One of the most common mistakes in the software industry is confusing, missing, or even inaccurate user documentation. While this may seem unimportant or even illogical, it occurs fairly often and could have serious consequences.
What is User Documentation?
User documentation is the workspace for any software project. From proof-of-concept to full product release, it’s the connection between developers and users. With this mix of human and mechanical power, a software project’s success depends on clear, concise documentation.
Poorly written or missing documentation has become more common in the software industry. Given the investment and training required to implement and maintain these often complex systems, user documentation that’s incomplete or difficult to understand is a huge problem. Administrators don’t have time for poor or missing user documentation, or to sort through pages of confusing instructions. It causes lost productivity and revenue, and can eventually lead to the project, product, and business failure.
User documentation is part of knowledge-sharing. So, content needs to be clear and detailed as well as free of slang or jargon. Depending on the audience, documentation may also include technical tasks, SRS, case studies, testing scenarios, and error reports.
With the workforce becoming increasingly remote, having complete, understandable software documentation is as important for the user as well as for administrators. Users often find that checklists are helpful when working with complex, granular information since they break down processes into manageable chunks.
Unfortunately, technical writing and documentation often fall to those with little time or who are inexperienced in the process. Also, User documentation is often randomly created at the end of a project, without organization or iterations for quality and accuracy. A framework of programming languages develops platforms and other building blocks. Standardized documentation requires all software development projects to be working properly.
Given the explosive growth of software development and evolving nature of its products, it’s more important than ever that documentation standards are implemented throughout the industry.
What is the Attitude Behind These Issues?
1. They don’t understand their audience
Developers often write for themselves, not their audience. Therefore, they often assume that their audience is like they are, with deep knowledge about tech, processes, and terminologies. Then they create documentation from this perspective. It’s information that’s easy to digest by developers, but not for the average layman.
Developers also create documentation without considering their presentation format. So, the content flows in well-organized and understandable styles to be aesthetically pleasing. The user can benefit from the information. They won’t get lost in a sea of meaningless data that will confuse and annoy them. But this is rare. Developers generally train to not convey processes to users in an attractive written format.
What Are Other Misconceptions About User Documentation?
2. Documentation is optional
Software companies often underestimate the need for quality user documentation. Therefore, project workflows or budgets don’t consistently include it. So, it’s only considered in a project’s final stages, which doesn’t produce quality or accuracy. This is short-sighted and a set-up for failure. It doesn’t lend itself to a positive user experience, optimal product performance, or good product value.
3. The cost of documentation is too high
Documentation costs for large software products can be as high as 30 percent of the project budget. The time and resources to create and consistently maintain it are sizable. But eliminating this step can have a significant impact on business revenue, brand reputation, and the ability to stay compliant.
Costs to create and maintain software documentation in-house or by outsourcing to technical writers can be factored into a project budget. Award-winning companies like Essential Data Corporation have teams of writers with experience and expertise in technology content.
4. Users don’t need documentation
Customers and developers may see software usage and benefits differently. While programmers focus on process execution through code, the customer is quickly and easily interested in solving the problem. For those using the software or training others to do so, having written, detailed instructions are vital to solving a business problem, being productive, and getting a return on investment.
Providing a product without user documentation is like having a board game that includes cards but no instructions on how to use them to play the game. No matter how impressive the packaging is, without instructions on how to play the game, the parts are useless. If the customer has to contact support for help with basic set-ups and functionalities, it’s annoying, time-consuming, and unproductive. It’s better to provide them with usable information, to have the best experience with the product possible.
5. Availability over the accuracy
Having outdated information or documentation with errors can be worse than no user documentation at all. The user may not realize that the instructions are inaccurate until they don’t get the desired results. This can be frustrating and potentially hazardous, even exposing the user or developer to liability. Software companies rely heavily on consumer reviews and success testimonials. So, brand trust in the product is key to continued growth. Having quality user documentation is one way to earn that trust.
Here are 5 ways that software companies can make their documentation more user-friendly and position themselves as a customer-centric company:
- Make user documentation more interactive. Provide online, offline, and real-time channels for users to report problems to developers.
- Include tests or ways for users to detect problems. Details and examples can help developers find and fix them.
- Keep documentation current. Assign version numbers to each edition and maintain a database of them. Notate the latest revision date and changes made.
- Provide links to subject matter experts, forums, and other resources for complex issues.
- Provide virtual training and demonstrations. Discuss best practices, opportunities, and obstacles that users may experience.
How EDC Can Help
Whether you need a team of consultants to produce a complete line of documentation or a single technical writer for a brief project, Essential Data’s Engagement Manager will lead the project from start to finish.
By Liz Eastlake