user) document types. These documents are written for users, not for readers. Users have questions and want answers, so user documents are collections of answers.
Usability engineering for documentation incorporates navigation in the document that helps users navigate to the answers they seek instead of having to search for them. Cognitive linking in the text serves as an additional navigation aid and confirms to the users that they have found the answers to their questions. For example, we used cognitive linking in this blog post. When you read the same words in the first and second paragraph that are in the title, you know you are in the right place.
In documentation, usability engineering addresses the physical layout on the page, including white space, line length, and font choice and colors. It includes reading grade levels and reading ease, sentence length, percentage of passive voice, and verb tense.
We use techniques such as chunking information, creating bulleted lists, and using parallel structure to incorporate usability engineering principles into the documents we develop for our clients. We are advocates for developing procedures that help minimize risk and protect lives for the end user.
Have you thought about how you could incorporate usability into the documents you create?
We participate each year in the Offshore Technology Conference (OTC) at NRG Center in Houston. Come by and visit us at our booth to learn more and share your experiences with usable (or not-so-usable) documents, or just to say hello. We are pleased to have been a part of OTC since our founding, more than 20 years ago!