Thursday, March 15, 2012

Assessing Quality Documents--Smart

Smart, Karl. 2002. Assessing Quality Documents. ACM Journal of Computer Documentation. 26(3): 130-140.

Smart critiques the book Producing Quality Technical Information (PQTI), what he calls one of the first comprehensive discussions of doc quality. He calls it "earliest and best attempt to quantify doc quality characteristics." He takes forward the discussion started by PQTI and offers suggestions to overcome its limitations.

Issues with PQTI: simplifies the quality process, fails to address fluid nature of some aspects of quality, does not account for the larger contextual framing of docs—imp of quality dimensions changes as per audience, context, and purpose of the doc. PQTI offers little grounding as to who developed the dimensions or how. The book provides little empirical or even experiential evidence that the stated dimensions are critical to users’ assessment of quality and corresponding customer satisfaction.
Definition of doc quality
  • Example of “acceptable quality”--Aamazon book order 
  • “No single definition of quality exists” 
  • List of several studies that recognize multiple dimensions of quality. Example of car. 
  • Unless you define quality, you cannot replicate, measure, and control it.
Smart suggests two areas for extending the discussion of quality that build upon the limitations of PQTI:
  • Clarifying approaches and definitions to quality
  • Differentiating among quality dimensions
Smart classifies quality dimensions in three categories:
  • Essential (or must-be) quality—basic or expected level of quality; attributes necessary to achieve minimal levels of satisfaction; basic accuracy in spelling or grammar 
  • Conventional (or one-dimensional) quality—more traditionally recognized category of quality; results in satisfaction when present and dissatisfaction when absent; completeness in a document; more thorough the manual, more the satisfaction 
  • Attractive quality—elements that go beyond customers’ expectations and desires; customers satisfied with absence, but delighted with presence; providing anything that is unexpected; visual communication in docs; more thorough index

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