4 tips for writing and creating software documentation
How to write appreciated software documentation
To write documentation for end users of software isn’t that difficult, and the result doesn’t need to be a dull document ignored by users.
AFRYs specialists in technical documentation, has collected four of the most important things to have in mind, when writing software documentation:
- Find out Why the documentation is needed
- Understand the end users
- Choose the right format to publish the documentation
- Use a system developed for producing technical information
Use the following four steps to write appreciated and interesting software documentation!
1. Find out Why the documentation is needed
The most important reason is to assist the user and explaining the features of the program. But there are also other important reasons. For most products there are legal demands and regulated requirements for documentation, for instance the machinery directive.
Following are some examples of why software documentation is important:
- Facilitate marketing of the software
a good software documentation makes it easier to understand what product they are selling. The already well written text can also be used when talking about the product.
- Increase the company’s image
a smart and good looking manual is just as important for the brand as the packaging. If you have tried to assemble a “do it yourself” furniture, you’re probably familiar with the importance of a appealing manual.
- Lower the costs for customer support
a good software documentation provides a good overview of functions. It is both easy to read and easy to use which helps the user to understand the product right from the start.
2. Understand the end users
There are several good ways to find out what the end users need of the documentation. One of the most important things to remember is that the end users are rarely interested in exactly how the software works. They are interested in what the software can do for them.
Simply identify what kind of tasks the end users need to perform and in what order they need to be performed in to finish their job.
Do it like this:
- Think about who the different end users might be and what they do.
Is it someone with technical background using a similar software each day? Or is it an infrequent user who rarely works with a computer?
- Another way is to interview potential users to find out what their level of knowledge is.
To interview potential end users is an important skill for a technical writer.
- Review existing documentation, especially earlier versions of the software.
- Take a look at the functional specifications to find out what information the users need in order to use the software.
3. Choose correct and relevant Format to publish the documentation
Many software documentations are structured according to one of the following formats: user manual or reference guide.
In some cases, the best structure is a combination of both formats.
The reference guide explains each function in a software and is commonly embedded in the interface close to the feature. For instance, an information icon by the field, button, tab or dialogue box. The information adapts to the user view. Supporting files are generally documented in this format.
The user manual describes how to use the software for a specific task, even if some supporting files may contain chapters describing this as well. The user guide is usually in the format of a PDF file or a printed guide.
4. Us a system developed for the intended use
A question many developers ask is: should I write the product documentation in Word?
Since Word is a common program, easy to access and widely used. Many users have obtained deep knowledge about it. Hence, it is easy to believe that Microsoft Word is an adequate tool for writing the desired documentation. However, a word processing software is developed with the purpose of managing quantities of text, not producing technical documentation.
Word is a great tool for writing reports, letters, and other texts for everyday work at the office. The lack of vital functions for content management will probably result in disposable documents, difficult to maintain and update, as well.
Even though the functions for formatting heading levels and different sections are well developed, the functions for layout, distribution and placing of pictures and text are completely missing. If you want to print the user guide, you must remake the product in a totally different program since the resolution will not be good enough for a printed user guide.
To create sustainable technical document the content must be easy to assimilate by the user and also simple to manage, maintain and develop.
To write a high-quality guide could be the most significant investment your company could make to create a great user experience. This is why you should use a system developed for technical documentation that will provide you with a easy-to-use tool for creating, collecting, maintaining and publishing multilingual technical documentation and after-market material.
AFRY Zert CLM is a powerful, user-friendly and customizable program intended for your needs.