Digital Documentation: Best Practices to Inform and Inspire

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Tal F
on April 05, 2021 · · filed under Product Documentation Best Practices

From Paper to Pixels

Only a few decades ago, it seemed every business was using paper for documentation. Contracts, policies, meeting notes; everything was paper-based - being printed and passed around instead of attached and analyzed via email.

As technology became more advanced, businesses had more storage space for documentation, and the computer systems needed for employees to access these digital documents. This marks the start of a transition away from paper to pixels.

The modern world of digital documentation offers numerous benefits, but problems persist. Documentation is used to convey information, both to internal staff and external customers. This means that consistency of content, ease of access, and ease of management are essential. Contrarily, inconsistent, inaccessible and unmanageable digital documentation can reduce your businesses ability to effectively convey information.

To drive ease and consistency, enterprises should follow digital documentation best-practices. This encompasses the design, formatting, choice of file types, and governance of digital documentation.

In this eBook, we will discuss best-practices for digital documentation and the potential business impact of making these changes. Can better digital documentation drive revenue growth and attract customers? How can businesses transform their digital documentation to deliver better value to customers using a documentation management system, or DMS?

Let us answer these questions!

Digital Documentation Benefits

Before we discuss the what and how of digital documentation best-practices, first we should understand the benefits of digital documentation:

  • Ease of Management -- Digital documentation is easier to manage than paper documents. Paper documentation requires space in the office for a filing cabinet, and requires manual archiving for each paper document. Digital document storage frees up office real estate, and simplifies management with search functionality and folder structures.

As detailed in this Software Advice study, office workers spend an average of six hours per week searching for paper documents. Additionally, office workers spend an average of eight hours per week creating reports from paper documents, with 94% saying that a document management system (DMS) makes this process easier.[1]

  • Ease of Access - These digital documents can also be shared, virtually in real-time, via email or cloud storage. This negates the need for posting letters, eliminating postage or courier costs. It also increases the speed of response, as recipients no longer need to wait days for a letter to arrive. Furthermore, digital documentation can be deployed on your website or social media, improving ease of access for customers.

Did you know that - according to Gartner - for every $1 spent on printing documents, another $6 is spent on handling and distributing these documents? Furthermore, half of all printed documents are thrown away within 24 hours.[2]

  • Security and Governance -- Unless its hidden behind a lock and key, paper documentation is insecure. Anyone can read it, make a copy, and share as they see fit. Contrarily, digital documentation can be governed by role-based access controls (RBAC) to grant access only to those who need it.

Even Governments are not immune to paper data breaches, with the US Department for Veterans Affairs attributing paper documentation as the reason for 98% of data breaches[3].

  • Environmental Benefits -- People and businesses alike are searching for ways to reduce their environmental footprint. Digital documentation is one route they can take. According to Green America, paper consumption has risen by 400% in the last 40 years, with the industry accounting for 4% of global energy consumption[4]. By opting for digital documentation, businesses can reduce their paper usage to combat deforestation -- keeping trees alive to absorb carbon emissions and sustain animal habitats.

Best-Practices With Digital Documentation on Docsie

Digital documentation has the capacity to transform knowledge sharing, publishing, and marketing across the business. To tap into this potential, businesses should follow digital documentation best-practices:

Align Your DMS With Business Needs

A document management system (DMS) is the foundation that helps businesses store and manage their documentation. After content is written, it is uploaded to a DMS for storage and distribution. A DMS centralizes documentation storage, providing a single source of knowledge for the entire business. This functions much like a digital library, categorizing documents by department or product, with search functionality to streamline knowledge sharing. From here, marketing and support teams can share documentation, publishing it on websites and social media, or in response to customer queries.

Docsie is a DMS that simplifies the way your team does docs. Every business needs a way to store and share documentation, both so internal staff can learn about their job role, and customers can learn how to use your product or service. HR onboarding documents, product how-to guides, sales communication templates -- all of these items can be stored and published with the right DMS solution.

What documentation currently exists on your products and services? Do your staff use templates and frameworks when communicating with customers? Can you easily store, internally share, and externally publish your documentation? Ask these questions when considering a DMS solution like Docsie, and ensure that your DMS is aligned with business needs.

Focus on Compatibility

Digital documentation can increase accessibility, but only when using highly-compatible file formats. This is important with downloadable documentation, as certain customers may be unable to open a file. It also applies to internal documentation, where one employee using PDF and another using DOCX may cause file format fragmentation -- prompting other employees to switch software packages, or convert to another format to make the file accessible.

Open file formats like docx, xlsx, and pptx for Microsoft Office, or the open document format (ODF) for OpenOffice are ideal for maximizing compatibility. Adobe PDF documents are common, but less compatible due to requiring a PDF viewer. Consider who will be accessing these documents, and store documentation in a format that caters to the widest possible user base.

Docsie is a great option for broad document compatibility. When text is loaded into the Docsie Book Editor, it is stored in the open-source JavaScript Object Notation (JSON) file format. You can find more information on exporting documents, and how Docsie enables easy conversion into DOC, PDF, Markdown (MD) and HTML formats here.

