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.
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.
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?
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.
What’s the worst mistake you can make as a first time help manual author?
A good help manual is user-friendly, and contains clear instructions that users can find and use easily. But if you’re a first time help manual author, creating a good one can be a tough task, especially if it’s your first technical writing project.
Interestingly, every great help manual writer had their first moment too, and made several mistakes on their first attempt. We’ve compiled these mistakes, so you wouldn’t repeat any of them. Thankfully, you can learn from these mistakes and create a top-notch help manual on your first attempt.
Microsoft Word is a great piece of software. It allows users to quickly and easily write anything from a school report to business letter. The biggest advantage which Microsoft Word has is user-familiarity, it is a software which most of us have grown up with using it both at school and in the office. For many people it is still the natural choice when they need to write anything in a business environment. And for most purposes Microsoft Word is ideal, but there are some applications including writing product documentation for which it is not so well suited.
There are many reasons why Microsoft Word is not the right tool to help you write product documentation, here are just five of them.
Everyone understands the importance of accurate, up-to-date help documentation. The only way to get the best out of any product is to read the manual and find out how to use every function properly. The difficulty faced by the developers of many products is choosing which formats they should produce their help documentation in. It used to be the case that a printed manual was considered sufficient for most products. In recent years the printed manual has frequently been replaced by either a PDF or on-line version, but are these really the best options available?
Writing help documentation is hard work, a technical author needs to clearly explain every function of the product. The documentation needs to be written for a wide range of product users, not all of whom will be approaching the product with the same level of technical expertise or expectations.
Despite these consideration, in many cases technical authors find that writing the help documentation is the easy part of the process. Once they have written down everything they need to say to cover the topic properly they then need to format it so that it is accessible and easy to read in a variety of formats. Formats that might be required include PDF, Word, online HTML, perhaps HLP or CHM as well. The whole formatting process can be very time consuming when what most technical authors really want is to concentrate on writing really good help documentation and not have to spend ages worrying about how their pages display on different devices.
When the documentation is finally completed that is often still not the end of the process as every time the product is revised the documentation has to be changed to reflect the new or updated features.