How to Create Awesome Internal Documentation: A Complete Guide

Best practices to create Internal documentation
Ever wondered what’s keeping your employees disengaged and unproductive at work? 

It can be a lack of a structured information flow that leads to poor communication. 

We all know what happens next. 

Employees end up making poor business decisions that can change your company’s fate. 

This means you need to work internally to prevent information silos and cultivate a culture of seamless communication in the workplace. 

It’s time to give internal communication and scattered business knowledge a home where it can thrive and help employees make big and small calls confidently. 

This home is your internal documentation - a central hub where you can store all critical business information related to your clients, projects, work processes, and more. 

Read this blog to learn everything you need to know about internal documentation: 

Picking one software from a pool of tools available online is like tracing a needle in a haystack. This list will make this task a tad bit easier for you.

What Is Internal Documentation?

Internal documentation is an online company-wide platform where you can store important business information revolving around your company’s history, vision and mission, clients, projects, teams, and much more. 

It’s a common reference point for your organization’s work processes, core values, and other internal matters. 

Teams across departments like marketing, sales, customer support, or HR can use this documentation to access information anytime and from anywhere. Internal documentation facilitates easy and instant access to important information, empowering employees to be better decision-makers. 

Here’s how an internal document looks like -Internal Documentation Examples

Internal documentation types-min

1. Why Is Internal Documentation Important?

Did you know that only 4% of organizations document their work processes? 

Let that sink in. 

Despite documentation being essential to streamline communication and drive decision-making, very few companies have proper documentation in place. 

This is major because companies are still not aware of the huge benefits they can derive from the documentation. 

Here are a few significant reasons you should consider creating internal documentation

1. Get More Done in Less Time

That’s true. Imagine working on an important project and spending hours trying to find some crucial information related to project expenses, a previous client, or anything else. That would be so time-consuming. Internal documentation saves you from this ‘search struggle.’

No guesswork required, and no need to shoot emails to colleagues every time you are at a crucial point in your project. Just refer to your internal documentation, and you will have everything at your fingertips.

2. Helps in Employee Onboarding

If you think that documentation can replace one-to-one mentoring sessions or job shadowing, that’s not true. Internal documentation acts as a supplement to your regular employee onboarding process.

It gives new hires more freedom, autonomy, and flexibility to get familiar with your organization’s work dynamics and enhance their knowledge on matters important to your business. 

This document acts as the best buddy new hires need to get acquainted with your organization and deal with different aspects of their new role in a confident manner.

3. Prevents Information Silos & Boosts Knowledge Sharing

Often business knowledge remains stuck in the brains of your employees right from the time they join till they leave. This knowledge includes the experience and expertise they have gained during their work tenure.

What if this knowledge is available to everyone in your organization? It will boost decision-making and benefit your business more than you can imagine. 

Internal documentation makes this possible. It’s a common platform where all your employees can share their experiences, observations, and subject knowledge. It provides a great way to knock down information silos and cultivate a knowledge-sharing culture in the workplace

There is much more to internal documentation importance. But the benefits mentioned above are the major ones that can help employees bring a marked improvement in their work performance and make them smarter decision-makers. 

1. Types of Internal Documentation

Types of Internal Documentation

Internal documentation can be of various types. Depending on your objectives, you can build documentation for your projects, teams, or especially for new hires. 

These are some of the major types of internal documentation you can create for your employees:

1. Project Documentation

This documentation is created for a specific project. It comprises every information about the project right from the proposal stage to the execution stage. It defines the project guidelines, timelines, deliverables, and the team that will be working on the project.

2. Team Documentation

This documentation documents everything your team is working on. It can include department goals, meeting notes, project reports, and more.

3. Onboarding Documentation

This document acts as a reference point for your new hires to get acquainted with your work processes. Existing employees can also use it to brush up their knowledge in specific areas. It comprises information around your company policies, HR processes, organization structure, top-level employees, and much more.

4. Process Documentation

Here, you can document all the steps involved in completing a task from start to finish. It provides step-by-step instructions on how to carry out a process in the most seamless way possible. When employees have all standardized work processes documented together, the chances of errors reduce to a minimum. 

1. Difference Between Internal & External Documentation

Both internal and external documentation is crucial for a business. While an internal document caters to your employees, an external document is meant to provide support to your customers. 

Internal documentation is strictly designed for your internal audience i.e., employees. It comprises information that can help employees perform their work efficiently, make informed business decisions, and be more productive at work. This document can be accessed securely by your employees. 

This video explains how you can build internal documentation in a hassle-free way -

On the contrary, external documentation aims to assist customers in solving issues related to your products or services. It’s a customer-focused self-help document that relieves customers from time-consuming calls and emails to solve basic issues. Unlike internal documentation, this document can be accessed by your prospects and customers. 

