Over ten years ago, I had the chance to work on a project where I did a lot of rooting about in support logs and other contacts from customers, to try and understand what customers needed to know about their software. From this, I identified a list of general questions that came up again and again. The organisation I was working with aspired to enable self-service support for their customers, and this list identified the minimum set of questions that their information portal needed to answer effectively to enable them to achieve this.

In the time since then, I’ve had the opportunity to work with around fifty other software organisations, interviewing users, digging around in support logs, reading emails and feedback from customers, and looking at data about what search terms people use in support portals.

The original list is still valid, but it’s grown a little and the emphasis has shifted from installation questions to access and login questions, reflecting the shift from on-premises to cloud software.

Here’s the up to date list, in no particular order:

  • I’ve forgotten my user name/password. Where can I find it?
  • Can I log in on my laptop and phone at the same time?
  • I have 1 license; does this allow me to install it on both my PC and my laptop?
  • Do you do any discount licenses (students, educational establishments…)?
  • How do I download or access the product I’ve bought?
  • How do I renew my support/my license?
  • What servers/PCs have I activated product x on?
  • Do you do site licenses?
  • Do you do floating licenses?
  • Please can I have a free license (user group, reviewer…)
  • How do I get back into support and upgrades (after a lapse)?
  • Do I need to pay to reactivate my software?
  • Will I need a new serial key (license number) when I move to a new machine?
  • Does product x work in environment y (e.g. specific browser or Windows version)?
  • Where do I download product x, version y from?
  • How much for product x (with/without support)?
  • Does product x do functionality y?
  • Why can’t I do x? (answer= because it’s a “pro” version feature, and you only have a “standard” license)
  • When is version y of product x being released?
  • Does my package/bundle/suite include product x/y/z?
  • What does package/bundle/suite include?
  • How do I move product x to a new machine?
  • Will I need to re-start my machine after install?
  • Will installing or activating the upgrade interrupt my current settings?
  • I’ve just started using product x. What do I need to do to get my existing data/files/documents to show up in it?

There are also get a few very generic types of query which are more product-specific. The list above looks incomplete if I don’t mention them, so here they are:

  • I’ve got an error message … what do I do about it / what does it mean?
  • Ask a “how do I” question about product functionality (it’s often really a “which screen is this feature on?” question)
  • Feature x used to be on this screen, but now I can’t find it. Where’s it gone? (usually, the answer is that an upgrade has introduced UI changes)
  • API questions. If there’s an API, there’s a support team answering lots of questions about how to use it. Starting with: “Where are the API docs?”

Originally published July 2010

About the author

why writing well mattersRachel is our Lead Consultant, advising customers on documentation strategy, and helping our growing team of technical writers to develop their skills and hone their insights. She is a Member of the Institute of Scientific and Technical Communicators and also contributes to the ISTC’s award-winning journal.

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