What comes to your mind when you hear the word ‘technical documentation’?
Is a thousand-page paper-based document full of black and white text, jargon, and complex charts?
Well, that’s documentation of the 90s – a time when it was considered a cost center by companies due to its inadequacy at customer support.
But, today, it is a core business asset! No, not the heavy paper document, but a sophisticated, appealing cloud-based version of the same. The same soul in a brand new avatar.
This online version of technical documentation is a critical business tool, indispensable for customer support. It explains the nuts and bolts of a product, making it easy for readers to understand and use it successfully.
This comprehensive guide will take you deep into technical documentation, explaining in detail everything you need to know, such as:
- What is technical documentation
- Types of technical documentation
- Benefits of technical documentation for your business
- What are the attributes of ideal technical documentation
- How to use technical documentation
- How to create technical documentation
- Best examples of technical documentation
Let’s do this.
What Is Technical Documentation?
Technical documentation is an online document that explains the architecture, features, and functionality of a product. It is created with the objective of making it easy for your audience to understand the product to the core and make the most out of it.
Technical documentation is built by companies across a spectrum of industries, such as medicine, engineering, IT, manufacturing, to name a few. The documentation is both for your developers and customers. While developers can use it to monitor product developments, track updates, etc., customers can use it to gain an in-depth understanding of how the product works.
Technical documentation comprises of:
- Detailed product information right from the development to the execution stage
- Product features and how they work
- Step by step instructions on how to use each feature
- Product use cases
- Risks associated with the product
- Troubleshooting tips, how-to videos
- FAQs and other training material
In a nutshell, technical documentation is a simple way to make your customers and other stakeholders understand the work dynamics of your product, and give them a hassle-free product experience.
Types of Technical Documentation
Technical documentation can be in a variety of formats. It can be in the form of a manual, guide, or document. These formats look different from the outside, but they are all based on one common thought – to guide end-users on every single aspect of the product and help them put it to action.
Here are some common types of technical documentation:
1. Release Notes
These are technical documents that comprise details about updated features of a software product. It can also consist of feature enhancements, bug fixes, or any recent changes made to a product.
2. User Guide
A user guide is meant to make it easy for end-users to understand the technical aspects of a software product, electronic goods, IT systems, and more.
3. API Documentation
This document explains everything about how to use hardware or web-API. It comprises detailed information in the form of video tutorials and step-by-step instructions about how to work with API.
4. Product Manual
This manual describes every basic thing about a product, right from its features and functions to its use cases.
Benefits of Technical Documentation for Your Business
Technical documentation gives your customers what they seek the most – convenience. They can refer to your documentation whenever they encounter challenges while working with your products or services.
It directs them at every step, empowering them to address a majority of their concerns without expert assistance.
There are many other benefits of technical documentation. Have a look.
1. Lowers Your Support Ticket Volume
Technical documentation gives customers the power to resolve most of their issues by themselves. All they have to do is refer to your online technical documentation, type the question they have, and get relevant responses.
This simple system of problem-solving makes them self-sufficient, reducing the need to approach your support staff at least for basic issues. This brings down your support tickets, giving agents enough time to resolve severe customer issues that cannot be managed single-handedly.
2. Attracts Prospects & Improves Sales
Today’s customers are well-informed and extremely conscious of their choices. They like doing in-depth research before going for a purchase or subscription.
Customers today want authentic information sources to be able to make the decisions best suited for them. Having a comprehensive technical document or technical FAQs right on your website makes it easy for prospects to refer to product information and make a smart, informed purchase decision.
Making the same decision gets all the more confusing when relevant product details aren’t available, which increases the chances of customers moving to your competitors.
3. Identify Errors or Gaps on Time
Technical documentation keeps track of every underlying activity in the product’s lifecycle. This written information acts as proof of what updates or revisions were made and who made them.
Developers and project managers can look back at the document to identify the root cause of a problem whenever they encounter any major fault or a flawed feature in the product.
