One-on-one paraphrase testing sessions with users work best for short documents, short web pages, and when testing the questions on a survey.
Paraphrase testing will tell you what a reader thinks a document means and will help you know if the reader is interpreting your message as you intended. (See VBA testing success)
Try to conduct 6 to 9 interviews on each document.
Ask the participant to read to a specific stopping point, known as a cue. Each time the participant reaches a cue, ask the participant to tell you in his or her own words what that section means. Take notes, writing down the participant's explanation in the participant's words. Do not correct the participant. When you review your notes later, wherever participants misunderstood the message, the document has a problem that you should fix.
Ask additional, open-ended questions.
- What would you do if you got this document?
- What do you think the writer was trying to do with this document?
- Thinking of other people you know who might get this document:
- What about the document might work well for them?
- What about the document might cause them problems?
This last question is important because sometimes people are more comfortable telling you what they think others might find confusing, rather than admitting that they don’t understand something themselves.
Don’t ask yes/no questions.
You won’t get much usable information from that type of question.
With only 6 to 9 participants, paraphrase testing will not take a lot of time, and the time invested is worth it. Taking the time to test your document and change it based on what you learn may save you hundreds of hours later answering questions from your users or producing a second document clarifying the first one.
For longer documents where finding information is also important do usability testing. Usability testing is the best technique for booklets, regulations, and web sites. With usability testing, you test the document as a whole, not just individual paragraphs.