New standard for testers and reviewers of user documentation

Paul Boughton
ISO has published a new standard to help testers and reviewers of software user documentation in their work.
Effective use of software can be greatly boosted by a well designed and user-friendly documentation. ISO/IEC 26513:2009, 'Systems and software engineering – Requirements for testers and reviewers of user documentation,' will help to ensure that software users are provided with consistent, complete, accurate and usable documentation. This International Standard defines the process through which user documentation products are tested.
The International Standard provides the minimum requirements for the testing and reviewing of user documentation, including both printed and on-screen documents used in the work environment by the users of systems software. It applies to printed user manuals, online help, tutorials, and user reference documentation. The standard deals with the evaluation of documentation only and not with the evaluation of the software it supports.
ISO/IEC 26513:2009 was developed to assist those who test and review software user documentation as part of the software life cycle process. It will be useful for testers, reviewers and other related roles, including a variety of specialists such as information designers or architects involved in planning the structure and format of products in a documentation set, as well as usability specialists and business analysts who identify the tasks the intended users will perform with the software.
Documentation evaluations are performed throughout the document's development, production and maintenance and through a range of methods such as:
* Documentation review
* System testing
* Usability testing
* Accessibility testing
* Localisation and customisation testing
The standard also contains two annexes with informative checklists useful at each phase of the verifying process of the documentation quality that allow testers and reviewers to highlight any defects or non-conformances.
Richard Hodgkinson FISTC, convenor of ISO/IEC joint technical committee JTC 1/SC 7/WG 2 on software and systems documentation, comments: "ISO/IEC 26513:2009 will ensure through the evaluation process that the documentation fulfils the users' needs. Documentation review and usability testing is essential to improve documentation quality and to reduce training cost and support. The use of this International Standard will also play an important role in the first impressions and satisfaction that the users have of the products they use."
ISO/IEC 26513:2009 is the second of a new series of standards for software user documentation specially developed for those involved in the software documentation design and development process:
* ISO/IEC 26514: 2008, 'Systems and software engineering – Requirements for designers and developers of user documentation,' has already been published.
* ISO/IEC 26511, 'Systems and software engineering – Requirements for managers of user documentation,' is under development.
* ISO/IEC 26512, 'Systems and software engineering – Requirements for acquirers and suppliers of user documentation,' is also under development.
* ISO/IEC 26515, 'Systems and software engineering – Developing user documentation in an Agile environment' has recently passed its initial approval ballot and will complement the series.
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