Identifying errors on time prevents issues from augmenting. Developers can start the correction work as soon as they recognize a glitch or take preventive actions if they feel a potential problem might arise in the future.
4. Saves You From Legal Issues
Technical documentation guides customers on how to safely and effectively use your product. It has clearly written procedures that explain the correct ways of using a product.
Without proper documentation, customers might end up misusing the product and harming themselves, which ultimately can lead to legal action against your company. A technical document can save you from such troubles.
What Are the Attributes of Ideal Technical Documentation?
The primary objective of creating technical documentation is to make ‘help’ conveniently accessible to your customers. This will be challenging to achieve if the document lacks significant aspects such as – searchability, navigation, engagement, and many more.
To turn your technical documentation from good to great, it must have the following features:
1. Error-Free Content
Technical documentation is a critical tool for your customers. It aids them in solving a majority of their product or service-related issues. Since this document is an important reference point for your customers, you cannot afford to have flawed, inaccurate content in it.
The document is meant to offer relevant, reliable, and error-free content that customers can use every time they confront challenges while working with your products.
2. Responsive to Multiple Devices
Today’s customers crave convenience more than anything else. They are accustomed to getting everything in a few swipes and clicks. That’s precisely why they expect you to make help conveniently accessible – at any time and from any device they are using.
In that case, it is pivotal for your technical document to work seamlessly across devices – mobile phones, tablets, and laptops. Customers should be able to use it conveniently, regardless of where they are and which device they are using.
This is the one thing that will make technical documentation incredibly helpful for your customers.
3. Design That Draws Attention
Gone are the days when you could get away with a document’s design. Unlike before, design now forms a significant part of the overall customer experience.
Your technical documentation’s design should be equally brilliant as its content. An appealing design arouses customers’ interest and keeps them engaged until they don’t get the right answers.
For your documentation to look terrific, it should have the following design elements:
- Brand name and logo
- Attractive background themes
- Appropriate font styles
- Consistency in the font size
- Proper use of colors
- Relevant images and videos, and much more
Focusing on a few basic design elements takes the entire problem-solving experience to a whole new level.
Look at how beautifully Unleashed has designed its documentation.
Another crucial element of technical documentation is searchability. How customers experience your documentation depends largely on how prompt it is in delivering the right information.
Today’s customers are speed demons. They want everything, and they want it instantly.
So there’s no way our technical documentation can afford to be slow or inadequate. It should have a robust, Google-like search system and must provide pertinent content suggestions as soon as customers start typing in the search bar.
Searchability can be enhanced provided you do in-depth research around the kind of keywords and questions searched by customers.
If you don’t have relevant information on those keywords – create new content. But if you have proper articles on those keywords, but the keywords are missing in them, then – add those keywords at relevant places.
Here is HighQ showing how exactly a technical document’s search function must operate.
5. A Clear and Uncomplicated Structure
Creating technical documentation is futile if customers find it difficult to browse. Imagine scrolling through long paragraphs and still not finding the required information.
It is disappointing, right?
It is likely for customers to create specific notions about your documentation and stop referring to it at all.
You can avoid this by logically structuring your document. A proper structure gives clarity to a document, making it easy to navigate. It helps customers switch from one article to another and reach the right information with minimum effort.
For your technical documentation to be well-structured, ensure that:
- All topics are divided into a few major categories and subcategories
- Bullets are generously used across articles
- Paragraphs are short and to the point
- There is a home page at the beginning of the document
- The document has a table of contents, mentioning all sections and subsections
- Key information is highlighted to draw readers’ attention
- Have a separate FAQ section that answers common customer questions
- In a nutshell, the technical documentation’s structure should be such that customers don’t have to dig deep into every section to get what they need.
Mimosa’s documentation sets the right example –
How to Use Technical Documentation?
Technical documentation is undoubtedly an asset when it comes to educating customers about your product, its features, functionality and helping them make the most of it.
