Do You Want to Create Informative User Guides? Our 10 Top Tips Can Help!

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Ciaran Sweet
on September 22, 2021 · · filed under Product Documentation Product Updates Best Practices Product Documentation Tutorials

User guides are an important part of digital service delivery. Digital customers expect access to self-service, demanding immediate access to information. A walkthrough over the phone just doesn’t cut it anymore; hours of time spent explaining things that can be better illustrated in user documentation guides.

At Docsie, we advocate that all businesses create a library of informative user guides for customers. This will enable self-service, reduce your support workloads, and provide 24/7 real-time access to the information your customers need to enjoy and work within your product or service.

10 Top Tips for User Guides and Documentation in Docsie

Before we start, do you have a way to store, write and host documentation?

Head over to the Docsie Onboarding page for customer-centric collaboration, extensive embedding, tailored translations, and powerful publishing at your fingertips.

Now you’ve joined the club, let’s jump into our 10 top tips!

1 - Enrich Your User Guides With Media

Text, words, letters – we use them every day. Sadly, the written word cannot compare to the veracity of video or inspiration of images.

When creating user documentation guides, read it from the user’s perspective. Could this section be better explained in a GIF, embedded video or annotated image? If so, add one!

You can add images, embed videos and integrate iFrame content in Docsie. Give it a try!

Images, Videos and GIFs in Docsie

2 - Create an Order, No Not the Jedi Kind!

Step-by-step instructions are the pillar of cook books everywhere! When following a recipe, do you mix up your eggs with your flour? That’s what you should do, and you know that because you follow the steps!

All jokes aside, ensure you run through any user guides with step-by-step instructions. If you follow those steps, do you actually get the result intended? Inaccurate instructions that do not achieve the intended result is a huge red flag for customers. Accurate instructions on the other hand instil trust, and provide value to customers and the business through information sharing.

Create an order using the numbered lists in Docsie, or with Docsie Book Articles to segment your documentation.

Articles, Shelves and Workspaces in Docsie

3 - Accommodate For All Reading Levels

Do you assume that customers will know their JavaScript from your top tips? Using jargon and complex terminology is typically recommended in the context of technical user guides. For laypersons, however, the simpler the language – the better!

Most readers just want to know how to do the thing, and repeat the thing. One approach is to deliver a complex, high-level concept on paper – then repeat again with a simplified version for laypersons. This caters to technical users and laypersons all at once, inking two pages with one pen.

“Artificial intelligence involves the algorithmic emulation of human intelligence in pursuit of productivity; artificial intelligence aims to get work done by matching human intelligence using computer code.” – they both mean the same thing, but target different audiences.

Use Docsie to create Shelves for laypersons, and Shelves for technical users. That way you can have Books to assist both audiences, with full hosting available through the Docsie Portal.

Complex Code Simplified for Laypersons in Docsie Example

4 - Use Templates and Stop Staying Up Late!

Do you rewrite every user guide from scratch? Instead, you should create templates with basic structuring and brand messaging, and build around this content.

Writing from scratch takes time, effort and risks inconsistency if multiple writers are working within the same project. Templates are a great way to save time when writing, and drive greater consistency between pages. Trust is built on consistent messaging and value generation, which templates promote.

Click …More and select Templates in Docsie. Here, you can store templates and start new Books using the template as a source!

Templates in Docsie Live Template in the Docsie Editor

5 - Write Fast, Iterate Often

In Agile software development, the mantra is to fail fast and iterate often. Applying that to user documentation guides, your staff should aim to write fast and iterate often.

This doesn’t mean sacrificing quality for speed. Instead, this allows for customer feedback and responses with less initial effort. This feedback can be leveraged in further user documentation guide iterations, and helps the business to become more customer-centric.

Docsie Vocally elucidates reader feedback, with ratings and screen recordings to pinpoint the exact content they read. Give it a try as you write fast and iterate often!

Docsie Vocally Feedback View

6 - Nested Knowledge With Internal Backlinks

Is your user guide documentation backlinked with other pages? By adding links to relevant sections of documentation, you help readers to flesh out and understand your product or service on a conceptual level.

When you refer to a specific feature or function, always add a link. Allow the reader to quickly access that information, rather than forcing them to search and load the page by themselves. Talking about account logins? Add a login URL to the “log into your account” text on your page, and every other page. Make your documentation convenient and navigable within the body text, rather than an endless library to sift through.

Docsie allows user guide writers to create internal backlinks. Just highlight some text and click the 🖇️ button in the Docsie Editor toolbar. Additionally, you can make links language- and version-agnostic with Relative object links .

Backlinking in Docsie With Object Reference Links

7 - Brush Off the Cobwebs and Refresh Old Content

Do you have old user guides and documentation visible online? If you have version 1.2 documentation published while your product is on version 1.3, your documentation is no longer relevant. Rather than publishing new documentation for each version, use Docsie Versioning.

Docsie Versioning allows users to access historic and present documentation versions. As new versions are released, old versions are archived for redundancy purposes while being accessible from a drop-down menu. This is all on the same web page, making it easier for users to browse and find relevant information.

Similarly, if your top tips guide for 2021 is still published in 2022, update it! Change the name, refresh any citations and sources with updated research, and double-check the information is still relevant. Brush off the cobwebs and keep things evergreen; content can always be repurposed.

Version Picker to Find Older Content in Docsie

8 - Miniaturize Tasks, Complete in Batches

When writing, do you write the entire page in one go with zero pre-planning? Some of this boils down to personal preference for writers. By miniaturizing tasks, however, work can be completed faster and with more focus.

Create a simple structure with H1 and H2 tags and brief descriptions for each section. Use this when writing, and tackle individual sections rather than worrying about the whole page. This is referred to as an outline in the writing industry. The outline provides opportunity for feedback with editors before writing commences, and acts as a guiding framework as the writer writes.

Create a new Book in Docsie and add some basic headers and text for an outline. You can also add Tasks using the right-side menu, breaking work down into smaller batches as multiple team members collaborate on content. Version history means you can go back if a writer adds less-than-stellar content – perfect for writing fast and iterating often!

Calendar for Task Assignees in Docsie

9 - A Table of Contents for More Content Readers

With complex and diverse user guide documentation, a wall of text can be intimidating for readers. This can be resolved with a comprehensive Table of Contents. Commonly used in encyclopaedias, this helps users identify and jump-to relevant information, while providing structure to a knowledge portal environment.

Docsie Articles, Shelves and Workspaces work to create a Table of Contents. This will automatically show on the left-side of your knowledge portal – providing an easy way to navigate through your knowledge base. With this top tip, Docsie does it for you!

Table of Contents Auto-Generated by Docsie

10 - Master Your Subject

Is your writer a subject expert? Similarly, is your writer resourceful and good at researching topics they may be unfamiliar with? Ultimately, despite all of our tips, the writer dictates the quality of your user documentation guides.

The more they understand your product, the more accurate their work will be. Allow writers the flexibility to test and break your product, as users may encounter similar issues. Better yet, walk your writer through a product demo with your sales team, and give them hands-on experience with the sales pipeline and messaging contained within. This again drives consistency, while turning your writers into users. Not all writers become users, but all users can become good writers with hands-on knowledge.

Put These Tips into Practice in Docsie!

Thank you for reading our 10 top tips for better user guides. We invite you to apply these tips to your Docsie docs!

Docsie is an end-to-end documentation management platform that businesses use to create web-based FAQs, product docs, user guides, help-docs and user manuals. The platform features customer-centric collaboration, extensive embedding, tailored translations, and powerful publishing at your fingertips.

Make your move by onboarding with Docsie today, and deliver documentation delight to your customers!

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