Creating Effective Technical Documentation: Tips and Best Practices

Technical documentation is an important part of any software or product development process. It helps users understand how to use the product and troubleshoot any issues that may arise.

This could be a smart way to invest in both the end-user experience and your team’s efficiency. But technical documentation isn’t good just for SaaS development: it’s common in IT, medicine, engineering, and almost any technical field. Technical documentation makes your organization’s knowledge more documented and accessible. Knowledge is power, after all. If you’ve got the knowledge, why not make that information available to everybody?

With the proper approach, you can store all of your documentation in one place where it’s accessible and useful. Technical language can be challenging to understand, but proper technical documentation improves understanding and helps you get more work done with less hassle.

So, what is technical documentation? At its core, technical documentation is any piece of content that describes how a product works. This includes the methodologies, features, and functionalities of a product. Technical documentation is frequently written by technical writers who collaborate with subject matter experts (SMEs) with deep knowledge of the specific topic they’re addressing.

The goal will always be to make it easier to use a product, and we should all want a product that’s easier to utilize, both internally and externally. Technical documentation can benefit your internal team as well as your external end-users.

Some of the benefits include:

  • Improved customer experience
  • Save time
  • Improve team alignment

To make your technical documentation effective, it is essential to follow some basic formatting guidelines.

  1. Use a consistent layout and style throughout the document. This includes using headings, subheadings, and bullet points to break up the text and make it easy to read.
  2. Use simple, straightforward language. Avoid using jargon or technical terms that may be unclear to users. Instead, explain concepts in a way that is easy for anyone to understand.
  3. Include screenshots and diagrams. These can be especially helpful for illustrating how to use a particular feature or troubleshooting an issue.
  4. Use hyperlinks to link to related information. This can be especially helpful for users trying to find specific information within the documentation.
  5. Provide examples. Real-world examples can help users understand how to use the product in their context.
  6. Organize the documentation into sections. This makes it easy for users to find the information they need quickly.
  7. Use a search function. This allows users to find information within the documentation quickly.
  8. Keep the documentation up-to-date. As the product evolves, the documentation should be updated to reflect any changes. 

Organization

For technical documentation to be valid, it must be readable and accessible. A big part of this is making it structurally logical and easy to navigate. Before you begin creating content, you should think about how it will show up to the end user of the documentation. This includes:

  • Page design: how each technical article looks like, what the content is, and the order of information
  • Search: the ability to perform natural language search is a crucial function of modern documentation
  • Product and version architecture: It must be apparent to the user how they can find what they are looking for
  • Navigational structure within an article: the order in which the information appears
  • The navigational structure between pieces: how pieces are collected into categories or topics

Formatting

Importantly, not all documents should be formatted the same. And oftentimes, not even copies from the same client should be equally formatted.

The style of formatting of the documents should match the client’s style. Our design should be similarly innovative and exciting if a client delivers a landmark, iconic project using a visionary tone and style. Whereas if a client is dehydrated and technical, looking for a straightforward, functional solution, our formatting should be focused on communicating technical and helpful excellence.

We need to coordinate the report style to the particular client because what appeals to one client will repel another. And taking this concept one step further, different documents in each tender may call for diverse formatting. A few records may be visionary and exciting, such as the executive summary, while others may be technical and functional, such as management plans. The style of formatting should match the style of the content. This is a baseline of what formatting most documents must include:

  • A clear heading structure with a clear hierarchy of content
  • An easy-to-read text style, in 10 or 11 points for body text and possibly a little more minor in tables, good line spacing, and extra spacing above and below paragraphs
  • Spacious margins
  • Appropriate use of dot points and numbered lists
  • Appropriate use of tables, graphics, and photos In-text bolding to emphasize keywords and phrases
  • Pull out quotes to reiterate key messages

Language

Technical content can be challenging, but how you format and present that content is just as important. To make it easily accessible and understandable, it is crucial to use active voice and present tense. Active voice clarifies who or what is acting in a sentence, while present tense keeps it current and relevant. Additionally, the second-person perspective (‘you’) makes the content more relatable and empowering for the reader.

Not only does the use of active voice improve readability, but it also helps to reduce word count, making it more efficient for time-strapped readers. In the case of user documentation, active voice empowers the reader to complete the task at hand by providing precise instructions.

Technical content can be challenging, but how you format and present that content is just as important. To make it easily accessible and understandable, it is crucial to use active voice and present tense. Active voice clarifies who or what is acting in a sentence, while present tense keeps it current and relevant. Additionally, the second-person perspective (‘you’) makes the content more relatable and empowering for the reader. It reduces your word count by 10-15%, which is crucial for time and attention-strapped online users.

Not only does the use of active voice improve readability, but it also helps to reduce word count, making it more efficient for time-strapped readers. In the case of user documentation, active voice empowers the reader to complete the task at hand by providing precise instructions.

Visuals

Visuals also play a crucial role in adequate documentation. As William Glasser’s research suggests, people learn more effectively through seeing, hearing, and doing. Incorporating visual elements such as diagrams, images, and videos can significantly enhance the engagement and effectiveness of your documentation.

According to William Glasser, we learn:

  • 10% of what we read
  • 20% of what we hear
  • 30% of what we see
  • 50% of what we see and hear
  • 70% of what we talk about with others
  • 80% of what we do
  • 95% of what we teach to others

People learn best through visual, auditory, and hands-on experiences. Incorporating visual elements such as diagrams, images, and videos into process documentation can enhance engagement and effectiveness. In contrast, relying solely on text-heavy documentation may not provide a comprehensive and easily understandable learning experience. By incorporating visuals, you can help to supplement the information and make it more accessible to your intended audience.

Adequate technical documentation empowers employees and customers to work more efficiently. However, creating valuable and helpful documentation requires a structured approach. Quality should be the primary focus, as it is essential to ensure that the technical documentation serves its purpose of assisting individuals in completing their tasks quickly and effectively.

Whether for internal teams or end-users, the goal of technical documentation is to provide the necessary information and instructions to improve workflow and productivity. Allied Global Technology Services can provide the required resources and support if you’re looking to implement technical documentation in your business.

Contact us at alliedITS.com to learn more and get started.

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