But, there are many other areas where technical documentation can be instrumental. Besides customers, the documentation is equally beneficial for your development, marketing, and other departments.
Let’s see how you can use technical documentation in the best possible way.
A logically structured and visually rich technical document can boost your marketing efforts.
Of course, customers have your sales and support team to get their questions answered. But they also need an exhaustive guide that guides them at every step to successfully understand a product and make an informed purchase decision.
Technical documentation acts as the guiding light for customers before they take the final plunge. It gives them maximum clarity about your product and builds trust in your brand, helping them take the call confidently.
Technical documentation is an asset for your developers too. All information about your product – right from its inception to execution, is clearly recorded in this document.
Developers can use this as a reference whenever they need to brush up their technical know-how of a product, when they are unsure of a particular feature, or when they want to track the root cause of a flaw. They can leverage this documentation to do their day-to-day work more effectively.
Besides, technical documentation also assists in onboarding. Any new member joining your development team can go through the technical document to understand every nut and bolt of your product. In no time, they get the hang of your product and are prepared to further work on it.
3. Customer Support
Technical documentation is a prerequisite for your customer support function. There are two major ways this documentation forms the core of your support system.
First, it makes your customers self-sufficient. They can refer to your documentation to get prompt help every time they face bottlenecks while using your product. When the required help is available at the right time, the chances of customers raising tickets for basic issues reduces to a minimum.
Second, your support staff can leverage documentation to give customers accurate responses while interacting with them via chat, call, email, or social media. It equips them with the correct information, helping them serve customers better.
Let’s now quickly look into the document creation process.
How to Create Technical Documentation?
Technical documentation can get boring and frustrating for end-users at one point. What is important for you to remember while creating technical documentation is that it should be relevant, engaging, and interactive.
It should be a comprehensive document, presenting every product detail in an engaging way, so that whoever refers to your document doesn’t leave disappointed.
Here is a step-by-step process of how to create impeccable technical documentation.
1. Do a Detailed Research
Research is a crucial part of creating technical documentation. In fact, it is the first and foremost step that shouldn’t be taken lightly.
It forms the starting point of technical documentation. Doing proper research sets you in the correct direction, saving you lots of time and effort later.
A major part of the research revolves around the scope and purpose of your technical documentation. Once you know the ‘Why’ and the ‘What’ part, the ‘How’ gets a lot easier to handle.
Here are a few things you should be researching before beginning with the document creation process.
Think of why exactly you need a technical document. What is it that you are looking to accomplish? Is it to let customers use your product successfully? Or, is it to help your developers keep track of all stages of product development? Having a clear goal is essential to ensure that your efforts are going in the right direction.
What topics should your technical documentation cover? You will have scores of things in your mind, but not each of them might be relevant. To differentiate between what’s important and what’s not, you should list down all possible topics that you think the documentation should cover. Once you have a list ready, start the topic selection process, and come up with a final list of topics.
Existing Information Resources
Dig into every information resource you currently have. Do you have an old technical document that is nothing but useless? Do you have important information hidden in some files and folders?
Find out everything you have as that might help you create a better technical document.
2. Choose Powerful & Feature-Rich Technical Documentation Software
The right documentation tool sets a strong foundation for the entire process, right from content creation and design to managing and finally publishing.
It is therefore crucial that you analyze the tool carefully before investing in it. First things first, the tool should be cloud-based. Such tools are usually easy to set up and comprise robust security features.
Second, it should offer a trial version of a minimum of 15 days. This is a great option if you want to understand the ins and outs of the tool before making the call.
Third, and most importantly, your technical documentation software must have the following features:
- Smartly-designed templates
- User management, roles, and permissions
- Contextual help
- MS Word-like editor
- Customization options
- Revision history
- Comprehensive reports
- Access control system
- Import and export
- Content snippets, merge tags
- Integration with popular tools like Google Analytics, Google Translate, Freshdesk, Salesforce Desk, etc.
