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Writing for the Reading Averse
2014, Q3 (May 31, 2014)
By Gwen Dipert

How do you write for an audience who hate to read? My company's clientele are all literate, sure, but when tasked with using our platform to accomplish what they need, their thoughts consist almost entirely of the bottom line. They have "no time" to look up an answer to their question, and would prefer to call the support staff for help. I and members of my team spend a lot of time on the phone explaining procedures that are much more easily demonstrated with a simple instruction list and screenshots.

My Role and Focus

I'm a Client Representative at TicketWeb, a Ticketmaster-owned ticketing agency designed to support the ticketing operations of small venue owners and event promoters. Clients use our self-service platform to sell tickets for and market their events. We had recently released a new version of the platform and had begun the slow process of transitioning our clients to it. The new version was in desperate need of a help guide. For months there was no help documentation, only the Client Representative, to which clients could turn for quick answers to their basic questions. I volunteered for the task - my first significant writing project for the company.

I kept one thing in the back of my mind while writing: $$$. How can clients use the tool I'm demonstrating to their benefit? What will be the value added? Our clients will, simply, not read something if they can't see a direct correlation between the task and increasing ticket sales. This even applies to e-mails! Often, a client will approach us with a "novel" suggestion only to find out that we offer the tool already. This may have been a result of poor communication with his or her Client Rep, but the documentation until now has been seriously lacking, and may also be to blame.


I structured the guide almost exclusively based on data culled from the old platform's user guide. TicketWeb contracts with Hosted Support, a company that provides a web-based suite of customer support software tools, to host both internal and customer-facing content in a collapsible format. Its user guide functionality accommodates main topics, whose order can be customized, and sub-topics, whose order must be alphabetical. User guide content is displayed under sub-topics.

TicketWeb User Guide Screenshot
I made sure that only the most relevant and popular topics have their own titles. Each section contains an introductory sentence that summarizes the purpose of the steps that follow and gives a use case. Sentences in general are brief and imperative, bullet points abound, and screenshots with graphics accompany each set of instructions. The vocabulary contains some entertainment industry jargon with which I assume clients will be familiar. The product itself makes the language tough to avoid.

Early Feedback

Directing clients to the guide itself is no problem. A little life saver icon appears at the top right of their accounts. Encouraging them to actually use the guide is another story. The only effective way, after answering their question, is to keep them on the phone and walk them through the process of clicking on the life saver icon, selecting a link, and scanning the instructions list. With even the slightest of nudges, I've seen the most stubborn clients begin to take advantage of the guide.

Advantages for TicketWeb

I must admit TicketWeb's bottom line was central to my mind as well while writing this guide. For one, it's a tool our clients can take advantage of to sell more tickets, which is good for TicketWeb. But it's also beneficial to me and my team members, who should be devoting more of our time to the more complicated, nuanced, and difficult troubleshooting work that our over-scheduled days can never seem to accommodate fully. More efficient task completion means better service, happy clients and fans, and smoother operations.

Left Unanswered...

The platform is still being developed, so the guide is a work in progress. I'd love to hear what other technical writers are doing to engage reluctant audiences like this one. How best do you express the advantages a guide has over calling support staff? How do you grab their attention and stress the importance of staying focused on following all the steps of a process? The impact a great user guide written for TicketWeb's audience is really widespread, and touches all aspects of the purchasing process. I'd like to make sure our clients have access to all the tools they need while we, their resources, are focusing our energies as efficiently as possible.

Gwen can be reached at gfdipert at gmail dot com. End of article.

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