As a form of user assistance, help documentation is a crucial part of any business’s knowledge base. In order to create a richer learning environment, companies from various niches resort to software technology to help them build and develop their customer service and improve the end user experience.
By Robin Singh
Although online help provides assistance for mastering various products and understanding different topics, the vast majority of its documentation is designed to make complex operating systems and software applications less incomprehensible to users. Being a help tool intended for end users, but created by system builders and developers, this kind of documentation is a bit tricky to write.
In order to concisely and plainly explain how your system works and offer valuable troubleshooting solutions for the issues that may occur, you’ll need to put yourself in the users’ shoes. Here are a couple of simple guidelines to follow.
1. Understand that Nothing Is Too Obvious
Even if the topic you’re going to write about is not so difficult to grasp, the biggest mistake you could make from the very start is to assume that the end users are on the exact same level of comprehension as you are. It’s true that those without basic computer skills are now a rare breed, but that still doesn’t mean that everyone is equally adept at understanding the delicate architecture behind software systems and their individual components.
For that reason alone, start thinking about your subject in simple terms, just like most users would. By simplifying your approach a bit, the entire process of creating help documentation will come easier for you, and, consequently, result in a more understandable learning material for the users.
2. Provide Visualisation
Especially when complex subject matters are in case, explaining your text with infographics, diagrams and tables will help users understand the issue quite quickly. Visual learning is one of the best techniques for making complicated and abstract concepts and information easily processable.
Capable of telling hundreds of words all at once, images are succinct enough to describe challenging procedures in only a few steps. As such, pictures can significantly contribute to the explicitness of your text, while simultaneously minimizing its length and reducing its abstractness.
3. Explain With Examples
Just like schematic visualisations allow the user to perceive the subject from different angles and receive it in a more palpable form, examples are another effective tool for making a learning process empirical instead of settling for vague and abstruse information. It’s always helpful to accompany each fact and guideline with a practical example that will make the information given more concrete and understandable to the user. When combined with pictures, an example is one of the most powerful learning tools.
4. Abandon Lingo and Adopt Simplicity
That being said, an approach and writing tone of help documentation is just as equally important for frustrated users looking for fast and actionable solutions. If written in your own professional dialect and with terms only niche experts can understand, your document will be quite unusable for end users. Instead of using lingo and long statements, adjust your writing style for the average user and be as straightforward and descriptive as you can.
5. Introduce Workarounds for Potential Issues
However flawless a system, some sorts of malfunctions are always bound to occur. In order to create online documentation that’s both useful and exhaustive, you’ll need to break your system down to even the smallest of parts. Even by doing so, you might not be able to detect potential issues straight away, which is why you’ll need to have them on your mind throughout the writing process and try anticipating in which exact points they may emerge.
Workaround solutions are always a valuable addition to any help documentation software, and you should definitely consider including them in your own.
6. Reread it from the User’s Perspective
Just like thorough analyses of the topic you’re writing about is the indispensable pre-step in creating help documentation, testing the finished result is of the utmost importance for making it ready for publishing. When writing as an expert, it’s highly possible that you’ll overlook some tiny steps in the process, but what seems negligible or self-explanatory to you, inexperienced users might find extremely frustrating.
Once your text is entirely penned down, forget everything you know about the topic and start following your instructions the same way the average user would. Only by doing so, the steps and information you have unintentionally left out will emerge clear, and you can include them to make your help documentation detailed and complete.
7. Employ Help Documentation Software Systems
Besides being a laborious process, creating help documentation can be quite costly as well. Luckily, the market is now solidly improved by various types of help documentation software systems designed to make it a bit easier and less expensive. Before commencing your work, be sure to learn more about these systems and their individual tools and features, since some of them can significantly reduce both time and money you would have to invest into building your help documentation knowledge base.
8. Try Not To Delegate
Quite a few system builders would be delighted by the prospect of documenting their work and adjusting the result so that it can be understandable to users. Even so, there are a couple of beneficial aspect of creating help documentations that you should consider. First of all, nobody knows your work better than yourself, and seeing it misinterpreted by someone less informed can be quite infuriating.
Furthermore, help documentation created by a mastermind behind the job will make a full circle out of the efforts you’ve put into the project – together, your project and your help documentation will make a striking presentation for your company’s customers, as well as help a customer support team to provide a more comprehensive learning experience.
9. Use Internal/System Documentation as a Pretext
Even if allowed to pass down the opportunity, you’ll probably still be obliged to deliver a report of your work in form of the Internal/System Documentation. Such report can be a valuable pretext for creating end user help documentation. With their core topic being the same, you can only alter your approach and modify it in a way suitable for instructing.
10. Test Your Work on a Volunteer
Another option available to your company is to hire a documentation expert. In this case, you would be compelled to collaborate with someone who’s not necessarily a specialist in the niche, and explain your building process to that person. Much simpler solution is to put your work into words yourself, at least in the form of notes, and then go through them with a colleague or a friend with no knowledge of the subject.
By allowing them to test your guidelines, you’ll have a clear overview of how to proceed with adjusting the material for an average user. This will certainly help you to understand how straightforward you’ll have to be in your approach.
Ultimately, the system you’ve been putting all of your expertise in building and developing is going to be used by people who don’t quite understand the complexity of your brainchild. Only by explaining in simple words how people can leverage it for their own needs, will you be able to make your project fully operable.
Author Bio:- Robin is a Technical Support Executive with a combined experience of 6 years. He is well acquainted with various Knowledge base tools and is currently associated with ProProfs. In his free time, Robin enjoys reading and traveling.