Technology & software products continue to improve relentlessly. Inevitably demand for well-written technical documentation will continue to increase. Technical documentation bridges the gap between developers of a product and the end users. This writing involves taking complex information and breaking it down into a clear and easy to digest document.
These technical pieces can come in various forms. Help manuals, assembly guides, product descriptions, blog posts, internal documents and more. Whether you are a software developer, product manager or a business person. If you seek to develop software products, here are practices that will improve your documentation. And deliver useful material to your users.
1. Keep Your Audience in Mind
Before you start hitting the keyboard, analyze the users you are writing for. Learn their background and what they are looking for. To understand what type of documentation will suit them, conduct extensive research. Know their age, level of education, career, culture, knowledge of the subject, preferences, and any other essential details. Researching your audience will help you:
- Develop a profile of the intended audience
- Find common ground with the reader
- Craft personalized content that they will actually use
2. Set a Goal
Your document needs to have a goal, and you should always refer to it when writing. The best way to do this is to narrow your scope and only write to a specific audience. Although a few additional details may be helpful, being too broad may make the reader lose focus. In the end, such a broad document will be of little use to the reader. Instead, create content that is meant exclusively for a particular persona.
3. Be Familiar With What You are Writing About
It may seem obvious, but it’s worth stating that you need to be knowledgeable about what you are writing about. A technical writer who has little or no experience in a given subject may find it difficult to explain complex topics. Especially explain them in easy to understand words. Such a writer may also unknowingly misinform the reader or convey a concept wrong. A person who is well-versed in the topic will know what’s the best approach, what content to include and the best writing style.
4. Develop a Human Connection
Just because you are writing about a technical subject doesn’t mean you need to be boring. Instead of dictating instructions and using technical jargon and undefined acronyms, try and use a language that the user can understand. Create a rapport with the reader by striking a conversational tone. Make sure it is interesting yet specific, informative, and professional.
5. Plan the Structure
For easy readability, structure your work properly. Since some readers will only refer to the document when they encounter an issue, make it easier for them to find the help they need. Do this by establishing a clear structure. Preferably, have an order of presentation where you have topics, subtopics, steps, and then the explanation.
A sequenced approach allows the reader to easily follow your work and transition from one point to the next. Some individuals may read the whole document; therefore, it must have a natural flow. Also, use a layout that helps people navigate through the piece and scan it easily. You can utilize:
- Numbered lists
- Bolded keywords
- Paragraph spacing
- Spaces between pages
6. Be Timeless
Create a document that will be used today and years from now. Although you may need to update it regularly, it’s best to avoid using time-sensitive phrases. Or using information that will become unhelpful or inaccurate after a certain period. In the future, a reader might feel the document is outdated and fail to use it.
7. Use Visual Aids
Pictures are worth a thousand words. To break up a monotonous text, don’t be afraid to use graphics. Large chunks of text deter readers, but you can grab their attention, evoke interest, clarify details, and drive home the point using images, videos, diagrams, illustrations, and graphs. Just ensure the visuals you use are helpful and placed strategically.
8. Revise and Test the Draft
When you complete the draft, go through it. A document riddled with errors will lose its credibility, and no one will use it. Go through it to look for mistakes and to correct any punctuation and grammar errors. Format the document to make it look more organized. Also, look for any content you have left out, locate points that aren’t clear, rectify inconsistent phrases, and provide further elaboration where it’s needed.
9. Ask for Feedback
To improve your document, the best approach is to ask someone else to read it. Another person will be in a better position to identify the errors you missed, and their feedback will help you gauge whether the document will achieve its intended purpose. Work on the criticism to make your content better.
To create a valuable piece, you need the right techniques and strategy. First, research your target audience and then embark on developing a document that is well-thought-out, structured, interesting, and informative. Then make this documentation accessible to your users where they are.
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