Watch this video to learn more about external documentation -

1. Internal Documentation Best Practices

Before jumping to the document creation part, let’s discuss the latest internal documentation best practices. It will give you clarity around the elements that you simply cannot ignore while building documentation for your employees.

1. Keep It Simple

You want employees to use your documentation regularly, right?

 For that, it’s important that the document is simple to follow. Avoid jargon wherever you can, and even if you use them, ensure that it is explained clearly right away. Keep the language simple and the tone educational. 

Divide long articles into different sections and subsections. Keep paragraphs short and use bulleted lists. Bullets explain more in fewer words. The whole idea is not to overwhelm employees with complex information. 

Mimosa’s documentation scores are high on simplicity. As you scroll further, you will notice it uses bullets, short sentences, and paragraphs generously throughout the documentation.

mimosa internal documentation

2. Provide Enough Depth

A document that doesn’t provide enough information is bound to leave employees dissatisfied and frustrated. They will start questioning the value it adds to their work and ultimately opt for other more useful ways to get in-depth information.

When you know your organization inside out, it’s natural to skip important sections and assume that employees will have an idea. Think from the employees' perspective or someone who has recently joined your organization. They will want every concept, process, or policy described in detail from A to Z. 

Therefore specificity is crucial when it comes to documentation. It ensures that employees get enough information to carry out a process or solve a challenge independently.

3. Add Visuals Generously

To make your documentation impactful, you need to have the right mixture of text, images, and videos. A document with black and white text and no images or videos to go with it is likely to disappoint employees.

Who would want to go through a lackluster document all the time? 

No one would. 

Don’t rely completely on the text. Supplement the text with the right screenshots and videos. It not just imparts clarity to your documentation but also makes it engaging for readers. 

For example, rather than simply describing the process to apply for a company-sponsored MBA program, walk employees through screenshots of every step involved in the process.

ManageEngine’s documentation shows us how to add visuals in the right way - 

Manage Engine Internal documentation example

4. Serve a Diverse Employee Base

Whether you are a small-sized company or a big organization, you might have employees spread across different geographic locations. Does that mean you should create separate documentation for employees based out of those office locations?

That would cost both - time and money!

Worry not. When you create internal documentation, allow employees to translate it into a language of their preference. That means you don’t have to create documentation from scratch for employees working from different locations. 

All you need is the right documentation software that allows content translation in as many languages as you want (ProProfs is perfect for this, by the way!)

5. Make Search & Navigation a Breeze

Creating internal documentation is pointless if your employees aren’t able to run a search and navigate through it. A poor search and navigation experience kills the sole purpose of building documentation in the first place.

Internal documentation’s key objective is to help employees so that they can perform well at work and be more productive. To fulfill this objective, ensure that your documentation is easy to search and navigate. 

Have a Google-like search bar where employees can get instant and accurate article suggestions whenever they search for something. It should be similar to how Google functions. 

To improve your document’s navigation, cross-link related articles, and make information-gathering just a few clicks away. Have proper sections and subsections and a table of contents at the left. Make it easier for employees to maneuver through your documentation and reach the right article quickly. 

Read more: Why a Searchable Knowledge Base Is the Best Thing for Your Business?

Now that you are familiar with document management best practices, it’s time to finally get started with the document creation process. 

1. How to Create Internal Documentation

Before you kick-start the process, set a clear objective around why you need to create documentation. It can be for new employee onboarding, project management, or just to cultivate a knowledge-sharing culture. 

Once you are clear about your goals, follow these simple steps, and you will have your documentation up and running in no time.

1. Employ the Right Software

This is the first and foremost step to build internal documentation. Without the right tool, the document creation process can go haywire. 

Therefore you have to be discreet while selecting the internal documentation software. With scores of options available, it’s natural to feel confused and make the wrong decision. Worry not. We’ve got your back. 

Picking the right documentation tool can be challenging. Do not rush to buy a tool. Take your time, and look out for these features while shortlisting the tools: 

  • Online text editor
  • A robust search mechanism
  • Documentation templates
  • Customization options
  • AI-generated reports
  • Integrations with third-party software
  • User management options
  • Tooltips, pop-ups, and lightboxes
  • Translation support
  • Compatibility with various devices
  • Public or private 
  • Import, export, and many others. 

Based on these features, shortlist a few tools. Ensure that you opt for only those tools that offer a free trial period of at least 15 days. That’s the minimum amount of time you need to understand a tool and its features. 

Look for a tool that comes at a reasonable price and gives you the required bang for your bucks. 

Read More: 20 Best Documentation Software of 2021

2. Opt for a Template That Matches Your Requirements

It’s a known fact that templates make content creation a cakewalk. They reduce half of your effort as you don’t have to create everything from scratch.

