Providing customers with accurate, comprehensive documentation ensures quick adoption of your software and reduces the time and energy your team devotes to support calls.
We’ve produced content to support the use of software by a wide array of users, from “anyone who logs on” to trained professionals. We’ve been asked to write content from scratch, improve existing content, update content we authored ourselves or that was authored by someone else, and convert content from one platform to another.
We’ve produced printed/PDF user guides, quick reference cards, getting started guides, online help, tooltips/on-screen help, and knowledge base/wiki articles, using a variety of authoring tools, including (but not limited to) Microsoft Office products, MadCap Flare, RoboHelp, FrameMaker, Google Docs, and MindTouch.
A typical question from prospective clients is “How can you possibly understand my software product?” Here’s how we respond:
- Having produced over 860 projects (and counting), we bring a wealth of knowledge about software fundamentals.
- We work collaboratively with our clients, relying on them to provide the necessary context for our work (we can figure out how something is done but may need you to explain why someone would want to do that).
- We wouldn’t be in business after 23 years if we didn’t learn quickly (and on our own time) or if we required extensive time from subject matter experts.
Our clients value the perspective we bring to the table: In fact, we often provide feedback on the usability and consistency of an interface or even recommend new features based on our experience working with the product. Although we aren’t usability experts or software testers, we’re often the first outsiders to actually work with a new software product and that, combined with our extensive experience with software of all types, makes our input valuable.
Reducing time and effort by designing maintainable documents
A typical challenge companies face is keeping their documentation up-to-date as their software product changes and evolves. The rise of cloud-based software delivery and agile development models makes this challenge even greater. Because we have long-term relationships with our clients, we’ve had the opportunity to develop many solutions to this particular challenge.
To achieve maintainable content we leverage tools that allow for content re-use and re-purposing (“single sourcing”) and develop information models that promote shared and re-usable content. However, we’re tool-agnostic and can work with any constraints you have in terms of how the content will be delivered.
All of our projects are supported by a detailed information model, providing a schematic view of the types of content and level of detail needed for each type of documentation we manage. The information model is tailored for the needs of both the user and the development cycle, and is one of the ways in which we can quickly assess the impact of software changes on documentation.
Providing information that users actually need
To be truly useful, documentation needs to focus less on the user’s interaction with the interface and more on what the user is trying to achieve. All too often, we see documentation falling into what we call the “enter the date in the date field” model, where every field, button and screen is documented in detail without considering how the users will actually use the product. We strive to ensure that content explains not just procedural steps but also overall concepts and data relationships, best practices, examples, and guidelines.
Producing information that reflects the unique needs of audience
The vast majority of our clients develop software for use by a specialized group of users, such as physicians and clinicians, insurance agents, or engineers. In order to address these specialized audiences, we take specific steps:
- If possible, develop detailed personas for the target audience to use in assessing the effectiveness of the work.
- Develop glossaries of terms to ensure consistency throughout the content.
- Ask clients to provide examples and use cases, either for integration into the content or for our own learning purposes.
Empowering clients to improve content themselves
Sometimes companies have enough internal resources to produce the content they need but rely on resources for whom documentation is not a core competency and who may struggle to see new, more effective ways of producing content. A typical case is one where content, whether in conventional guide format or in a wiki/knowledge base, has become bloated and unfocused. The company knows that they need to improve their content but are uncertain how to proceed.
To help companies in this situation, we offer a content auditing service that involves meetings with stakeholders, development of personas and information models, assessment of existing content against those personas/models, and other steps. We examine the processes used to produce and maintain documentation as well as the content itself. The engagement culminates in a detailed report outlining the results of the process, making recommendations and providing a roadmap for implementing those recommendations. The company can then choose to engage with us to make some or all of the recommended changes or can proceed on those changes using internal resources.