QR Codes for Technical Communication

Posted by
Elmira in Technical Communication on 3/31/20217 min read

woman laptop mobile coffee hands

A QR code or a Quick Response code is a type of matrix barcode first designed in 1994 in Japan to track vehicles in the automotive industry during the manufacturing process, not as a helpful marketing tool we see today. A barcode is a machine-readable optical label with information about the item to which it is attached. It's basically a quick, scannable barcode-like image that takes you to a specific digital destination.

Nowadays, most people have smartphones so that they can read the QR code. QR code scanner may be inbuilt into your camera. The way to find this out would be to scan a QR code using the camera on your smartphone. Couldn’t do it? No worries, download an app that lets you scan the QR code. There are free apps available for this purpose. Just type in the text ‘QR code scanner’ in your play store search bar and choose any of the free apps listed.

QR Code Layout

All QR codes have a square shape and include three square outlines in the bottom-left, top-left, and top-right corners. These parts of the QR code must always remain unedited. These are essentially position markers, and their job is to tell the scanner where the edges of the QR code are.

There are different versions and sizes of QR codes. The best part is that you can create a QR code yourself. There are many websites available that let you generate a QR code for free. Creating QR codes is pretty straightforward if you only want to create a basic design, but if you're looking to create a fully customized QR code, things can often get complicated. It's usually a good idea to leave this to an experienced graphic designer with knowledge of QR codes if possible.

Woman looking qrcode on smartphone

What Does QR Code Hide?

There is a wide range of data that can be stored in a QR code. Examples are:

  • URL - when the QR code is scanned, the URL is clickable and opens directly in your browser. Add the code to make it easy for users to follow links without making them type, which can cause a mistake in the URL.
  • Email - you can add a subject, sender, and message. It opens up as an email message ready to be sent.
  • 3D graphics - some books contain QR codes with an app. After you download it, the 3D pictures appear and augment the page’s content; the app even allows you to listen to this book instead of reading it if you chose that option.
  • Phone - your contact number can be stored. This will open up directly in your phone dialer after you have scanned the QR code.
  • SMS - a recipient number and a standard message. A new SMS will be displayed with the same information ready to be sent.
  • Ticket - QR scanners are designed to capture 2D images printed on paper or displayed on a screen. This makes it possible to use a QR code on your smartphone as a boarding pass at the airport or as a ticket for an event.
  • Location - here, you are asked to store the latitude and longitude of a particular location. Once you generate a QR code by providing the latitude and longitude, the QR code will open up in Google Maps upon scanning. The location will open up on the map.
  • Facebook - you need to add the link to your Facebook profile page. After scanning this QR code, it will open up your Facebook profile page directly in the browser. A QR code containing your profile page link could be shared for quick access.
  • YouTube - you can add a link to any YouTube video, and upon scanning this QR code, it will open up directly in your YouTube app.
  • Teaching materials - QR codes are a very innovative and fun way for students to learn many skills.
  • Documentation - you can store text which can be helpful for quick access. QR codes can contain a link to online technical documentation from printed documentation or machine labels.

Ultimately the objective of QR codes is to empower consumers to engage with the market. Those little mottled black and white graphics that let people link to different locations are great on printed materials. Add QR codes to marketing materials, business cards, device labels, packaging and instructions for medicine, the front/back cover of manuals, and any other place where you want to. The QR code is stored as an image so that you can reuse it all over the place.

There are plenty of online QR code generators, just Google (or Bing) the phrase 'QR code generator', and you'll likely be confronted with millions of results. Simply pick your favorite.

qr-codes

Advantages of Using QR Code

A recent study showed that almost 86% of adults in America use social media platforms in their everyday lives. Visual QR codes have made communication a lot easier, and it is the fastest yet effective way of communicating.

Major social media platforms like Snapchat, Facebook, Twitter, etc., use built-in QR codes that let users add friends through scanning their unique QR codes. This factor has led to the massive adoption of QR Codes. Hence, from product packaging to the walls of buildings, you can find various types of QR Codes almost everywhere. QR codes help you:

  1. Create 21st Century Resumes. People can use QR to create resumes that link to other content, such as their professional website or portfolio. This can help them engage in technical writing, and their work will be innovative.
  2. Show Exemplars. You can create a QR for examples of quality work, whether it's PowerPoint or SlideShare for a presentation, or people speaking a foreign language.
  3. Save a few trees! Instead of making more printouts than everyone needs, give people a QR that takes them to the instructions, announcement, or book.
  4. QR codes have significant benefits over traditional UPCs (Universal Product Codes) commonly used in retail packaging. First, since QR codes are two-dimensional, they can contain significantly more data than a one-dimensional UPC. While a UPC may include up to 25 different characters, a 33x33 (version 4) QR code can contain 640 bits or 114 alphanumeric characters. A 177x177 (version 40) QR code can store up to 23,648 bits or 4,296 characters.
  5. Another advantage of QR codes is that they can be scanned from a screen. Standard UPC scanners use a laser to scan barcodes, which means they typically cannot scan a UPC from a screen (like a smartphone).

QR Codes are a common sight now. Thanks to the increase in smartphone penetration and access to high-speed mobile internet increased. In addition to this, internet users have grown by 7.3% from Jan 2020 to Jan 2021. Here, 96.6 % of device ownership belongs to smartphone users.

mobile book coffee working

QR Code Principles

There’s a magical world inside that little square. It can add value to your technical documentation. The trick is to use it right, and it will serve you well. So here are some helpful principles:

  • Use QR codes only when they’re appropriate. Don’t provide users with the information they can get faster or more conveniently another way. QR codes can be magical, so let the phone user experience some magic. Give them the video, give them the sound, give them wonderful money-saving opportunities, but make sure it’s fast, functional, enjoyable, and only available through QR codes. In short, give them the best user experience possible.
  • Track your scans. Use digital analytics to track how, when, where they’re scanned, and how well your own specific goals are realized. You’ll also gain information that helps you improve your use of the codes.
  • Keep your URL short. The less information the QR code contains, the less dense it is and the more easily readable without error. Use a URL shortening service. Plus, the URL can point permanently to a location where you can—quickly, easily, and whenever you want—redirect the user to another location.
  • Test your QR codes thoroughly, ensuring that they work with all popular barcode scanning applications on all popular mobile devices.

Conclusion

When it comes to using modern technology and utilities, the USA has always been on top. According to the justifications described above, QR codes are getting an enormous push by the retail industry, social media platforms, education, initiations, and brand awareness. It has been used in different countries such as South Korea, Thailand, Singapore, Ghana, Brazil, Russia, and most QR codes were utilized to combat the spread of the COVID-19 by making contactless registration, payments, and tracking using QR codes. Moreover, this smart-tech tool has also been used to provide and deliver accurate information to the end-user.

Good luck with your technical writing!
ClickHelp Team
Author, host and deliver documentation across platforms and devices

 

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