Tips to Write Software Manuals

Posted by
Anastasia in Technical Writing on 10/7/20205 min read

meeting with 4 people

There’s always something to improve in any given help writing process. This post will help you learn how to improve software manuals creation. Software documentation is similar to many other help writing projects, but it has its unique features. Take a look at the following tips to step up your game.

1. Pay Closer Attention to the Audience

The resulting user manual should laser-target your audience. Otherwise, it is bound to fail to deliver the expected experience. So, before even starting a software documentation project, make sure you are aware of the group of people you will be writing for. The content of your texts can differ greatly when created with specific target audiences in mind. The following post will provide you with the best tips on targeting technical documentation.

2. Collect Feedback and Take It Seriously

Feedback may come from different sources - inside and outside the company. And it is equally important. Readers can provide feedback using various means, like rating help topics, writing comments, contacting Support about certain topics, etc. All this feedback is useful and should be reviewed and acted upon. This is your primary way to see what can be done better. In ClickHelp, we understand the value of feedback and have an extensive toolset to help you call all types of feedback. ClickHelp offers these features:

  • For enabling comments, ClickHelp has Disqus integration.
  • For quick and effortless feedback from readers, you can add the 'Was it Helpful' widget to your user manual pages.
  • ClickHelp allows setting up a robust review workflow. This functionality allows processing internal feedback efficiently and driving improvements. Have a deeper read on how to set up a review workflow and rip more benefits from internal feedback.

3. Make Sure You Have Streamlined Team Collaboration

Software documentation is populated with technical details and, often, code samples. As a rule, technical writers working in this area have a basic understanding of programming or even have coding experience. But even so, they will need to have robust communication channels with SMEs, devs, QA, and Support. This ensures the quality of the end product - everything that’s written in a user manual should be correct and unambiguous.

girl in a hat coding

4. Create Process Documentation Along the Way

Process documentation is sometimes neglected by teams as a time-consuming task that often has no immediate results. However, it can save hours upon hours of time in the future and help increase velocity significantly. Process documentation should be available to all team members. When you have processes thoroughly described, you can be sure that new team members’ onboarding time will be reduced. And, also, going back to a task that you are doing once in a blue moon will be a piece of cake. Process documentation also influences the previous point we discussed here - cross-team communication. Once you document these workflows, it will be much easier to keep the collaboration going.

5. Choose a Fitting Help Authoring Tool

Each type of technical documentation has its own peculiarities. So, choosing the right tool for help authoring is the key to success. Understanding where your priorities lie is step one; step two is looking for solutions that would match the requirements. Spending time to find the perfect solution is worth it. Since this is such a crucial point in help authoring, I’ll be more than happy to provide you with some guidance, the following post describes what you should pay attention to when choosing a technical writing tool.

6. Re-Use as Much Content as Possible

This point is crucial for software documentation. The world is agile, and getting new releases every month or even faster is just how things are now in the industry. This means that product features will get minor fixes every now and then, and the documentation team needs to keep up. Re-using content means that you can produce multiple versions of the same documentation project without going through the trouble of manually fixing each tiniest change. Re-using content can be achieved with single-sourcing, read more by this link: ClickHelp - Single-Sourcing Techniques.

7. Set Up Robust Review Processes

To keep the bar raised high for the quality of your software docs, you need a good review process. Make sure that your help authoring tool allows that. Reviewing documentation is what you should put focus on and make it as smooth and efficient as possible to achieve great results. ClickHelp can address this perfectly with review features: Reviewer Dashboard, Reviewer Comments, To-Do Lists, Reviewer Roles. But here’s more: for a smoother experience, notifications for reviewers are real-time not only email-based. Also, ClickHelp can send out reports on unresolved review comments, this way, you will never lose track of anything you still need to review. And, what’s even more convenient - you can always go back to check out the history of review comments.

8. Stay Consistent to Establish Trust with Readers

One of the most important tips on the list - establishing trust through consistency. Your documentation looks consistent when:

  • It has modern design
  • The terms and abbreviations used throughout the project match
  • It is well-structured
  • There are no grammar/spelling/punctuation mistakes
  • Page layouts are the same for pages of similar types
  • You are using the same fonts, paddings, and text color everywhere
  • There’s smart navigation prompting readers where to go further

All these details will be responsible for the first impression, which is always important. When a person opens your user manual for the first time, this is where they decide to close it or stick around. And, keeping things consistent, you will keep your reader retention rates on higher levels, too.

9. Consider Adding More Visual Content

Modern technical documentation is much more than just text, it demands visual content. But, not any content - readers want to have a seamless experience where text is supported and enriched through gifs, images, charts, and videos. Make sure to allocate resources for that. Here’s a nice article explaining why visual content is so important to help readers digest the information - What Is Visual Communication.

pen notebook laptop

Conclusion

I hope you enjoyed this mashup of the best tips for software documentation. Each tip stated here deserves attention. They will help you create the perfect solution for your readers. Software documentation can be created in different tools. And yet, it is important to understand what you are doing and build up standards. If the tool is flexible and feature-packed, you can just go with the flow and not care too much about this - the tool will take care of it for you. Trialing help authoring tools to see what fits best is what will help you find the recipe for great software manuals.

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

 

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