While it’s important for any software offering to be bolstered by great customer support, many customers prefer to figure things out for themselves. Great user documentation can help them accomplish that. It also reduces user frustration, and reduces demand on customer support. Good software documentation can reduce training costs. The most important thing is to make sure the documentation you create works for your users. Here are some tricks for making that happen.
Good User Documentation is Highly Visual
When it comes to helping users understand how to use software, text is helpful. You can use it to add narrative to what the user sees on their screen. However, most users learn best when information is presented visually. There are many ways to incorporate visuals into both printed and online manuals.
For printed manuals, it’s important to include diagrams, screenshots, charts, and other visual elements. These can be used to clarify text, and to ensure users that they are progressing as they should be. You can even leverage the latest augmented reality technology by embedding scannable images. These can be used to bring up video instructions and other helpful content on users’ devices. Ideally, these images should be as clear and colorful as possible. User documentation is not the area to be miserly when it comes to print quality.
The ways in which visuals can be used in online user documentation is pretty exciting. You can use all of the visual elements that you might with printed documentation. Then, on top of that you can add embedded videos, interactive infographics, GIFs, interactive quizzes, and more.
Test Software to Identify Potential Difficulties And Features
Ideally, good development processes and testing can be used to help eliminate complexities. Unfortunately, sometimes these complexities must remain in order for software to work properly. When this happens, it’s very important to point these out in documentation and then provide whatever content is necessary to explain them and ensure that users can navigate them.
On the other hand, software testing can also identify nifty features that may not be readily apparent. Use documentation to point out little tricks, shortcuts, and hacks that make good software even better. For best results, these pointers should stand out visually. Consider using text boxes or bulleted lists for content like this.
Collect Feedback From Users And Beta Testers
While members of the development team are most knowledgeable about their software, they shouldn’t be the only people contributing to end user manuals. Developers tend to interact with software in the way the develop it. For them, it can be difficult to imagine scenarios where users may interact with software in unexpected ways. They may also miss points where their expectations don’t match the users. Besides, when it comes time to determine whether or not the software functions in a way that helps the user, or that the documentation is clear and complete, shouldn’t that be the role of the users and beta testers themselves?
Remember That User Documentation is Marketing Content
Online user documentation is content, just like blog posts or articles. This means your documentation may be linked in content on other websites, shared on social media, and it can be used to create engagement in product and users forums on your website and elsewhere. Just like any other online content, it can be indexed by search engines.
Because of this, you should make every effort to optimize your online user documentation for SEO, readability, and engagement. You can start by using a plagiarism checker to ensure that you aren’t posting duplicate content. It’s also a good idea to use relevant keywords in your documentation. If your manuals contain any claims or statistics, link out to original source material to add credibility. Finally, make sure online documentation is easy to read. It should use bullet points and numbered lists, bold print to highlight points, headings and subheadings, and plenty of white space. It should, of course, be mobile friendly as well.
Make Accessibility a Priority
It’s so important to create documentation that meets the needs of all of your users. Depending on your audience that might mean creating audio or video documentation, printing manuals in braille, using large text, and identifying colors that improve readability. However, that is just the beginning. User documentation isn’t going to be of much use to someone who is disabled if it doesn’t reflect how they interact with your software. For example, telling someone who interacts with their computer using a voice device to ‘click submit’ isn’t very helpful.
Another important consideration is international users. If your users all speak the same language, and you have no plans of marketing or distributing in foreign locations, this may not be a factor. If you are, you’ll need to start thinking about documentation translation and localization early on. Ensuring that everyone can read your documentation is not as simple as using an online translator.
Write to The User Not The Developer
It’s going to be difficult for users to understand your software if they cannot easily understand your documentation. Make an effort to ensure that all content is highly readable. Avoid technical jargon. If you use acronyms, be sure and explain them at least once in full context. Use relatable examples to explain concepts. Finally, consider having the completed documentation double checked by someone who understands user requirements.
Great user documentation is essential. It acts as first line customer support. It helps users to quickly understand your product. Good documentation can be used as a tool for users to troubleshoot their own problems. You can even use it to create engagement and drive traffic to your website. If you apply the tips above, you’ll be able to provide users with documentation that is noticeably more useful to them.