Newsletter of the Society for Technical Communication, San Francisco Chapter
As a technical communications professional, you may have already heard of performance support and wondered, “How is the idea of ‘performance support’ different from the user-centered work I’m doing now?” As explained by Linda Urban in her thought-provoking presentation, the concept of performance support is less a radically different approach than an expansion of the user assistance perspective.
The main idea behind performance support is that all of our efforts to assist users need to be focused on supporting performance. Linda gave the following examples of forms that performance support might take:
The idea of considering user assistance as performance support asks that we step back and examine the big picture to see what the users’ larger goals are, and then align our content to help them use our product to achieve those goals.
Understanding the user’s perspective more fully, including what they are trying to accomplish, is a major component of the performance support approach. We can use methods like surveys, forums, user groups, and site visits, to answer the question, “What are our users trying to achieve?” We can then use that information to more fully align our content with our users’ needs.
These evaluations should also help you determine which types of support are appropriate for your users:
After you’ve gotten a deeper understanding of your users (and potential users), think about your current content and ask yourself whether it supports performance. Do a content audit to see if your current content meets performance support goals, such as:
After the audit, ask yourself how your content would have to change to better support performance.
Another component of the performance support strategy is seeing user assistance as one part of a larger, integrated focus on helping users perform. Discover who else at your company is focused on supporting performance, and find formal and informal ways to bridge the gaps between departments so that the technical writing voice is integrated into the process at the early stages. These departments might include:
Through these conversations you might discover that other departments aren’t fully aware of what you create, or you may discover a need to create different content altogether. You might also find that you need to develop different skills, or that the other departments don’t know about the skills you already have to offer, such as:
Ultimately, understanding performance support can help your career by helping to:
Linda closed by providing a list of references for those wanting to learn more about performance support.
Greg Hubbard is a technical writer in the San Francisco Bay Area.