Actionable Feedback

User and employee feedback on documentation is vital. If documentation lacks information, contains incorrect information, or is simply hard to read -- readers will struggle to get any value from your documentation. Furthermore, feedback can help you improve existing documentation to provide more value to customers, driving business success through quality knowledge sharing.

Docsie Vocally is an all-in-one feedback monitoring and response service. It allows readers to rank individual pieces of documentation on a scale of one to five, with comments to explain the reasons for their rating. Docsie Owners and Admins can read this feedback, gaining insight into the success and shortcomings of your documentation.

Self-service knowledge bases are designed to minimize support requirements, but this also means that customers are unlikely to persist with bad documentation -- instead searching for an alternative with competitors who provide better documentation. To tackle this problem, Docise Vocally will record user interactions as they read your documentation. This will highlight where they encountered a problem in a document, and what content is causing the problem. Writers can use this feedback to edit documentation and act on user feedback. Over time, this will improve the quality of documentation knowledge, empowering customers to help themselves.

Customer empowerment is a great way to attract new business, reduce costs, and retain customers. Around 67% of customers prefer self-service to speaking over the phone, according to Zendesk[5]. Forrester Research and Oracle also found that self-service can drive down support costs by $11 per call[6]. Finally, a study from Microsoft highlights how 90% of customers expect a self-service option[7].

Summarily, customers prefer and expect quality self-service, and providing this option can significantly reduce support costs. By creating a self-service knowledge base in Docsie, and improving documentation quality with feedback through Docsie Vocally - you can cater to evolving customer demands through digital documentation. Read more on Docsie Vocally here.

Document Versioning

Particularly with technology companies, new software or service versions can introduce problems with documentation. The new version may include different workflows to previous versions, or different terminology that may confuse users. Concurrently, new documentation may not apply to older versions of your services, creating knowledge gaps that have the potential to frustrate and drive away customers.

This is an important best-practice with digital documentation. Customers may need older versions of your software for compatibility with their hardware, or simply choose to not update to a new version. Thus, businesses should always cater to their user base regardless of the version number being used.

Docsie tackles this problem with document versioning. When you update a document in Docsie, you can retain previous versions for redundancy purposes. Customers on version 2 of your service can select the right documentation, with customers on version 1 still having access to older documentation. This is called fragmentation; when your customer base is split across multiple versions of the same software. Docsie reduces the impact of fragmentation, ensuring knowledge is available no matter the version being used.

Document versioning ensures the right information is available when needed. It also helps with traceability, especially when multiple writers are working on the same piece of content. Versioning also reduces duplication, consolidating your documentation for ease of access.

Does your business regularly update its documentation? Are your customers struggling to find the right information for current and historic versions of your software and services? If so, it may be time to apply the best-practice of document versioning through a DMS like Docsie. You can find more information on Docise document versioning here.

Workforce Documentation Habits

Your people create documentation, but they can also create problems with documentation. During the draft phase, writers may use different font sizes or types, or outdated iconography and artwork. These differences are easy to miss for employees that work with content every day, but customers are more likely to notice. The result is inconsistent documentation, driven by inconsistencies in the approach to content creation and publishing across your workforce.

Docsie helps businesses tackle content inconsistency with the Docsie Documentation Hub. You can set a default font type and size, add company logos or artwork, and define CSS style sheet parameters for use on a company website or knowledge base. These choices will propagate from Docsie to any web page with Docsie embedded content, using the same colors, fonts and logos everywhere your content is published.

This simplifies content management and publishing workflows. Rather than editing individual pages, businesses can set a content design framework once in Docsie and apply those changes everywhere. This is known as centralized management or orchestration. The process of editing each document or page individually may seem doable for smaller content libraries, but this process will not scale efficiently as the library grows in breadth and depth.

In summary, Docsie works to futureproof your content management workflows by minimizing low-level administrative workloads. By starting with scale in mind, large content libraries can be managed with simplicity - setting content design frameworks once and deploying everywhere with Docsie. You can find out more about Docsie Customized Documentation Hubs using the Docsie Manager here.

Centralized Documentation Storage

On the topic of centralization, document storage locations can help or hinder management and publishing workflows. You may store documentation on an intranet or SharePoint site, in Dropbox or Google Drive, and on-premise or cloud storage partitions. Each option here works in isolation, but can cause chaos when used simultaneously.

An employee needs access to a document. The document is stored on a SharePoint site. The employee downloads it and saves it to their account storage partition. A business file synchronization tool uploads this to the cloud automatically. The employee sends the document via Slack to a colleague. That's four copies of the same document in circulation on your IT network, with decentralization across four different services or tools.

Docsie tackles this decentralized chaos by centralizing documents in a single storage location. When you upload a document, Docsie places the document on a shelf. We refer to documents as books, with each shelf filling up with books to form a content library. Employees can log into Docsie to find all of your documentation, with filtering that delivers relevant documentation by department or seniority using role-based access controls (RBAC). From here, employees can publish documents directly to your website, edit documentation text, check different versions, and view feedback from customers or colleagues.

