The why, who, and when of documentation
Whenever you want to tell something to anyone, for instance when considering to start writing documentation – start considering why you want to do it?
Who will hear it or read it, and when does it happen – in which situations are they in when they do?
Every question has its own answer
You will quickly gather a list of different needs – different questions to be answered by the documentation:
- What is this product – what can it do? This may be asked before the customer has bought it, or maybe an employee is being asked to start using this product and would like to know what it does.
- Which requirements does the product have? Before using it, it may need installation – which requires an installation environment of some kind to be established. And it may have ongoing requirements too, such as the need for a worker to monitor it or some fuel to be added.
- How should the product be maintained? Does it need lubrication, software updates, regular supply of tear and wear parts?
- How is the process for using this product meant to be? Quite often, a product has its own needs for things to be done in a certain order – even though using the product also should fit into a general workflow.
- How do I get started? As a new product can look overwhelming at first, some guidelines on what to do first will often be needed or at least appreciated!
- How do I perform this or that specific task? A use case oriented approach to manuals and guidelines are often needed – the user simply needs to perform a task as fast as possible but does not know exactly what all the steps would be.
- What more is there – how can I get the maximum benefit of the product? Additional reference and background information may help users get to that point where the product is no longer a time-consuming extra but, indeed, a means to save time and become more productive.
There could be other questions, depending on which product we are talking about. And often you would consider writing guidelines on how to do something that may involve this particular product but also other products and general work steps. This can be highly useful for the user and allow for your product to be valued higher, as it is seen as a piece of the puzzle of a complex work that will then more easily be completed.
Various types of documents
Apart from publishing a document of one shape or another through one or another kind of media, there are other ways of providing the same new knowledge and ongoing support to the users. These ways are by no means new but thinking them into a documentation approach may be new and ground-breaking to some. However, it may suit the situation and therefore be a useful element of the total solution.
Seminars and webinars
Inspiration from other people: reviews, talking to neighbors