These are some of the salient features that an ideal technical documentation tool must have. Shortlist a few tools based on whether they have these features or not and then go for their trial versions.
Explore how they work, check every feature, compare their pricing, and go for the one that fits the bill.
3. Select Simple Template
Now that you have the tool in place, it’s time to select the right template and kickstart the process.
A technical documentation template solves half of your problems. It provides a pre-defined space with a table of contents, headings, and some dummy content.
So, you don’t have to do anything from the ground up.
Write your company’s name and add its logo, revise the headings, and change the home page settings if you want or keep it as is. Delete the dummy content and add some useful information in its place.
Easy peasy, right?
4. Create a Seamless Structure
Visualize how your documentation should look like. Decide if you want to have a homepage that mentions the title of your documentation and provides quick links to important sections such as FAQs, Getting Started, Integrations, and more.
Content hierarchy is extremely important. Identify the major topics that you want to cover and create a category for each one of them.
Every broad topic will have various sub-topics. Divide all the categories into relevant subcategories for a seamless document navigation experience.
Decide on a structure and keep it consistent across your technical documentation. For example, you might want to start articles with H1 and follow it with a small introductory paragraph, a video, and then steps in the form of bullet points.
You might also want to add ‘Quick Links’ at the bottom of each article, ensuring that readers don’t have to struggle to find the page they are looking for. No more frivolous searching!
You can play with the format depending on the type of article topic.
ManageEngine’s documentation shows how to get the documentation structure right.
5. Craft Engaging Content
Writing technical documentation can be done in two ways. You can write fresh content from scratch, and in case you have valuable information in some files, import them directly to your document. This will speed up the process of content creation.
But, writing isn’t as simple as it sounds, especially when you are creating something so technical and complicated. Your ultimate goal is to keep the content as simple and clear as possible.
That can be achieved with these actionable tips for technical documentation content –
1. Do Not Assume
One of the commandments of writing technical content is that you should not make assumptions. For you, a piece of information might be obvious or something that doesn’t need a mention, but your customers might not be familiar with it.
Assuming that your customers know ‘something and you don’t need to include this ‘something’ in your document can be detrimental.
2. Be simple and straightforward
Keep your writing as simple as you can. Write in the active voice, and stick to the point.
3. Avoid long paragraphs
Unnecessarily large chunks of text are difficult to digest and can leave customers confused. Write short and write well.
4. Multimedia is a must
Add relevant images, videos, and screenshots while crafting content. Multimedia makes comprehension easier and can take your technical documentation to a whole new level.
5. Use clear font styles
Your font type should be easy to read. Do not go overboard with styling. The more simple it looks, the better it reads.
Follow these simple tips, and it will make your content reasonably engaging and interactive.
Besides, you should also focus on the presentation of your content. Choose a theme that you feel is right for your documentation. Colors shouldn’t be too bright or too light. You need to achieve a middle ground that is just right for your documentation.
6. Simplify Concepts – Create a Document That Can Be Understood by Everyone
If your technical documentation is extremely technical and complicated, will it solve your end-users issues or aggravate them? Think about it!
We know the answer. It will make them even more frustrated, to the extent that they will end up calling your support staff. And then the same cycle continues.
Technical documentation is primarily meant to solve customers’ issues. If it is convoluted and difficult to comprehend, it won’t serve the intended purpose.
You can inject some clarity and simplicity into your document simply by providing context-based help right when customers need it.
For example, you can add tooltips at places where you think product features need more explanation, or where you need to explain some policies, or write disclaimers.
Popups can be embedded to provide additional help content at places where customers need it the most. Popups can have interactive content. You can add images and icons in pop-ups that make the customer experience even more delightful.
Another excellent tool for contextual help is the lightbox.
Lightboxes are great for onboarding new users and guiding them at every step of the process. You can use these to provide product tours, procedural help, and other exhaustive help content to make new customers familiar with your product.