Now, when an employee needs access to a document, all they have to do is open Docsie. They can search for documents, export in common file formats, and share direct links to Docsie books or shelves. For external users, they can be invited by Owners and Admins for direct access to authorized Docsie books and shelves, without compromising on security. It's like folders and files on a hard drive, but with a little Docsie magic! You can find out more about Docsie shelves and books here.

Document Governance Risk and Compliance

Most documentation will be created for the public domain. Still, some documentation may be confidential. This presents the need for governance risk and compliance (GRC) management. GRC policies can be used to govern access to confidential documents, control document permissions for writers and readers, and prevent accidental publication of documentation in the draft phase.

Docsie uses role-based access controls (RBAC) to govern permissions on the platform. This is how Docsie helps businesses manage GRC workflows, by defining user roles and assigning permissions based on seniority or department. These roles include Viewer, Editor, Admin, and Owner. Viewers are granted read-only access to documents, with editors being granted read and write permissions. Admins can assign roles to manage who is allowed to read, write or both per book or per shelf. The Owner can manage every user and document in a Docsie organization, and is the only user role that can delete an entire organization. In this example, the organization could be Docsie, with shelves containing books on different functionalities in Docsie.

In conclusion, GRC is important for managing access to documentation. With too little access, employees will be unable to work on documentation. With too much access, employees may accidentally publish unfinished documentation, or gain access to confidential documents that are reserved for executives and managers. Docsie helps you strike a balance between access and security, making the platform suitable for storing any type of document.

This document is sensitive, how can I prevent unauthorized access? How can I give my team write permissions, while only giving other teams read-only access? A freelance writer needs permission to edit this document, how can I do that? If your business is asking these questions, Docsie has the answers! You can find more information on Docsie permissions management here.

Team Collaboration

Content is rarely crafted by a single person. When multiple writers are working on your documentation library, collaboration is critical.

What processes do your employees follow when working on documentation? An example would be searching on a network drive for existing documents and downloading to a computer. Next, the writer may send a final draft via email to a colleague for further proofing. The approved draft may then be uploaded to a content management system (CMS) ready for publishing. Later in the day, someone notices a problem and sends an annotated version back to the writer via Slack. This workflow may work, but it can be simplified.

Docsie reduces the number of tools you need with comprehensive team collaboration functionality. You can find documents in Docsie, write and edit, share changes with team members, chat and annotate, and publish to the internet without ever leaving the Docsie dashboard. This negates the need for downloading, uploading, emailing, and managing a CMS -- allowing you to simply manage your docs with Docsie! Team members can be tagged using @mention, chat conversations are isolated to each Docsie book, and external freelancers can be invited with ease for full team collaboration in any location.

By minimizing the number of tools required, employees can focus on creating content instead of switching between software. This expedites content creation workflows by minimizing wasted clicks, with comments and suggestions from colleagues being easily accessible in the right-hand toolbar. No more link sharing, no more outdated versions of documents, no more lost emails or chat messages -- everything to do with your docs is centralized in Docsie.

Apply Best-Practices to Your Docs With Docsie

As we move from paper to pixels, good documentation management is vital. By applying these best-practices to digital documentation, businesses can create and share knowledge that offers real value to customers while streamlining content workflows and reducing costs. The only question is -- how do you apply these best-practices?

That's where Docsie comes in. Docsie is founded on these documentation best-practices, applying them automatically to streamline content creation, management, and publishing workflows. The platform is designed to work with all kinds of documentation, closely aligning with typical business DMS requirements. During import and export, Docsie documentation uses open and compatible file formats to increase accessibility. Businesses can read and act on customer documentation feedback using Docsie Vocally, improving the quality of knowledge and reducing content errors. Document versioning allows you to retain historic versions for information-redundancy. Branding and content design frameworks can be set once and applied everywhere with the Customized Documentation Hub. Everything is stored in one location -- the Docsie Portal -- so employees can quickly find a document rather than searching their computer, cloud drive, or email. Permissions can be set to manage GRC, preventing unauthorized access to sensitive documents. Finally, colleagues can chat, share, link, attach, and grant access to contractors for centralized team collaboration on Docsie.

Create documentation that your customers will love, without the complexity. If your business is looking for a DMS solution, consider giving Docsie a try! Simply get in touch with our sales team, who will gladly walk you through a 15-minute demo of the Docsie platform.


[1] https://www.softwareadvice.com/cms/industryview/go-paperless-with-document-management-software/

[2] https://www.stopwaste.org/at-work/reduce-and-reuse/reduce-paper-use/the-impact-of-paper-waste#2

[3] https://fcw.com/articles/2013/08/08/va-data-breaches.aspx

[4] https://www.greenamerica.org/sites/default/files/inline-files/Paper%20Facts%202017.pdf

[5] https://www.zendesk.com/blog/searching-for-self-service/

[6] https://www.slideshare.net/UniWeb/the-total-economic-impact-of-click-to-call-and-click-to-chat

[7] https://download.microsoft.com/documents/en-us/dynamics/Global_State_of_Multichannel_Customer_Service_Report.pdf.pdf


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