Documentation templates come with a predefined structure. They provide a table of contents, pre-written sections and subsections, and dummy content for each of the sections. You can use the headers as is or edit them to fit the documentation topic. As far as the dummy content is concerned, press CTRL+A and delete it and put some useful content out there.

Online documentation templates3. Write, Edit, & Customize 

The next step is to put the template to use.

The software you choose should offer two choices. First, it should allow you to write fresh content, and second, it should help you upload existing files to your document. 

Go for the easier option and get started. 

While writing and editing content, remember to: 

  • Create short paragraphs
  • Add bullets to every article
  • Write short, easy to understand sentences
  • Try to write in an active voice wherever possible
  • Use instructional or educational tone while writing
  • Add headers and footers
  • Use short, action-oriented titles

You can even customize the internal documentation and give it the look and feel you want. Add your brand name and company logo. Use the colors, fonts, and themes that resonate with your brand. For instance, if your website has orange, grey, red, and black as the dominant colors, ensure that your internal documentation also uses similar color themes.

design your knowledge base

4. Review Content Thoroughly

Employees consider your company’s internal documentation as a reliable source of information that can help them solve work-related challenges. Their expectations will be crushed if they find errors of any kind in the document.

Reviewing your internal documentation thoroughly is imperative to avoid even the slightest chances of mistakes. Have a proper review process in place, wherein writers can set workflow status whenever they start working or complete an article. 

The status can be - Draft, In Progress, Ready for Review, and Publish. Writers can also create a custom status such as - ‘Given for second round of review,’ or anything else, depending on which stage the article is at. 

This is an excellent way to streamline the review process and ensure that each article goes through multiple revisions before getting published. 

Set workflow in operations manual

5. Involve All Your Employees in the Process

A comprehensive internal document cannot be created by a single person. Given the number of sections and level of specificity it needs to have, all your employees should come together and contribute their bit to the process.

It would not be right if anyone randomly comes to the document, makes changes, and exits. That can hamper the quality of the content, and no one will have a track of who did what. 

A better way would be to add users and groups and appoint them as editors, contributors, administrators, and viewers. Based on the skills, experience, and position they hold in your organization, assign them suitable roles. 

The administrator will monitor the activities of writers, editors, and viewers. Writers and editors will be in charge of writing content and maintaining its quality. 

This streamlined process of collaborative content creation can lead to two major benefits: 

  • Build a knowledge-sharing culture in your organization wherein everyone shares their knowledge and experiences with one another 
  • Keep your internal documentation in good shape and updated all the time

Isn’t that great? 

Watch this video to know more about the benefits of collaborative content creation - 

6. Have a Bullet-Proof Security System

Your internal documentation can have confidential information. There might be some articles that you don’t want all your teams to access. For instance, the sales team might not want information related to newly acquired clients to be accessible to the marketing and other departments.

To maintain security and restrict access to certain sections of your internal documentation, you can add rules and conditions to the content. 

These rules are helpful in controlling who can and cannot access specific articles. You can set certain conditions to display or hide content depending on the team, user, and viewing device. 

Here’s how you can do it:

Internal documentation Security7. Update & Improve

If you think that building internal documentation is a one-time process, think again. Your company keeps growing in terms of your customers, employee base, projects, and more. That means more and more business knowledge is generated every day, month, quarter, and year.

Isn’t it important to document this in your internal documentation? How will employees know about any changes in your product line, processes, company structure, and more if the documentation doesn’t reflect these changes? 

That’s precisely why updating and improving your company-wide documentation regularly is essential. 

Keep an eye on how well your documentation is performing and whether it’s delivering the right information. AI-powered documentation reports can be of tremendous help here. They provide a graphical and tabular representation of: 

  • Total number of searches made by employees
  • Keyword searches that yielded accurate results and those that didn’t
  • Articles rated poor and popular by employees
  • Broken links, and much more. 

Reports provide you a goldmine of useful information. Use it the right way, and your documentation will always be updated and ready to serve the latest information to employees. 

This video explains reports in more detail. Watch it to understand how you can make the most of reports - 

Ready To Take the Plunge? 

By now, you know that internal documentation is crucial to make your company’s and your employees’ lives hassle and headache-free. 

It helps you foster a knowledge-sharing culture in your company, onboard new employees smoothly, and, most importantly, prevent information silos. 

To create internal documentation, start by getting the right software. Once you have a suitable tool, choose a template, and start writing. Next, you need to customize the document to reflect your brand, review content earnestly, and encourage your employees to work collectively to build the internal document. 

Build impressive internal documentation with ProProfs Knowledge Base

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About the author

Brayn Wills

Brayn is a knowledge management expert. He has been published in CustomerThink, PointVisible and Apruve. As a customer support specialist at ProProfs, Brayn has been instrumental in building a robust knowledge base and documents that help support executives keep every customer delighted. You can catch up with Brayn on Twitter and LinkedIn.

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