15 Best Practices When Launching New Product Documentation

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Tal F.
on January 07, 2023 · · filed under Product Documentation Product Management Best Practices Technical Writing Product Documentation Tutorials

One best practice when launching a new product is performing product release preparations. In particular, we want to focus on writing new product documentation to support a product launch. Without it, potential users will not have relevant information to use as a reference point after purchasing your new solution.

As part of a wider marketing strategy, product managers and product team members should continue reading to learn about 15 best practices to follow during their next launch. By the end, you will understand how to make these important documents the best they can be!

What Types of Product Documentation Should I Be Aware Of?

Before diving into the list of best practices, let us clarify what types of product documentation exist, and the intended goal for each:

  • Product Requirements Documentation – A product requirements document or PRD is a type of internal product documentation used to help businesses meet release criteria. This explains what the final product should accomplish for a user, without specifically defining how or where. Then, development teams and testing teams use a PRD to align the product with business requirements ready for release. PRDs are commonplace with software products, but can be used to adhere to any product roadmap.

  • User Guides and Self Service – Product teams will need to create user guides as a soft prerequisite for a successful product launch. As the name suggests, this is documentation to help end-users maximise their productivity when using a new product. Here, all major user-facing functionality should be explained in full, so customers can get the most value. Better yet, share these guides in a self-service external knowledge base so customers can help themselves!

  • Setup, Installation and Configuration Guides – If a product requires setup, installation and configuration, this is another technical product documentation asset you will need to create. The goal is to clearly illustrate these processes from a user perspective, and a developer perspective if applicable. This may span across multiple devices and multiple operating systems if for software documentation; something to bear in mind.

  • Marketing Assets – You may not think this is product documentation, but it is! The style and format of marketing assets influences how customers perceive your product, before they start using it. Making a good impression is vital. How are you describing the products new features? What audience is it intended for? How will this improve someone’s work or personal life? Is this what you and the wider company want customers to think?

15 Best Practices for Documentation When Releasing New Products

After that primer on product docs, next up is the list of best practices:

1: Make a Start!

Just starting out with product documentation? Great! Now, don’t hesitate to make a start. Many people want to get product documentation PERFECT; and in pursuit of perfection, they become paralyzed by the task. Get the basic concept for your services on paper, then focus on tidying up ready to impress your customers. Release notes are great at defining the basics, then you can build out from this document.

2: Keep it Simple, Stupid…

Abbreviated as KISS, this is a real design principle that floated around (pun intended) in the US navy in the 60s. The same rule can apply to product documentation. Ask yourself: “How can you convey the necessary information in a way that all demographics can understand?”

To apply this to your product vision, we recommend the Flesch-Kincaid readability test. Content grading tools like Grammarly commonly use this system. This gives you a score equivalent to a US high school grade when analysing written content. Aim for grade 8 or age 13 to 14 as a schooling age to maximise the interpretability of content – wait, we could’ve said… how easy it is to understand your writing.

3: Understand the Target Audience

So, you’ve started, and kept it simple. Now, you need to know who you are actually writing for… As an example, the target audience for software companies will be very different to an automotive manufacturer.

Let’s imagine an educational software company that focuses on simple tools to help young students learn step by step about concepts. The first thought in your head may be, “so, the target audience is children, right?”. Not necessarily... The target audience is the primary decision maker for software packages at a kindergarten or high school – such as the IT department and internal stakeholders in charge of procurement. A secondary audience would be the young students, who may see the education software in the wild and advocate for its use in their school.

4: Focus on the Value, Rather Than a Story

While everyone loves a good story, customers want to know what value your product will offer. Will it simplify a task or workflow? Is your product available offline, versus competitors who are online only? Does your product do the thing faster than other competing products?

These examples constitute unique selling points (USP) for a particular offering. Focusing on and highlighting USPs will tempt prospective customers, and help them understand what you have that others don’t to increase market share. You can define USPs by performing a competitive analysis against competitors in your industry.

5: Leverage Formatting to Categorize Information

Documentation should not be a big block of text. This is difficult to scan through and navigate for end users. Instead, use headings and other formatting options to break up the text.

H1 headings are the first thing people see when clicking on a page. H2 and H3 act as sub headings for topics covered on the page. You can use bullet points or numbered lists to group content together for easy reading, and even become eligible for Rich Snippets to improve SEO and SERPS visibility. If you have Markdown knowledge, an online markdown editor like Docsie offers numerous formatting options to make your product documents stand out!

6: Keep Your Documentation in a Central Location

There’s nothing worse than releasing technical documentation, and then realising how complicated it will be to monitor and manage long term. What if documentation needs an update? Where is the original document, and how can we release new versions of the page? How about translating this content into other languages?

