In the Fall of 2020, I participated in Code for Philly’s premiere Tech Fellowship program in partnership with Comcast. As a transplant to the tech industry, I have had to build on my psychology and data roots to problem-solve, guide project progress, manage issues and feature development, and document user experience.
I learned how vital user documentation is, particularly in communicating technical processes to those in the public sector. In the technological age, the public sector finds itself lagging behind in technical literacy. To be able to problem-solve in the 21st century, we must integrate technical knowledge into our processes. In this way, we can build a better world for us all.
My aim is to share my newfound technical savvy with fellow beginners, friends in the public-sector, and those transitioning between the two fields. Without further ado, here is my beginners guide to user documentation.
What is user documentation?
User documentation refers to the process of documenting how to use a product or service for end-users. The goal of user documentation is to demonstrate and provide information on how the product or service works. For example, once the Code for Philly Prevention Point team had created their unified reporting system, I wrote out instructions on how the interface operates and how to use it as a staff member of Prevention Point.
Why is it important?
Documenting user instructions is a valuable habit to pick up inside and outside of the world of tech. Process documentation allows any future user (yourself included) to dive right into the product or project with ease. It allows the user to learn: How to use a product or service Features of the product or service Tips and tricks How to troubleshoot problems
If the user has a question on how to perform a certain operation, and if you’ve done your part, they should be able to refer to the documentation successfully.
How do you do it?
After you’ve read this beginner’s guide, do some research on what user documentation looks like. Get a feel for the language that is used, what best practices will be relevant for your work, and visualize yourself as an outsider using your product or service for the first time.
Once you have a general direction, I recommend doing the following:
1.Start with a plan
Think about who your audience is, what context they have, what they will be using the product for, what problems they are trying to solve, and how you can structure the information for ease of viewing.
2.Put yourself in the user’s shoes
-Walk yourself through a common process for which the user might use the product. For example, while I was writing the documentation for Prevention Point’s reporting system, I thought through how a staff member might enter a client’s information.
3.Use clear, concise writing
-Speak in the language of the user and be specific.
4.Use visuals when necessary
-Recording a walk-through video can be a powerful learning tool.
-Ask someone with fresh eyes to review your documentation and use the product.
Voila! You’ve written clear, to the point, user-friendly documentation!
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