Create a User Manual With a Documentation Tool
by Bradley Nice, Content Manager at ClickHelp — all-in-one help authoring tool
Any product demands an explanation. That’s why a user manual is a must-have for a product.
User manuals describe usage and help guide new users in their first steps, but it becomes obsolete as soon as it’s published because there’s always something more to add (a hack a user thought of or a bug found a week after release).
In the software world, you need to write solid and readable documentation for your users to rely upon. The best is to use online documentation tools to create such user documentation.
Components of Great Documentation
- One of the key elements that makes documentation good is clarity. It helps make content useful to the end user. To achieve that:
- Be concise. Use a phrase instead of a sentence where possible don’t go off on a tangent. The shorter the writing, the easier it is for readers to grasp the most important concepts.
- Have a unified style. It is inevitable with large-scale projects to involve multiple developers or other team members. So an editor is essential in such cases so that the writing style remains consistent throughout the manual. Otherwise, different terms will be used for the same concepts, and the same process will be described in different steps.
2. Another criterion of good documentation is efficiency. The documentation should always be created for the users. To achieve that, you should sense what the users are going to need and have a way to analyze which articles are being read.
3. Good documentation should stay current. The perfect user manual is updated simultaneously with the product update. Such promptness is also a plus for your support team, as they’ll be able to quickly and easily keep users happy. That’s because users are most satisfied when they can solve their own problems.
Some of these concerns, for example, about keeping your documentation updated, can be addressed by the metrics and analytics available with an online tool for smooth teamwork on technical documentation. Take ClickHelp, for example; with their analytics, you can clearly see what problems people are searching for solutions to or which articles are the most helpful. And smart search is the killer feature of every good documentation portal.
It’s so easy to start using ClickHelp to сreate your portal and get access to those search metrics and revolutionize your user documentation strategy.
After you sign up, if you already have content in different formats (i.e., DOC, DOCX, HTML, CHM, ODT, etc.), you can migrate all your articles over with an automated system. You’ll be able to preserve all the images, videos, and files in your old one.
For first-time users, everything is as intuitive as possible.
- Editor. The page editor should be familiar if you’ve ever worked with MS Word. It’s called a “what you see is what you get” editor or WYSIWYG. That means the formatting tools such as font size, bold/italic, and spacing are all usable as if they were a word processor.
- With the comments feature, your colleagues can see your draft and quickly let you know what they think. That review process is imperative for writing clear online documentation helpful for users from all backgrounds. The more eyes you have on your articles, the more useful they’ll be.
- Versioning. When you write user documentation, it needs to be updated frequently to match the development of your product. And if there are several people working on a document with no centralized place to manage different versions of the documentation, things can get complicated. Inevitably, someone will create their version with their changes. A couple of cycles of that, and it’s a nightmare trying to get it back together in one piece. It happens pretty often that two people have their own visions for one document and haven’t gotten together to collaborate. Since you can easily see which version is the “latest” and which version is published, this confusion should be greatly reduced. This can be a good auditing tool to see how much gets changed over time as your team improves the articles. Are they mostly making minor cosmetic changes, or significant overhauls happening all the time?
Whether or not you use ClickHelp for your user documentation management, you should be able to see the benefits of industry-standard features like search metrics, single sourcing, an easy-to-use editor, and so on. Using the right tool for technical writing makes the life of a technical writer easy.
Have a nice day!
Bradley Nice, Content Manager at ClickHelp.com — best online documentation tool for SaaS vendors