10 tips for Software Development managers about user documentation

Software User Documentation is often a last minute effort to deliver your software product and get it out the door. Your development team had a long list of requirements, so the documentation sometimes gets downsized in importance or it is sometimes neglected completely.

Another modern trend is to exclude documentation altogether because the attitude is that the software is so intuitive that it requires no documentation. That would be true, if the software that was developed serves a handful of internal users and has a small footprint. Software projects that have a large footprint and user base and is rather complex in nature is going to require some serious documentation.

You will need to determine the need for user documentation where:

  • The application or system is complex
  • Some training or hand-holding is necessary
  • You want to guide users through features or services
  • The concept or process is not familiar to users
  • Assistance needs to be embedded in the User Interface

In an effort to emphasize a few things when working with technical writers, here 10 concepts that all development managers should know about user documentation.

10 Best Practice tips for User Documentation

  1. Allocate a budget for user documentation in your project plan.
  2. When your project is approved, contact a technical writer for a potential development plan and deliverables.
  3. Realize that what seems intuitive to you may be unintuitive to users.
  4. Technical writers will need access to test project software environments, prototypes and dummy data.
  5. The user interface is also dominated by text, so involve the technical writer’s language expertise with correctness of meaning.
  6. Because help content is part of the user experience, technical writers may work closely with developers, SMEs and UX designers.
  7. Expect short, succinct guides with plenty of visual content in a highly structured environment rather than long and difficult-to-read manuals.
  8. If you require your users to collaborate, then consider using a wiki platform.
  9. Remember that Technical writers will, in most cases, be your application’s first users — their feedback can highlight and improve usability.
  10. Documentation isn’t done when the application is released, but, in fact, continues as users submit feedback