Persona Development for the Chemistry Laboratory and Lessons in User-Centered Design from Dungeons & Dragons

Persona Development for the Chemistry Laboratory and Lessons in User-Centered Design from Dungeons & Dragons

Objectives of My Technical Writing Persona

I developed my technical writing persona based on experiences within my professional community, an analytical chemistry laboratory. My name is Ashley and like my professional community, I work as an analytical chemist. I am responsible for writing instructional standard operating procedures that are utilized by other analytical chemists with the purpose of performing various types of chemical analyses. My technical writing persona is primarily concerned with presenting content in a competent manner that is well informed by way of research on a topic. My persona should also be known for presenting information clearly and concisely in an accessible manner. A third and equally important objective of my persona is a focus on quality such that chemists can stand behind the integrity of their analytical data. I have created a website for my technical writing persona at awilliamson.org.

Click image to go to awilliamson.org

Research Using Credible Sources

Much of my technical writing involves performing research on established test methods so the first strategy that I use to build a credible persona is to obtain information that will be incorporated into my technical document from trusted sources. Acceptable sources are standard test methods from organizations such as the Environmental Protection Agency or the American Society for Testing and Materials. Utilizing reputable sources such as these will support my persona’s goal of competency of the subject matter being written about.

Surveys, Feedback, and Scenarios for User-Centered Design

Demographics is a strategic analysis tool that can be used to gain perspectives about common traits within a group of technical writing users. The educational demographics of my professional community is mostly uniform in that each person has an undergraduate degree in chemistry. This allows me to make assumptions about basic laboratory tasks that the users of my technical writing already know how to perform. Relevant work experience is a demographic difference that I must consider when preparing technical writings. For example, one chemist is experienced in wastewater treatment, and another is experienced with bloodwork analysis, so one may have more knowledge about a particular piece of instrumentation than the other. In such a scenario, I need to write to meet the informational needs of both parties. Meeting the informational needs of all critical users will ensure that the documents are accessible and not so complex that they are not viable.

The desired outcome of the user is a major goal of any technical writing. In the chemistry lab, the goal of a chemist is to successfully utilize an instrument to perform analysis of a sample. Some goals are obvious, but I would not assume to possess the ability to anticipate more nuanced desires and needs of my community members so a method that I would employ is the use of surveys to gain feedback. Posing thoughtful questions can be used to fine tune the experience of a document’s user by gathering information about traits the user expects in a technical piece of writing. I recently asked several chemists to review a draft of a standard operating procedure and to provide feedback. They stated that they found the included tables and equations to be helpful visuals but also suggested some formatting changes to improve readability. I now know that I should prioritize the inclusion of visual aids and use a more efficient visual arrangement. The survey gave me insight into what my audience finds valuable in helping them to understand the presented information more easily. Collecting feedback also helps to focus the writing on the needs of the audience. In his blog post, David Garcia, a freelance technical writer, offers Strategies for Improving Technical Documentation Through User Feedback. He lists surveys and interviews as effective feedback tools and also names three types of individuals from which to obtain feedback: a subject matter expert, a fellow technical writer, and someone without previous context.

The next strategy I would employ to build my persona’s credibility is scenarios. Visualizing step-by-step how the procedures that I write will be used helps me to determine how I should structure the flow of information within the document. Once I am satisfied that I have written the document to the best of my abilities, I can pass the document off for field testing. Community members will follow the procedures in the laboratory as they are written and again provide feedback on their experience. This is also a good time to again evaluate the accessibility of the document to verify that I have not included any confusing instructions. Scenarios and field-testing methods provide further opportunities to refine the document and assess its capacity to help chemists produce data with absolute integrity. Matt Ness, a technical writer at Splunk Technology, elaborates the utility of scenarios in technical writing by comparing scenarios to a game of Dungeons and Dragons. By drawing parallels, Matt creates a novel avenue from which technical writers can draw inspiration for keeping user needs at the forefront of documentation.

Let's Tell a Story: Scenario Based Documentation (playback will begin at 15:57)

Future-Focused Writing

The strategies of developing an effective writing persona within my community are not to be utilized in a one-time process. As personnel change or develop skills, goals of the laboratory shift, or new scenarios are encountered, these strategies may need to be deployed again and the technical writings updated. In this maintenance phase, I believe it is important to have a continuous feedback system in place so that users can always provide ideas for improving the document. As the owner of technical documentation that I write, I am ultimately responsible for its content, at present and in the future. I cannot rely solely on my community to provide information to keep our team relevant. Like digital technologies, developments in the scientific realm can occur at a moderate pace. It is important for me as a writer to keep my own knowledge current so that my technical writings stay relevant to the community. A final measure of the credibility of my persona will be dependent on my ongoing effort to keep myself informed of industry advances within the realm of analytical chemistry.

 

Ashley Williamson

Ashley Williamson

I am working toward a Master of Business in Professional Leadership at MGA and have a Bachelor of Chemistry from Georgia Southern Univ. I work as a chemist with a concentration in electroplating.