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Writing software documentation

Useful tips for you who write and create software documentation

To write documentation, for end users of software, isn´t that arduous, and the result doesn´t need to be a dull, document ignored by users.

AFRYs specialists in technical documentation and appurtenant digital software, has collected four of the most important things to have in mind, when writing software documentation:

  1. Find out Why the documentation is needed
  2. Make sure you Understand the end Users
  3. Choose correct Format to publish the documentation
  4. Operate in a System with intended use

To produce information, that is interesting and easy to assimilate, you should adapt the content to intended user. The message will more likely reach the receiver if it speaks to their feelings. By shifting focus from sender to receiver you have made half the work. You´ll probably need put in some time and effort to learn about your audience, and it will pay off in more than one way. Business benefits are instant from enhanced understanding of clients providing important information for product development and marketing. As writer and creator of the content, you´ll probably learn something new and interesting, perhaps about your self, along the way.

In conclusion: Retain the greater part of your focus on the end user, and still facilitate your own work, preferably with a user-friendly system designed for the purpose!

Use the following four steps and to write appreciated and interesting software documentation!

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1. Find out Why the documentation is needed

The most important reason is obviously assisting the user and explaining features of the program, never the less there are often additional reasons, equally significant.

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Other important areas of use for software documentation are:

  • Compliance. For most products there are legal demands and regulated requirements for documentation, for instance machinery directive 
  • Facilitate marketing of the software- a good software documentation ease the work for marketing personnel to understand the selling product. In addition, they can have usage of the already well written text.
  • Raise the image of the company- a smart and good looking manual is equally important for the brand as the packaging. We are all familiar to that if we have tried to assemble a “make it yourself” furniture.
  • Lower the costs for customer support- a good software documentation results in a overview of functions, is easy to read and use, and facilitates the user making right from start.

 

2. Understand the end users

There are several good ways to find out the end users need of the documentation. Among the most important is to remember that the end users seldomly are interested of the details of the software functions. Hence, they are interested of what the software can do for them.

Simply identify the tasks necessary to preform the end users wishes and in which order they are needed to be preformed in order to finish the job.

    this is the How to checklist:

    • Think about who the different end users can be and what they do.
    • Is it someone with technical background, using similar software each day, or is it an infrequent user who seldomly works with a computer.
    • Another way is to interview potential users in order to find out there knowledge level.
    • To be able to interview potential end users is an important skill for a technical writer.
    • Review existing documentation, especially the early versions of the software.
    • Look at the functional specifications. Hence, you’ll know what information the users needs in order to use the software.

     

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    3. Choose correct and relevant Format to publish the documentation

    Many software documentations are structured according to one of the following formats: user manual and reference guide.

    In some cases, the best structure is a combination of both formats.

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    Reference guide

    The reference guide explains each function in a program and is commonly embedded in the interface in close proximity to the feature. For instance an information icon by the field, bottom, tab or dialox box. The information adapts to the user view. Supporting files are generally documented in this format.

    Manual

    The user manual describes how to use the software for a specific task. Some of the supporting files can also contain chapter describing this. PDF-file or a printed guide is one of the most common user manual formats.

    4. Us a system developed for the intended use

    In other words invest in a system that is built with the purpose of producing technical documentation when you are about to produce technical documentation!

    A question many developers ask is: shall 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 manage masses of text, not producing technical documentation. Even though the functions for formatting headings and chapters are well developed, the functions for layout, distribution and placing of pictures and text are completely missing. If you want to print the manual, you must migrate the product to another program, built for high quality content export, otherwise the resolution will be insufficient for printing. The lack of vital functions for content management will, probably result in disposable documents, difficult to maintain and update, as well. Word is a great tool for writing reports, letters, and other text content for everyday work at the office.

    To create sustainable technical document the content must be easy to assimilate by the user, as well as, simple to manage, maintain and develop.

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    A good investment

    To provide a high-quality manual could be the most significant investment for a great user experience. Developing a system with that in mind, results in a program that is easy to adapt to the client needs, has a user-friendly interface, and produces excellent publications.

    Our aim is to live as we learn by offering a program with features that exceeds clients’ expectations. Thus, the requirement specification of our own digital product covers: facilitate structured content creation, as well as efficient maintenance, and enable multilingual publications, in all relevant formats.

    AFRY Zert CLM is a powerful program intended for technical documentation and after-market material, regardless of business!