8 Ways to Ensure Effective Product Documentation

Documentation typically does not excite your customers, but, sooner or later, your customers are going to seek out your documentation. When they do, you’ll want them to have the best experience possible with your product or service. Effective documentation provides information that is easy to understand, accurate, up-to-date and easy for the end-user to find the information they require. That’s why effective product documentation matters.

Based on InfoPros’ years of experience developing all types of documentation for all types of products, from ceiling fans to complex software applications, we offer the following guidelines for developing effective product documentation.

Make it part of the product
Make it easy by providing the product documentation with the product. Software needs integrated Online Help. Manufactured products need printed documentation suitable to the end-user’s requirements. Effective documentation assures your customers that you are thinking about them beyond the point of purchase.

Useful to its specific audience
One-size-fits-all documentation is ineffective. Technicians need one kind of documentation, casual end-users another. Some customers need more training and step-by-step instructions, while others require comprehensive and detailed reference information. Effective documentation delivers exactly what each type of audience needs – no more, no less.

Easy to navigate
Help your customers quickly find what they need. Different navigational principles apply to print versus online documentation. Does the print copy include a table of contents, an index, and reference pointers? Does the online copy include effective links, search mechanisms, and related topic entries? Do both versions feature consistent layout, logical headings, “skimmable” content, and effective illustrations?

Complete and accurate
Reading documentation that has information on everything except what you’re looking for can be quite frustrating. Effective documentation is tested and validated along with the product, and customer questions are anticipated and answered proactively.

Concise
More words do not necessarily bring better comprehension, and more sections do not mean improved documentation. Does every feature really require description? Good technical writers will be able to discern what is the important information that needs to be included, thereby increasing the effectiveness of the documentation.

Easy to update and republish
Once you’ve made the investment in great documentation, you need to keep it current. The best documentation is part of a product deployment plan. Effective documentation needs to be designed for regular updates, minimizing the cost of doing periodic document updates. It supports quick product release cycles, marketing and sales needs, customer service and internal training needs.

Easy to translate and reuse
Many products are sold globally. Writing for a global audience and translations requires specific techniques for reducing word count, eliminating jargon and modularizing documentation for downstream automation and management. Content should be reused across a variety of platforms such as product support literature, user manuals, marketing presentations, web-casting, and more.

Appealing to the eye
You may have great content, but if it’s poorly designed, does not meet company branding standards, is difficult to read, or disorganized, you are not maximizing the value of the documentation. Effective layout and presentation supports great content as well as your brand.

InfoPros has been serving the documentation needs of its clients since 1994. When you partner with InfoPros, you benefit from the knowledge, experience, and resources InfoPros has gained from successfully supporting the diverse needs of our clients. Contact InfoPros today, and learn more about how InfoPros can develop effective documentation.