What do the users really want?

I have no idea what our users want.

I do know they want information, and I know they want that information to be kept up to date as our product evolves and as far as those basic needs are concerned, I’m happy that we are meeting them. Beyond that I admit I’m not really that sure.

Over the past couple of years we have plugged a lot of gaps and improved the documentation provided in key areas all whilst keeping up with new features being added to the product. We’ve moved to Author-it to give us the advantages of re-use and multi-format publishing and on the whole we’ve built a good reputation within the company.

So it’s time to take stock and look at the next area we need to improve and to do that we need to know what our users want.

On the one hand we are lucky in that we have access to a small number of them, and if we can arrange the time we can sit down with them and ask them direct questions. However there is a large portion of our audience that isn’t available to us and who we also need to converse with.

Rather than try and start up a conversation from cold, I’m thinking it would be a good idea to ask them to complete a short survey, the results of which we can discuss when appropriate.

But what to ask? In the past I’ve tried to get users to score the documentation on a number of criteria (who easy it was to find the information, if it answered their questions and so on) but that doesn’t really give much scope to start a conversation.

So I’ve been looking about for some examples and to my delight have found many. I’ll probably be picking and choosing questions from the following, but I thought I’d list them here in case anyone else finds them useful:

I’d also urge you all to take part in the last one, it’s relevant to us all.

Have you run user surveys? I’d love to hear your stories, successful or otherwise.


  1. “I do know they want information, and I know they want that information to be kept up to date as our product evolves…”

    Why do they want your product?

    and so on…

  2. They already have our product because their enterprise chose it, it’s not something they can swap out easily once it is implemented. It’s not off the shelf stuff, should’ve mentioned that.

  3. I agree that it is absolutely critical to know what users want. The only potential weakness of a survey form is that, in my experience, what people say/think they want is often different from what they really seek/want. I’m planning to do some research this autumn, based on the observation of users completing tasks, to find out the kind of questions they ask. I’ll be publishing my results in the New Year and will keep you informed of progress. Good luck with the survey and I look forward to hearing about your conclusions.


  4. Good point Matthew.

    Personally I see the survey as largely a way to capture some useful information and start a conversation to get to the bottom of, as you say, what they really want.

    Looking forward to seeing the results of your research.

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