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!
Tips & Tricks
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?
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?
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.
Let's face it, help documentation today has a terrible image. Almost everyone you talk to about it has a bad impression of help manuals. There are lots of different reasons for this, some of the most common are:
- It doesn't answer the questions you have
- You can't find the answer even though you know it's in there somewhere
- The manual is hard to navigate
- The documentation is out of date
- The documentation doesn't exist yet
Almost everyone has at least one help related horror story to tell. Whether it is about trying to understand a product when the help manual has been written in such poor English that it is unintelligible, or a product that has shipped with a manual for entirely the wrong model. Perhaps the story is about one of those manuals that are packed so full of details that there is too much information and it becomes almost impossible to find the answer you need quickly. There are many ways that help manuals can go wrong but in general they can usually be broken down into two main areas...