For the People

Climate Adaptation User Guides and Its Applications for Technical Communication

As the impact of climate change progresses, countries and governments are taking steps to prepare for the impending impacts on infrastructure and buildings that can affect where and how communities live, work, and play. “User Guides for the Climate Adaptation of Buildings and Infrastructure in Norway – Characteristics and Impact”, published in Climate Services, analyzed how user guides designed to help prepare city leaders, workers, and municipalities for climate change could be improved and better adapted to fit user needs and expectations. 

Researchers from Norway and Arizona found several ways that existing user guides and web portals could be improved to better target specific user groups, provide better and more practical information, and reduce confusion. These findings can also influence how we communicate with our own users, even when the topic at hand is not as pressing as adapting to climate change. In particular, including users within the creation process, making sure to have a specific target audience, and ensuring that users have the information they need can help with creating and improving user guides. 

According to researchers from the study, user guides suffered when they did not consider the specific content and scope needed by audiences, as well as which type of user would be needing the information the most. User guides that included too much information also presented challenges, as users became overwhelmed and unsure of the information included within the guide.

While user guides are thought of as documents that are meant to guide users, they should also be involved in their creation. Involving users can make sure we are creating guides that cater to their specific needs, questions, and concerns, as well as provide them with information that will actually be helpful in accomplishing their goals. 

In addition, keeping track of the number of user guides available and how much information is included in them is another way to make sure that our user guides are serving their purpose. Excessive information can confuse users and make them feel unmotivated to complete a task or use a product. We can work on these issues by organizing older user guides and archiving them in a location where it is clear they are for older versions of a program or product. In addition, we should make sure that user guides are not overloaded with information and that any confusing, academic, or technical terms are replaced with more approachable and common words that users can better understand. 

The realities of climate change may seem too significant to relate them to user guides for products or services. However, seeing how technical communication can still be involved in the mitigation of climate change’s impacts shows how important it is for users to trust the information we provide to them within our documentation. Applying technical communication best practices can help people become more familiar with understanding information they need for issues large or small. Having these standards established can also help in creating user guides that can prepare people for disasters, emergencies, and other major events.

Resources

User guides for the climate adaptation of buildings and infrastructure in Norway – Characteristics and impact, by Åshild Lappegard Hauge, Anders-Johan Almås, Cecilie Flyen, Per Espen Stoknes, Jardar Lohne


Viewpoint Written by Talia Chavez, Texas State University

Edited by Eliana De La Garza, Texas State University


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