For this best practice, we have to mention Docsie! Online knowledge base software allows you to store documents in a single centralised cloud location. From here, employees and contractors can collaborate on content to expedite completion ready for launch. Docsie offers version control management when you need to update knowledge, and language management for global content localization. If you wanted to automate global content creation, we also have a nifty ghost AI language translation bot that accurately translates for you in the background!

7: A Picture Speaks a Thousand Words

While writing a long-winded explanation on how to do the thing will work, it’s not an effective way of teaching end users. Instead, show them with pictures, or even moving pictures!

Try creating an accompanying video tutorial for each product document. That way, those who prefer reading can scan through the text, while visual learners can opt for the video. Similarly, GIFs and images can help users see what you are referring to, especially within a software user interface (UI). Accommodating for a range of learning styles will help you help a wider range of users, meaning more potential for your product.

8: Learning vs Goals vs Understanding vs Information

What is the intent for the document? User intent is critical with online product documentation, and helps you align your content to sections of the user journey.

  • Learning – If a person has never seen a thing before, learning content helps them understand the basic principles.

  • Goals – This type of content should help users reach a goal, such as ‘How to Export a PDF File From Docsie’. By the end, the user will have achieved the goal: exporting a PDF.

  • Understanding – Also referred to as research, this is for customers who already have working knowledge on a subject, but want to understand in more depth.

  • Information – The subject has a question, and wants a specific answer. This could be as simple as the real time weather in a specific location, or a video on ‘how to build a tree house.’

9: Make it Searchable

Before you make this documentation public, can your users search for keywords within the text?

If not, we recommend finding a documentation platform that supports this. The number one deterrent for users is not being able to quickly find information. This leads to frustration, additional customer support team workloads if they cannot find the info, and a negative overall customer experience (CX). Oh, Docsie does support global search if you were wondering!

10: Preparing to Gather Actionable Feedback

Documentation writers will be aware of the fact that the initial version of the content is bound to change down the line. Until the public sees the documentation, your writers can only bounce ideas and feedback off one another.

Once your documentation is published, we believe it is essential to have feedback collection in place. That way, your writers can turn any content-related negatives into positives by listening to real customers and end users. No need to look elsewhere, you can take advantage of feedback collection in Docsie!

11: Link to a Page When Mentioning a Topic

This best practice leans into SEO and web page navigational structures.

When you mention a keyword, do you link to it? When you reference other topics, users may not yet understand the other topic in the context of the current page. You should link to any mentioned topics that have documentation, as this allows readers to quickly reference sub-topics while learning about a main topic.

12: Clarity, Not Ambiguity

Clarity beats ambiguity when writing product documentation. You can use plain English to avoid ambiguity, which basically means avoiding jargon and technical language unless absolutely necessary. If you do use jargon, be sure to write a simplified definition immediately after for layperson readers.

“If you are having issues with comprehending information in this documentation, please ask for additional details on how to overcome this comprehension difficulty from our customer support representative.”

“If the content displayed is hard to understand, you can ask customer support for help.”

Which do you prefer?

13: Create Templates to Make Documents Faster

With a new product launching, expediting the documentation creation process is a priority. You can do this using templates.

Templates define a reusable structure for pages, helping writers create content faster and with more consistency. You can also create multiple templates for different content styles. Docsie offers a range of prebuilt templates for you to use, alongside custom template support.

14: Establish a Tone of Voice and Style Guide for Writers

How much free reign do your writers have?

Reigning writers in is important, as this can lead to inconsistency in final drafts of product documentation. You can do this with Tone of Voice (ToV) guidelines, and content writing style guides.

  • Tone of Voice – It’s not what you said… it’s the way you said it. Do you want writers to be formal and proper, or more casual? Is humour allowed, or are the topics more serious? Is your content more conversational and passionate, or do you just want cold-hard facts?

  • Style Guidelines – This document may explain the company mission statement, and how writers can follow a set style when writing and formatting pages. Included here could be user personas to target, SEO principles like meta descriptions, and citation or referencing requirements (Chicago, AP Style etc).

15: Publish Your Documentation Using a Powerful Knowledge Base Platform

If your written content is fuel, what vehicle are you using to drive the message home?

A powerful knowledge base platform is essential for deploying quality product documentation. If documents become unavailable, or pages are slow to load, all the effort spent creating these documents will go to waste.

You need the ability to import existing documents, collaborate on content with internal teams, create and edit new documents, embed dynamic rich content, and publish to a knowledge site. Version control is also critical for long term documentation updates, alongside language management and auto translation for global content localization.

You guessed it! All of these features are available in Docsie. Take these features for a spin, try our Free Forever plan to get started!

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