Advice and best practices for writing SOPs, training for product launch, outsourcing technical documentation, and more.

Creating Accessible Product Documentation in the Digital Age

User-Friendly Documentation

Your end user is changing, and so is the way they access information. Customers don’t want to read a 75-page manual. They want answers on demand: easily navigated, quick access to product documentation. Well-written, user-friendly documentation provides this easy accessibility, which increases customer satisfaction and ultimately benefits the company's bottom line. User-friendly documentation is:

  • Clear and concise. Write articles that address one specific concern at a time. Users don’t want to sift through a 2,000-word article on a broad topic to find out how to perform one small task.
  • Visual. A short video can provide an initial overview of the concept or task, while annotated screenshots or diagrams provide the step-by-step breakdown.
  • Easy to find. Include your Help or Resources page in the main navigation bar on your website. Divide specific help articles into more general categories for quicker discovery.
  • Searchable. If users don’t find the topic they need initially, a keyword-based search feature can help point them in the right direction. Just make sure it works well; there are few things more frustrating than searches that turn up irrelevant or no results.
  • Customer-focused. Documentation should not just be product focused. Customers may not phrase their questions as you would. Ensure your documentation utilizes common phrases rather than just trademarked product names.

Documentation software companies ScreenSteps and Documentor have shared some great examples of user-friendly product documentation on their blogs. HubSpot is one company that provides thorough user instructions through its knowledge center; articles are specific and categorized, and include plenty of screenshots.

Mobile-First Design

Nearly 60 percent of online searches today are done on mobile devices, according to a recent study. Here are some tips for optimizing documentation for mobile users:

  • Use responsive design. A website that adjusts to different device sizes greatly improves readability. If you’re not currently using responsive design, consider making the investment.
  • digital-age-mobile-documentation.jpgSimplify search. A good article menu can help prevent users from having to type in a search query on their phones at all. But if the need does arise, make sure your search bar is easy to find/tap (the magnifying glass icon is pretty standard). Also helpful? Article titles that reflect the way many people search today—in question form, as customer behavior has changed with the prevalence of voice assistants such as Siri and Alexa.
  • Keep it short. To minimize scrolling, use only as many words and images as it takes to clearly and sufficiently answer the question.
  • Select the right screenshots. Choose screenshots that focus on one small section of a webpage or window at a time; this will keep users from having to constantly zoom in on their phones. Also, keep image sizes small to reduce page-load time.
  • Consider using Google’s accelerated mobile pages (AMP) to further reduce load time.

While delivery mechanisms have changed, the need for a clear, concise and well-written base of product documentation is as important as ever. To ensure your product documentation reinforces customer satisfaction and brand loyalty in the digital age…

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Topics: documentation, usability, product documentation