Examine your documentation from your reader’s perspective. Will they be able to read it without getting confused? Is your reader going to get bored and dismiss your documentation? It can be challenging to create documentation that engages your readers without sacrificing information about your product in favor of simplicity. The first step to engaging your customers, users, and potential clients is often understanding why it is important to create engaging documents. Engaging help-documentation can allow your product to sell itself.
- Make it personal: Use personal pronouns (e.g., you, your, we, our) to give your documents a personal touch. As a rule of thumb, technical writer writes in an active voice, putting the subject first, then the verb. It is good to keep in mind that while the active voice is important, it can often become impersonal. To strengthen the relationship between you, the writer, and your audience, try addressing the audience directly. Dale Carnegie once said “there is no sweeter sound to one’s ear than the sound of his name. Since, hopefully, your published document has more than one reader, the best way we can imitate that tactic in a universal way is by addressing your readers with pronouns. The reader will do the rest of the work for you.
- Make it visual: Providing visual representations of complex systems or ideas can provide insight into the process you’re trying to convey. Visuals can help to simplify ideas that often seem to be confusing to the reader. Have you ever heard the phrase “when all else fails, read the instructions?” This idea speaks to the fact that people are busy. They do not want to put the effort in to read a document word for word if there is an easier alternative available. Users would rather look at a diagram and figure things out for themselves, than read a detailed explanation that is 20+ pages, no matter how carefully crafted and thorough it is. Add value and meaning to your document by adding images. You do not have to have a PhD in design to accomplish a smart and user-friendly layout. If your document breaks down a complex product or process, add pictures. Use your Print Screen button to snag a capture of that complicated BlackKnight financial services process you are trying to describe. Grab your smartphone and take pictures of that production freeze dryer you are explaining the functionality of. Any visual element you add should be deliberate and make the process or product easier to understand.
- Choose your flow: There is no one design flow that fits all products equally. Sometimes a task-based approach works. Sometimes a product approach is better. You must choose your flow carefully and thoughtfully to create a seamless narrative. When we talk about flow, we mean how the information in your document is organized. Is it logical? Is it chronological? Is it clear? Does it coincide with the narrative? Does it make sense? For instance, if your document is intended to instruct readers on how to submit a SharePoint ticket to the IT team, you would need to give the reader the hyperlink to SharePoint and their login information before explaining how to assign a ticket to a specific IT specialist. To determine the best structure for your document, think about what information you are trying to emphasis or convey. If you are documenting a process, a task-based approach will be your go-to choose. If you are marketing a product, you want a more holistic approach to your flow. Remember, your document is a story, and you are the storyteller.
- Keep your documents current – If you keep your documents up to date, your employees and users will thank you. It is a mark of professionalism to make sure your documents reflect the most current information. That means if you are in a risk management meeting with your client, you need to pay attention and take notes. Even if a product manager does not single out your particular document to be revised, be proactive and adjust the document to reflect the new risk control measure. Take pride in what you do. When one aspect of a document is out of date and no longer current, it puts your document’s sense of integrity and your professional reputation at risk. For instance, a user might wonder whether you really are qualified to be a source of authority on a subject matter if you cannot get the page numbering right within the Table of Contents. When you go the extra mile to adjust your document based on anticipated needs, you save yourself a lot of effort and heartache later.
- Talk to your readers: Make sure you get feedback from your readers. Use the resources you have. People are the best sources of information. Once your document is written, take it back to your subject matter expert to have them re-read the material. You may not be an expert in the subject matter expert’s field, but they are a great resource. They may identify knowledge gaps that were previously overlooked. Often writers can miss things that would help make their documentation more engaging. Try getting a co-worker or a third-party to read your document and provide suggestions for improvements. Ask them questions. Does the document make sense? Is it boring? Are there any confusing sentences? Does the narrative tangent off and lose the attention of the user at any point in the document? As the writer, you know what you meant when you wrote a paragraph a certain way. However, your intentions are not always 100% conveyed through your writing. Bridge the gap between the writer and the reader by asking for criticism without jumping in to explain or justify your document or creative process.
Creating solid documentation is a must for any product in our world today. If your documentation isn’t clear and interesting, then it will be less effective. It can often be the difference between an engaged client and seeing your client turn to a competitor. These types of documents, often overlooked, can be the key to putting your best foot forward. Knowing how to engage with your reader is half the battle when it comes to writing documentation for anyone, especially clients.
For more information on how MATC Group can help you improve customer engagement through better documentation, visit http://www.matcgroup.com/contact-us.html or call (267) 368-7090