Best Tips to Create Valuable Software Documentation

Posted by
Julia in Technical Writing on 12/10/20205 min read

woman on floor using laptop

One of the most common things users say about technical documentation is that it describes the information they already know. This fact reduces the value of the content to the minimum. Now, when thousands of software products and cloud services appear every day, some things and features seem to be common and widely spread. There is no need to describe them. Technical writers should invent new ways and strategies of writing to create educational, troubleshooting, and helpful content.

Have you ever thought about whether your user manuals and instructions are helpful? If you did, let’s see how you can get your writing to the next level.

Define Users’ Pains

Your main chance to create high-quality troubleshooting content is to examine the software product carefully. Play with it. Being a technical writer, you can easily see the features and functions that the majority of other products already have. You can easily omit this information from your user manual. Pay attention to the things that made you stumble. This is what you are to write about. What seems to be a problem for you as a user is going to be a pain for others. Ask your SME as many questions as you need to divide the information into valuable and trivial. Use your common sense. Users will not suffer if you are not going to describe how to press the on/off button. But if you are not going to inform them how to fix minor things, that is going to be a problem.

two people shaking hands

Inspire Users to Make Decisions and Act

Nowadays, the content telling simply how to press the buttons is outdated. What users are looking for is support in their decision-making process. They want to understand how the software works to know what buttons to use and in what order. It means that technical documentation needs a more complex approach. From the user’s point of view, there should be enough data to make informed choices but not to rely barely on intuition and experience. Short introductions at the beginning of each topic and section can be used to describe the basic concepts and principles in your docs. That will add sense and logic to the steps and actions described further. Effective documentation actually answers users’ questions. Make sure you’ve collected all the most important ones, and your documentation allows users to find answers to all of them. You can even formulate questions at the beginning of every topic.

Besides, the content is supposed to make users get things done. Allow users to test what you are writing about right away. This is a popular task-based documentation approach when users learn by fulfilling meaningful tasks. Some situations require single tasks, others - multi-task procedures. But in both cases, you provide steps and explanations. All the rest should be done by users. It is a great way to understand new information. But what you are to pay attention to here is how useful your tasks are from the user’s point of view. Again, the choice of tasks should be based on the real needs of users. You can do some task analysis. You are to test the product yourself and watch how other users interact with it: what and how they do. If you have no opportunity to research like that, you can ask your support team or sales managers to provide you with the hottest questions from users. Check out the following post to learn how to set up the process and collect feedback First Technical Writer in a Company - Setting up the Process.

Clear and Smart Structure

The way you organize content means a lot. Not only the content itself should be valuable, but also the way you represent it. Everyone wants to find the answers right here and right now. That is why online user manuals are most popular as they have online navigation elements like so: table of contents (TOC), index keywords, breadcrumbs, see also list, cross-topic links, full-text search, etc. They help users quickly navigate and identify if they are reading the right topic. The following post will give you more information about that - Navigation in User Manuals.

Modern help authoring tools make the process of content organization easier. For example, ClickHelp has several reader UI templates. They are not only different in style, but they offer different ways of content organization, they offer different navigation elements. Some templates are great to build a knowledge base or an FAQ, others are better for searching or pay closer attention to the document’s content. There are templates that have a version selector for multi-version documentation. It all depends on your goal. But surely, the ability to use a ready-made template makes the tech writer’s life easier.

Topic-based authoring is another vital principle you should take into consideration. Your technical documentation is supposed to solve users’ problems. So, you can organize the information into topics or sections. For example, installation, configuration, upgrade, user management, troubleshooting, etc. Here the logic is quite clear. But sometimes, when the question described is too complex, it is not enough simply to divide the information into sections. In this case, you need to create a multi-level logical structure of sections and topics based on the client’s practical needs, and division into sections will depend on the situation.

woman using macbook

Conclusion

So, to create helpful technical documentation, you need to do the following:

  • Define user pains to address
  • Make your content actionable and task-oriented
  • Invest enough time and effort into structure creation, this is very important

Technical writers do not simply create content, they help people use software and services explaining the information to them. Good luck with writing useful, high-quality content for your readers.

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

 

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