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Julia Ward, Shenouda Associates Inc.

Julia Ward, Shenouda Associates Inc.

In the U.S. and Canada, Labor Day is a national holiday that’s celebrated on the first Monday in September. Though it was originally a way for laborers, workers, and unions to show their solidarity, it now typically signals the end of summer, the start of a new school year, and a day off to shop and take advantage of Labor Day sales. For me, this Labor Day is the perfect time to reflect on the work that Shenouda Associates Inc. has provided for the past 30 years, crafting technical, marketing, and business publications for our clients. Long-time Shenouda employee, Julia Ward, shares the wonders she worked in two recent projects.

Finding the right balance of detail

Challenge: A team at our client’s site that had been developing a complex medical device now needed to create an operator’s manual, which would be simple enough for first-time users and complete enough for those who were much more advanced. With input from all the team members, written in different styles, the source file included 200 dense, single-spaced pages. The team looked for guidance about how to make all this good information less intimidating and more approachable for our client’s customers.

Solution: The file grew even larger when Shenouda converted it to a user-friendly template with more headings and whitespace; then it started to shrink as we refined the text. Where possible, we simplified paragraphs into step-by-step procedures, tables, or graphics that could easily be skimmed. A Shenouda writer traveled cross-country to the client site to validate the steps in detail and to capture software screens and photos, both of which were later edited using Adobe Photoshop software. The more we learned, the more we were able to advocate for novice users and ask questions about gaps in the content, which resulted in Shenouda writing dozens of new pages.

Result: Although it ended up having about the same page count as the first draft, the final manual was more usable. Advanced users could skip the basics, and novices now had all the steps required to handle various situations that might arise in their work. Sometimes, as with this manual, a project requires both addition and subtraction to equal the right balance of detail.

Starting at the beginning

Challenge: While on the phone with less-than-happy customers whose products required repair, help desk agents quickly had to find the correct process to follow. Where did the customer live? Was the product new? What was its model? The help desk agents asked many questions from memory and then looked for the most appropriate Word file on their hard drive. Many steps in these long procedures overlapped. When managers changed the steps in one file, they couldn’t always remember to review and update all the related steps elsewhere.

Solution: Shenouda started where the help desk agents would: at the beginning. While converting the files to HTML and posting them on an Intranet site, we created a new Web page article (procedure) that would be the starting point for every call. From there, steps branched off to other linked articles, depending on the customer’s answers to questions.

Result: By editing to minimize inconsistency and repetition, we were able to make suggestions that streamlined the actual process steps, not just the way they were documented. Agents ended up with half as many processes, which were interlinked and organized in a more logical way. Managers had less work to do when maintaining content. Best of all, customers could have their concerns addressed more quickly, with consistency and confidence, resulting in a positive customer experience—good for the customer and great for our client.

We can help

Do you have a need for technical, marketing, or business publications that support your products, processes, and services? Tell us about it. We’re here to help!