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!
What To Consider When Writing Software Documentations For End Users
These 5 guidelines can make it easier for you to tailor your software documentation to make it more appealing to end users:
1. Figure Out The Business Reasons For Your Documentations
While the key reason for documenting software is to help users figure out how to use a software, there are several other key reasons. One of such reasons is helping out with marketing the software, boosting the company’s image, and most significantly, slashing the customer support costs.
But in some instances, documentation is required to comply with legal requirements or some other regulations. But do not make the mistake of substituting software documentation for a poor user interface. If a software screen requires in-depth documentations to explain it, modify the screen design to make it more user-friendly.
2. Make Sure You Understand Your Audience
In many cases, application users have little or no knowledge of computers beyond the tasks the software they use allow them to do. However, there are several ways to figure out how to provide solution for what they need with your documentation.
Consider the job titles of the software’s prospective users. A potential user who is a system administrator may possibly be an expert that can work with several different applications. But a data entry clerk, may only be proficient in the software he or she uses for data entry only. Learn more about audience analysis in technical writing and how to get the facts right.
Consider interviewing many prospective users to find out if their job titles actually indicates what they do or not. Mastering the act of interviewing prospective audience is one of the skills you need to be a great technical writer.
Review existing documentations, especially the previous versions of your software. Look at functional specifications, so you can provide indication as to what the users ought to know in order to use the software.
But don’t forget that end users are not interested in how the software works. Rather they are interested in what the software can do for them. Simply identify the tasks required to perform the job and the tasks that must be done before the others can be completed.
3. Pick The Right Formats To Publish Your Documentation
Many documentations are structured in 1 of 2 formats: the user guide and the reference manual. In some cases, a combination of both formats is the best structure.
A reference format is designed to explain each feature of a software application (button, tab, field, and dialog box) and how they work. Many help files are often documented in this format. Most of such help files are context-sensitive help that displays an appropriate topic whenever a user clicks the Help button on a specific screen.
The other, a user-guide format, is dedicated to how to use the software to perform a specific task. User guides are usually formatted as PDFs or printed guides. Although some help files also include topics on how to carry out some precise tasks. User guides usually take the form of tutorials. It highlights a summary of the tasks to be performed in the introduction and instructions given in numbered steps.
A help authoring tool like HelpNDoc can generate multiple different file formats from one source including, Word, PDF, CHM help files, ePubs, Kindle eBooks, cross platform Qt Help files, iPhone specific websites, HTML web based documentations...
4. Make Up Your Mind On The Form(s) The Documentation Should Take
Software documentation for end users can be published in several different forms or just one. Documentation can take the form of printed manuals, PDF documents, help files, or online help. See the seven best formats to publish your documentations.
Each form is created to show the user how to use each of the software’s features. It could be in the form of a tutorial or walk-through. In some help files, and online help, it could include demo videos, text and graphics.
You should index online help and help files using keyword-searchable terms to make it easier for users to find information they are looking for easily. A help authoring tool can generate index automatically.
5. Use The Appropriate Documentation Tool
It’s easy to conclude that a word-processing program like Microsoft Word will be the right tool for writing any documentation you want. One question many software developers are constantly asking is: should I use Word for writing my product documentation?
Word processing software are not designed for writing technical documentations. Writing a quality manual could be the best investment your business makes, so do it right with a help authoring tool.
Writing software documentation for end users shouldn’t be an ordeal and the outcome shouldn’t be a boring document that users will ignore. But you can get it right and do it right by following these guidelines. Enjoy documenting!