Read More: Delight Your Customers with Contextual Help
7. Up Your Document’s Security
Technical documentation is ideally used by customers, developers, as well as other departments. Since multiple people use this document, it puts a high risk on its security.
You might not want to display all sections to everyone. For instance, some extremely technical details related to coding should be accessible only to the development team. Other details related to the product’s features and functions can be viewed by anyone.
So, how do you hide specific parts of your documentation from a specific audience? How do you ensure that only a few sections are visible to customers while confidential content remains hidden?
A technical documentation tool with unmatched security features can make this possible. You can use it to create visibility rules and conditions regarding what content should be displayed and to whom.
The best part is these rule sets can be applied across all documentation pages, making it seamless for you to control the visibility of different articles.
For instance, you can have a condition such as –
Show the troubleshooting section if the user group is your support team.
8. Get Unparalleled Documentation Insights
You’ve created a technical document, but how can you be sure that it is performing up to your expectations? How do you measure its competence in answering customer questions?
That’s where reports come in. They give you actionable insights into various aspects of your documentation, such as:
- Failed and successful searches
- Popular and poorly performing articles
- Total number of reads
- New articles created
- Keywords used for searching
- Broken links, and much more.
These metrics help you measure your technical documentation’s performance holistically. Leverage them to understand what customers frequently search for, which articles they don’t find helpful, articles that need to be modified, and more.
You can even keep track of your support tickets and create new topics on frequent customer issues. This is not a one-off activity. You have to update your documentation regularly so that customers find it relevant to their requirements whenever they refer to it.
Leading Technical Documentation Examples
After theory comes the practical aspect of technical documentation. It is finally time to see technical documentation in action and understand how a perfect technical document looks like.
If you are looking for some inspiration, these excellent technical documentation examples will definitely drive you in the right direction. Take a cue from how these companies have beautifully crafted their documentation.
DevResults’ documentation is goals. Its home page is meticulous, clean, and seamless to navigate. With a prominent search bar right in the middle and a separate section for popular, new, and updated articles at the bottom, information gathering is as easy as pie in this documentation.
ManageEngine’s simple and sweet documentation has a home page with broad sections – user guide, troubleshooting tips, FAQs, best practices, and much more. Anyone who is new to ManageEngine’s product EventLog Analyzer gets quick and complete guidance right on the home page. The ‘Are you new to EventLog Analyzer’, section lists down common questions customers might have if they are using the product for the first time.
3. Online Banking Help
There is nothing that this comprehensive documentation cannot answer. It has a range of categories, a getting started section for new users, and ‘see also’ links at the bottom of each article. The best part is the feedback question – ‘Was this information helpful?’ where customers can give suggestions if they don’t find an article useful.
The best part about Unleashed’s exhaustive documentation is its home page. It is quite detailed and highlights important sections – Getting Started, Navigating, Import Data, and more, right after the search bar. It also presents FAQs, advanced features, and other information resources at the bottom of the home page, making it effortless for customers to get the help they need.
Leap’s documentation feels so personal with the – ‘Hi, how can we help?’ question. It is designed really well with shades of blue in the background. Some key highlights are – the news and announcements section, at the beginning, the community forum, popular articles, and the integrations section at the bottom of the home page.
Technical Documentation – A Prerequisite for Business Success
There was a time when businesses ignored technical documentation, thinking of it as a cost center. But, times have changed.
Today, it is no more a task that you can just check off your list. It is a critical business tool that makes your product or service much easier to understand and use.
A carefully engineered technical document enhances product experience, delighting customers, and other stakeholders at every stage of their experience with your product. Building technical documentation is incredibly simple. Start by doing in-depth research around the purpose and scope of the documentation. Get the right technical documentation tool, pick a template, and get started.
Craft compelling content and simplify concepts and jargon for better comprehension. Keep renewing it from time to time so that it stays relevant and updated always.
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