In a previous blog post, we’ve already explained how to create a great help article. However, we didn’t take a look at why you should even bother writing a good help article in the first place. It’s time to catch up on that.
Technical documentation is often referred to as boring, but don’t worry, it isn’t at all! Let’s take a look at what technical documentation is about, what makes good documentation, and why it might be a good idea to pay more attention to it, even if you are no Technical Writer.
What is technical documentation?
Technical documentation is a collective noun and refers to a wide range of documents. It can be any kind of document or text that displays the functionality and/or construction of a product and/or explains how to use it properly. Since technologies and processes are continually changing, and even completely new technologies are created, there is a need to educate people about them. From product descriptions to manuals and online help articles, technical documentation is everywhere! The target group consists out of everyone who needs to know how the product works. But documentation isn’t only created for end users. There are also internal documents created by engineers or developers, such as internal policies and how-to guides for internal procedures. That’s also technical documentation.
What makes good technical documentation?
The quality of technical documentation is influenced by different factors like completeness, correctness, and consistency. Still, taking these factors into account is no blueprint that guarantees a good result.
Usability also matters
It’s also about presenting the information in a way that’s easy to read and to understand so that it’s actually helpful. Another important factor is the structure of the documentation. If the readers can’t even find what they are looking for, the actual quality of the content is pointless because they will never read it.
Consider your audience
Technical documentation also needs to match the requirements of the target group. The goal should be to give as much information as needed but still as little as possible. Thus, it should only include information that is really needed to get the job done or that is relevant for the reader. When writing for technicians, you can include more complex technical information. If the target group of the product also includes non-specialists aka “normal people” you might need to reduce the amount of information or add more explanations.
In general, one can say that more information isn’t always better. Too much information can even have a discouraging effect on the reader. It can be difficult for them to digest everything at once and really understand what they are reading.
Learn to let go
And last but not least: Remember to not only add new content but also to delete outdated stuff from time to time. Don’t keep information in your documentation because someone might need it one day. However, don’t delete it right away. It can be useful to keep outdated texts in an internal archive. Maybe the content can be reused later on and save you some time.
Why is it important?
You might ask yourself why good technical documentation is relevant for you, especially if you are no Technical Writer. Let me answer this question by having a look at the impact good technical documentation can have. It can reduce the number of support requests and increase the overall satisfaction of the customer. Good technical documentation might help them to help themselves instead of forcing them to seek support from unknown people. This is also true for internal documentation. If these documents are badly written and don’t provide the needed information, the quality of the final product can still be good. However, it will be much harder to get there because people will waste time and make unnecessary mistakes while working on it.
One could argue that it should always be the goal to reduce the need of documentation by creating a product that is self-explanatory, for example by creating easy to understand UI texts. But you will never be able to get rid of technical documentation at all if you would like to have satisfied and efficient customers and colleagues. Technical documentation is a part of the product and it should have an equal quality. If you want to create a high-quality product, you need to have high-quality documentation as well.
Of course, you don’t have to become a Technical Writer yourself. But you can contribute to good technical documentation in many other ways. Either by creating internal documentation for your current and future colleagues or by supporting Technical Writers, for example by providing the required information and answering questions. Your customers, colleagues, and Technical Writers will be grateful.