7 Tips To Write Documentation For Your Next Product Development Project

Last Updated on March 1, 2024 by Owen McGab Enaohwo

Product marketing and product documentation, two entirely different stories but still connected so much to each other. While the former seems completely focused on growing the business, the latter is, most of the time, treated as an annoying cost center. However, did you know that when you combine these two together, you get a really powerful weapon in your arsenal?

Product documentation does not only come in handy while launching your new product, but it also plays a major role in regular software updates. Documentation acts as a silent partner to help you show how you are working consistently to add value to your customers. It’s quite important for SaaS companies or any company for that matter. But if we are talking about subscription-based companies, then marketing to your existing customers is essential for growth. It’s because these documentations help deepen your relationship with your customers by talking to them even when you’re not there.

Keep reading this article to know more about product documentation, and see our tips that can help you make the most out of it.

Source: developerhub.io

Importance of Documentation

Technical documentation is meant to help an intended set of audience to use your product, understand the processes behind it, and get unstuck. It doesn’t matter who the audience is- it can be end-users, colleagues, administrators, anyone. What matters is that the document should be clear, concise, searchable, and above all, helpful for them.

Here are some examples of where and how these documents can play an important part:

  • End-user Support: It can be anything that helps users use your product- user guides, release notes, online help systems, training programs, or operating procedures.
  • Marketing Support: Things that are product-focused and used to market your company (like explainer videos, presentations, or technical landing pages)
  • Development Support: This includes things that can help your developers do their job- functional and technical specifications, software development guides, or procedures and tools.
  • Organisation Support: These documentations contain information about your company, structure, procedure, defined workflows, policies, and everything that employees need to know to do their jobs.

Types of Documentation

When you look at it closely, you see that the main aim of documentation is to ensure that developers, stakeholders, and end-users are headed on the same track. There are plenty of types of documentation available to align the whole product development project. Project documentation is divided into two parts- product and process documentation. These two are further classified into various sub-categories.

Source: AltexSoft

Product Documentation

The aim of the product documentation is to describe the end goal, id est, the software/product that is being developed. It includes everything a person should know once the product comes into existence, which includes how it works, how to work with it, technological specifications, manuals, etc.

Product documentation is further divided into two categories. They are system and user documentation. Documentations that represent and describe the system itself and its parts come under system documentation. It includes requirements documents, design decisions, architecture descriptions, program source code, and FAQs. On the other hand, user documentation contains manuals that are made especially for the end-users of the product. User documentation includes tutorials, user guides, troubleshooting manuals, installation, and reference manuals.

Process Documentation

All the documentation that represents the process and is produced during development and maintenance is said to be process documentation. One of the key values of process documentation is that it makes development more organized and well-planned. Some common types are- Plans, estimates, and schedules; Reports and metrics; working papers, and Standards.

It is essential to make the process documentation specific to some particular moment or phases of the development. Though these documents quickly become outdated, it’s still important to stick with them because they may become useful in implementing similar tasks or maintenance in the future.

Product roadmaps, part of agile software development, are also a part of process documentation. It is used to document the strategy, vision, and overall goals of the project. These roadmaps are essential to keep the project aligned with the initial goals set for the project. Depending on the type of roadmap you’re creating, it can express the prioritization framework you use, high-level objectives, the sprint timeline, and low-level details.

7 Tips to Write Documentation

Writing a technical document is not something that can be considered fun. It can get boring and daunting at the same time. Here are tips that can be used for almost every type of technical documentation.

Find a Balance

It is essential to find the right balance between excessive documentation and no documentation at all. When the documentation is poor, it causes plenty of errors which eventually reduces the efficiency of the product development project. At the same time, you have to ensure that the document is concise and information is not repeated. You should not document just any piece of information. Look for the one that’s necessary and relevant. While trying to find the right balance, you’ll be able to truly analyze the complexity of the development project.

Consider Your Audience

Always keep in mind the people for whom the document is written. If you’re targeting the end-users, you have to make sure that you write it in plain and simple language so that the reader can understand the whole concept without having to refer to a dictionary. If the documentation is meant for the stakeholders, it is advisable and worth eliminating the complex tech terms and jargon that might give a hard time to the clients. However, if it is for the specialist tech team of yours, you have to be as precise as you can be in terms of details. Here you don’t have to worry about the complexity of terms; you just have to write the guidelines you want the team to stick to.

Other than the tech team specialists, the document has to be simple and reader-friendly. Make it logically structured and searchable by adding a table of contents. Other than that, you can also avoid long blocks of text whenever possible and add visual content for convenience.

Use of Cross-links

Practice cross-linking as much as you can, whether they are product pages or user guides. It is important to give the right understanding of a subject to the reader. For this, you have to make sure that the navigation is up to the mark.

Explain Every Term

Documentation can be dedicated to both internal and external usage. For internal usage, you have to understand the teams within your organization. For example, you can use complex terms for technical teams, but not so much for the marketers. But in the case of external usage, you don’t know what the level of understanding of your reader is. So, it is best to provide an explanation for every term that you use, with its specific meaning. The documentation should not fail to communicate the ideas clearly between stakeholders, internal members, and users.

Keep it Up to Date

Outdated or inconsistent documents lose their relevancy, this is why it is essential to stress proper maintenance. For example, if while developing the product, the requirements changed, then you have to make sure that there is a proper process followed to reflect those changes in the documentation too. The same goes for the updates, when your product is already in the market, it’s essential to inform customers by refreshing all the user documentation. However, updating the content continuously isn’t that easy. For this, you always have to make changes in the content and use the real-time information. It’s like polishing the content. In such a case, this is where an online paraphraser comes in handy. It will help to polish the content without even changing its real meaning.

Collaborate with Team Members

SaaS development has a lot to do with agile methodology. This methodology is based on a collaborative approach. So you can also interview developers and programmers for better efficiency and understanding. You can also take help from your teammates, and get feedback from them to improve the documentation. Every team member can make a valuable contribution to the documents you produce.

Hire a Tech Writer

If your budget allows you to, then it’s worth hiring a professional who can take care of all your documentation work. The person responsible for this job is known as a technical writer. Tech writers are generally from an engineering background, they can easily gather information from developers without needing them to explain in layman’s terms. Embedding the technical writer as a team member and locating them in the same offices establishes close cooperation, as they’ll be able to take part in the team meetings for better understanding.

On a Concluding Note

With the help of agile methodology, engineering teams can easily focus on delivering value to their customers. Creating well-crafted technical documents benefits the projects you’re working on. Moreover, because the framework is already there, you’ll also get benefits from it in your future projects. Just follow these tips and make the necessary changes based on your product, and you’re good to go.

Author Bio

Vibhu Dhariwal is Co-Founder & Director of Marketing at Digital Gratified, a Digital Marketing & Web Development company. He likes sharing his experience in product marketing, SaaS marketing, content marketing, and SEO with readers. To know more about him, you can connect with him on LinkedIn.

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