A user-friendly documentation is a winning documentation for any technical writer. But creating one can be tricky, especially if you’re writing for a diverse audience that cuts across locations and languages. Here are great technical writing principles that can guide you whenever you’re looking to write user-friendly help materials.
An effective software documentation helps the end users working with the software understand its features, functions, and how to perform specific tasks. For technical writers, the question is, how exactly can you achieve all these while writing for end users with very little or no technical knowledge? Let’s find out!
Would you love your website to look great with a stunning and richer user experience across all devices, platforms, and screen sizes?
It’s easy to conclude that you need such a website because of smartphones and tablets users. Period. But you should look beyond the current devices and imagine future devices such as smartwatches, Google glass, virtual and augmented reality, or any other new devices tech experts may throw at us. Responsive websites and development will work for them too. Let’s see how important responsive HTML websites are.
The English language is one of the most widely used languages in technical writing. But the English language is complex - rich in idioms, verbal phrases, figure of speeches, synonyms, ambiguous words and terms that may confuse secondary speakers and even native speakers. This is one of the key reasons why some users don’t read help manuals.
While documenting, almost every technical writer contends with the daunting task of communicating complex technical terms in very simple and easy-to-understand words, sentences, and instructions. In most cases, the technical writer’s effort is measured by user feedback.
So to make technical documentations such as user manuals, help files, safety guides etc. easier to understand and user-friendly, the Aerospace and Defence Industries Association of Europe (ASD) developed Simplified Technical English (STE), otherwise known as the ASD-STE100 or the Thumbs-up technique.
The effectiveness of any technical documentation depends on how well the technical writer has tailored its content to appeal to the target audience. But in many cases, tailoring content for the target audience is not the challenge.
The key challenge is how to identify and analyze the audience. So it's not strange when you see technical writers asking “How can you tailor your content to appeal to a specific audience when you don’t even know them?” This is one of the reasons why users don’t read your manuals.
Audience analysis is perhaps the single most important aspect of technical writing. If you do it right, your customer support team will heave a sigh of relief and you can slash your customer support cost.
But what happens when you don’t hit the bull’s eye? You’ll have to spend more on customer support. Perhaps, create a new manual, and you can imagine the dent it can put on your product’s name as a brand, especially when your competitors are doing it right. Now you can avoid such a scenario by simply analyzing your audience.
You’ve designed a near perfect product or built a great software. And then you hired some of the best technical writers to write a user-friendly help manual to solve usability problems. You want your product users to start enjoying the product from the first minute. The technical writers did a great a job, and your user experience team confirmed that.
But after launching your product or releasing an update, you seem to be spending a lot more on customer support. In many cases, the answers users are looking for are right inside the user manual. So now you’re asking the same question many manufacturers and developers have been asking. Do product users ever read help manuals?
What’s the difference between a great technical writer and a great writer?
Both of them are great writers. But one of them has mastered the key skills required to make almost anyone understand and use almost any product that requires some technical knowledge regardless of their technological know-how.
If you are a technical writer or perhaps you are interested in becoming one, it is important for you to master the required skills too. So to make technical writing easier for you, we’ve compiled 5 of the most important skills every technical writer should master to be a professional.
Picking the right format to publish your help files can be tricky, especially if you’re creating your first help manual and you want to avoid the biggest mistakes first time help manual authors make. The right format determines if your users have access to your help files exactly how and when they need it.
If you’re using a help authoring tool (and you should because they make it easier to write better help documents in half the time), publishing in multiple formats should be no trouble at all.
The big question we’re answering today is, should you publish a print manual (hard copy), or a screen manual (PDF, CHM, Web based HTML, eBook format...).
When you write a great help manual you do two things – help customers find and use appropriate solutions easily and slash your business customer support costs significantly.
Even more, customers will be glad to recommend your product, and leaders in your business niche will easily recommend your brand to other experts and their customers. This is why writing a great help manual is one of the best investment any business can make.
But how exactly can you write a great help manual?
There is only one rule for picking the best format for publishing help manuals: pick the format that makes the manual easily accessible for users when they need it and how they need it.
Interestingly, product users have access to several devices, software and digital content including web browsers, PDF, Microsoft Word and smart devices such as smartphones, tablets, Kindle, iPads, Macs... The list is almost endless. This is why writing a quality help manual may be the best investment your business make.
But with such a long list, what’s the best format for publishing your help manual? Let's review some of them.