Good documentation adds tremendous value to a product. It helps users understand a product’s potential. It shows them how to effectively use the product. And it reduces support calls because users who read it are more knowledgeable about how to use your product. (That is, if the product documentation is well written, complete, and easy to view, as it is when you use PDF software to create it.)
But what makes product documentation good? One way to define it is to describe the things it needs to do:
- It tells what the product is and how to use it.
- It tells users how to get started.
- It shows how to use the product in real world situations.
- It defines best practices for the product.
Yet even though documentation covers these four essentials it doesn’t mean it is good. Complete maybe, but not necessarily good. That is because in addition to providing information on every feature and use regarding the product, the accompanying documentation needs to also be concise and well organized.
Long user manuals and instructions are rarely able to keep a reader’s attention so the user winds up missing out, sometimes on the most important parts of the documentation. If it is not organized, then users will likely have trouble following the guidance provided to them, again resulting in user error, the need for additional support and dissatisfaction with the product.
Writing your product documentation well
The people who design and build the product should not always be the ones writing the documentation. Include them as a part of the team since they know the product best, but a professional writer is the person that should craft the final draft that users rely on.
Many businesses have writers who handle marketing tasks within the company but this type of project calls for a technical writer who can give the document the right tone and flow. Of course once the writer is on board they need to have the right tools to get the job done.
Usingsoftware to make documentation more useful
The right tool for creating product documentation needs to offer flexibility more than anything else because it must:
- Make it possible for many people to collaborate and edit the document
- Allow for easy layout changes
- Make it easy to insert pages or change the order of existing pages
- Incorporate commenting
- Make embedding, and editing, graphics, charts and diagrams simple
- Work across different computer systems
- Protect it from unauthorized changes
For these reasonsis a perfect choice for this task.
Not everyone agrees, however. There are still a number of organizations that choose to use word processing software. While these solutions create nice looking documents, they lack the feature set that PDF software offers and are known for having trouble with cross-compatibility.
Others opt for larger desktop publishing suites for creating product documentation. These robust solutions can offer a rich set of features, however, users find them much too complicated for casual use. Plus, they’re usually the most costly of the three and aren’t often distributed to people who don’t require them.
Ironically, using either a word processor or desktop publishing suite will require conversion of the document to PDF before publication so that you can view it on any computer or device and protect it from unauthorized edits.
No one facet of this process will create good product documentation on its own. Only a team effort with a professional wordsmith putting the final touches on the published draft will cover everything users expect.
Using PDF software to put your product documentation together allows the process to flow smoothly and results in a well-organized final draft that makes things easier for users to understand. Then you need merely concentrate on distribution and let your users (hopefully) read up on the products they’ve gotten from you.