Question Your Work

37signals asks eight questions before, during, and sometimes after working on a project or task. These questions work well for writers and other freelancers. Those of us who work solo rarely have anyone to check with us to make sure we’re on the right track.
So we need to help ourselves figure out if we’re on the right track with a task, project, client. Questioning also helps us gain credibility with clients because we might recommend a faster or better way of doing something or provide insight.
37signals asks the following questions. I’ve added notes to show how it affects writers. I’ll use a Help project I’m working on for a client’s web site as the example.

  • Why are we doing this? To help users understand what the site is about and how to use it.
  • What problem are we solving? Providing answers to user questions in how to modify their accounts and use the various features. Without the Help, they might spend too much time figuring out something or abandon the web site.
  • Is this actually useful? While the web site’s design tries to make things obvious to users, it’s not always possible for them to figure out things without a little direction.
  • Are we adding value? The current Help also has special sections for advertisers, product managers, and contributors. I’m breaking out the advertisers and product managers sections and moving them elsewhere. These have little value to the consumers.
  • Will this change behavior? Not all writing will change behavior like interface design. In this case, the Help will guide the users to take the right steps to complete their tasks instead of taking the longer route.
  • Is there an easier way? Yes and no. The Help uses a wiki. Though I’m not crazy about using a wiki, it has advantages over going another route. One, it would take longer to incorporate it into design based on the current goings-on. Two, the site wants to build a strong community and enabling them to update the Help will support the community concept.
  • What’s the opportunity cost? This is why a wiki is a better way to go. the cost of integrating the Help with the design would be higher and take longer. Maybe after finishing the Help, we can integrate it into the design better.
  • Is it really worth it? If done right, yes. Some sites have terrible Helps and they make more work for the user.

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