User documentation is an important part of the overall product delivered to your customer. It helps end-users be more successful with your product or service.
In the past, user documentation was given via a help file that was local to the user’s machine or a physical manual or booklet. This meant it couldn’t be updated or changed easily and that software providers got very little data about how their content was used.
Nowadays, user documentation is almost always offered online, which has helped technical writers be more imaginative in how they assist users. They can collect data, try different learning techniques, iterate more quickly, and produce a richer content experience for users.
That’s where this blog post comes in! I
n this post, we’ll explore what you can do to improve your user documentation and review some examples of excellent user support content.
Start with a plan
Like most things in life, it’s best to start with a plan, and creating user documentation is no different. That’s why you’ll want to make sure you ask yourself (and possibly those requesting the documentation) lots of questions before starting.
1. Consider your audience
Who are you making this for? The end-user? A system administrator? Is this content only going to be reviewed internally or will it be seen externally as well? Who you’re creating the user documentation for helps frame the information you share.
2. Evaluate and keep your end goal in mind
The main purpose of any documentation is to teach your audience something. After determining who will consume your documentation, you’ll want to decide what you want them to get out of it.
What is the action you’d like your audience to be able to perform after reviewing the documentation? By keeping the answer to that question in mind, you’ll be able to provide the right amount of content for the task in question.
3. Make sure your user documentation is easily findable
Hidden user documentation is almost as useless as bad user documentation. It’s important to make sure the user documentation you create is easily findable to those that need it.
That not only means making sure it’s visible, it also means that users can navigate within your technical documentation and quickly find answers to their questions.
The quicker your audience can find those answers the happier they’ll be. It’ll also save you time from having to answer important but common questions about your product.
Concise, strong writing
Strong writing is essential to great user documentation. But writing affects more than how the user documentation reads or sounds. It can influence how easy it is to navigate your user documentation, too.
4. Write descriptive titles and subtitles
Make sure your titles are useful and, most importantly, specific. Writing titles or subtitles that are formulated to answer a question are often the best. Framing titles in this way makes it easier for your end users to find what they’re looking for and also helps you write articles that address users needs directly.
Unbounce does a fantastic job of writing effective titles and subtitles throughout their user documentation. This makes their documentation easy to navigate. Each specific article has its own table of contents which makes finding the answer to a particular question a breeze.
5. Make it easy to browse
Providing information in a manner that’s easy to scan helps users save time. As humans, we appreciate any time-savings we can get. Plus, users may not know exactly what they’re looking for. That’s when easy-to-browse content is most beneficial.
IBM does a good job of making their help content easy to browse by organizing a clean table of contents and providing related topics.
6. Make it easily searchable
Google has trained us that finding the answers to our questions is as simple as typing them into a search box. Your help documentation should reflect this expectation. If your help content isn’t searchable, then it probably isn’t very helpful.
Hubspot’s in-depth knowledge base makes self-service easy for their clients.
Use Visuals to Improve Understanding
Good user documentation is highly visual. While strong writing and text is essential to awesome user documentation, people learn best when visuals are also present.
7. Use annotated screenshots
Annotated screenshots are powerful visuals to use in user documentation. They remove the guesswork for users by showing exactly what steps they need to take.
With programs like TechSmith Snagit, it’s easy to add text callouts, arrows, and more to screenshots. For example, you’ll notice I’m using annotated screenshots I made with Snagit throughout this blog post.
If you’re feeling inspired, you can even try out Snagit’s Step Tool which allows you to identify parts of an image by placing ordered callouts as you point and click. Each time you click to add another step, the number automatically advances.
A company that’s doing a wonderful job of utilizing the power of screenshots in their documentation is Asana. Throughout their awesome user documentation, they use annotated screenshots to clearly guide customers.
8. Leverage video to show not tell
Video works well to demonstrate a process. A lot of awesome user documentation combines the power of video with text instructions. For example, it’s a good practice to use a short video to quickly walkthrough a process.
Then, alongside the video, you can provide a text step-by-step guide for users to reference as they try the process out themselves. That way they don’t have to watch the video over and over if they just need a quick reminder.
In our TechSmith product tutorials, we use a main video to give a complete overview of the feature or topic we’re discussing. Then, beneath the video, we provide snippets accompanied by screenshots or animated GIFs to reiterate the main points of the video.
9. Show examples and end results
Users need to know what successfully completing each task looks like. Providing users with a screenshot of an example end result is a good way to demonstrate the ideal outcome to your audience.
Great user documentation makes it easy for end users to find answers to their questions, which creates happy, satisfied users.
A key part of creating awesome user documentation is providing clear, easily scannable information. Visuals like screenshots, videos, or animated GIFs are all great ways to communicate more efficiently and effectively with your users.