What is User Documentation?

Updated on July 29th, 2022
What is User Documentation?

User documentation is information created to help users understand and use a product. This documentation can take many forms, but it is typically written text accompanying a product.

Modern user documentation has come to be known by many names, including user guides, manuals, how-to guides, and product information. User documentation is created to ensure a product is used correctly and consistently. It is also known as end-user documentation.

What is the Purpose of User Documentation?

Here are some of the main purposes of user documents:

  • User documentation enables companies to assist users in understanding how to use their products or services. It aims to explain how the product works and how to use it effectively.
  • In the software industry, user documentation is created for various types of software such as operating systems, business apps, and entertainment apps. Users can learn about the features and functions of the software from user documentation.
  • By providing users with information about the product's features and how to use them, businesses can encourage users to purchase the latest version.
  • Good user documentation allows organizations to reduce customer support costs and make their customers happier.

User Documentation Types

There are different types of user documentation, and the type you create will be based on the product you are creating documentation for. These include:

Description Document

This type of user documentation describes what the product does. It is usually written in a simple, straightforward manner so that even those without prior knowledge of the product can understand it. End-user documentation and description documents are often used interchangeably.

User Manual

A user manual is a more in-depth version of a description document. It includes detailed instructions on how to use the product and information on its features and capabilities. User manuals are usually much longer than description documents and are meant to be used as a reference guide by those familiar with the product.

Installation And Setup Guide

This user documentation walks the reader through installing and setting up the product. It is usually very detailed and includes step-by-step instructions. Installation and setup guides are meant to be used by those who install the product for the first time or those who need to reinstall it. To make them easy to follow, they often include screenshots or diagrams.

User Documentation vs Technical Documentation

Some argue that user documentation and technical documentation are the same things. Others say that there is a big difference between the two. User documentation comes under the branch of technical writing. It covers all forms of documentation that aim to assist the user in understanding and using a particular system.

On the other hand, technical documentation is a more general term that includes any document that provides information about a product or system.

The key differences between user and technical documentation usually come from purpose and audience. Great user documentation is created to help users learn how to use a product, while technical documentation is created to help technicians maintain, support, or repair that product. The primary differences are:

  • User documentation is written in language that is easy for end users to understand, while technical documentation is often written using more technical language. For technical documentation, a team of writers or a technical writer may use a specific style guide to ensure that the language is consistent throughout all the documentation.
  • The best user documentation is typically more focused on how-to information and uses cases, while technical documentation is often more focused on reference information. Technical documentation may include advanced features like troubleshooting information and step-by-step procedures for complex tasks.
  • Technical documentation is not shared with users, while user documents are typically made available to users either online or in printed form. In some cases, technical documentation may be made available to users on a need-to-know basis.

Take a software product as an example; Its technical documentation might include the following:

Requirements Documentation

A requirements document lists the necessary functions of a software product.

Design Documentation

A design document describes the inner workings of a software product.

Process Documentation

A process document describes the steps necessary to produce a software product.

Market Strategy

This document describes how to market a product.

None of those mentioned above is an end-user document, but all are technical documentation. It is where user documentation comes in; it is the type of documentation meant for end-users, including

  • User manuals
  • FAQs
  • Pre-launch publishing
  • Embedded assistance
  • Online chat portals
  • Step-by-step guides
  • Videos of the product
  • Product Demos
  • Support Teams with hotlines

User and technical documentation serve different purposes, but both play an essential role in ensuring that products are used correctly and stay up-to-date. Technical documentation is essential for maintaining, repairing, and improving products, while user documentation is essential for customers to use products effectively.

User Documentation Benefits

It offers numerous benefits to both users and businesses when it comes to user documentation. Some of the benefits of user documentation include:

Reduced Support Costs

By making it easier for users to find answers to their questions, you can reduce the number of support calls or emails you receive. It leads to significant savings, especially if you have a large customer base. The user interface can only do so much to help users; at some point, they will need to refer to the documentation. User documentation can also reduce the cost through:

  • It can help avoid user mistakes.
  • Users will be able to learn how to use the product or service more quickly and with less assistance.
  • Users can refer back to the documentation when they need a reminder on how to do something.

Improved Productivity

Quality user documentation can improve productivity by helping users work more efficiently. When users can find answers to their questions quickly and easily, they can get back to work faster and be more productive overall.

With suitable documentation, users will waste less time trying to figure things out independently and can instead focus on using your product or service to its fullest potential.

Increased Customer Satisfaction

Typically, when we think about customer satisfaction, we think about the product's or service's quality. However, the user experience also plays a significant role in customer satisfaction.

If customers struggle to use your product or service, they will not be happy with it - no matter how good it is. A well-trained customer service team on your product or service can also be a valuable asset in this regard.

Strengthened Position Against Competition

In today's competitive market, businesses need to do everything they can to stand out. It is essential to provide quality user documentation because it can be a differentiating factor when customers decide between similar products or services.

If you can show that you offer quality documentation, it may just be the thing that sets you apart from your competition and helps you win over new customers.

Improved Documentation Process

The process of creating user documentation can also be beneficial for businesses. Working on documentation can help you better understand your product or service from the user's perspective.

Sometimes the software documentation process can also help to uncover errors and improve the product. Overall, creating user documentation can help improve your product or service.

Essential User Documentation Features

The following features are essential for end-user documentation:

Clear and Concise Writing

User documentation must be written in clear and concise language so that users can easily understand it. The tone of the writing should be friendly and knowledge base. The language can be more technical for a more technical audience, but it should still be easy to understand.

Organized and Logical Structure

One can organize the end-user documentation logically so users can easily find the necessary information. The structure should be intuitive and easy to follow.

Step-by-Step Instructions

User documentation should provide step-by-step instructions for using the product. These instructions should be easy to follow and understand.

Up-to-Date Information

User documentation should always be kept up-to-date so that users have the most accurate information. Out-of-date online documentation can be confusing and frustrating for point users.

How Can You Measure the Effectiveness of Your User Documentation?

Writing the best user documentation is a crucial skill. A critical part of their job is to understand the needs of their audience and communicate information to them in a way that is easy to follow and understand. This documentation is typically created by the product development team or a technical writing specialist.

But how can you measure its effectiveness? There are various ways to measure each of these metrics. For example, you can use Google Analytics to track how often your documentation is used and surveys to gauge user satisfaction.

Measuring the effectiveness of your user documentation is vital for two reasons.

  • First, it allows you to identify areas that need improvement. If you notice that users are struggling to find information or not using certain parts of your documentation, you can make changes to address these issues.
  • Second, it helps you show the value of your work to stakeholders. By quantitatively demonstrating your documentation's impact, you can secure buy-in and support for your work.

The following list of user documentation KPIs will help you measure the effectiveness of your user documentation and identify areas for improvement:

User Feedback

User feedback is one of the most critical user product documentation KPIs. It allows you to understand how users feel about your documentation and identify any pain points they're experiencing. There are various ways to collect user feedback, such as surveys, interviews, and user testing.

A/B Testing

A/B testing is a user documentation KPI that allows you to compare two versions of your documentation to see which one performs better. For example, you could A/B different test designs or navigation structures to see which one is more user-friendly.

Documentation Views

The number of views your documentation receives is a user documentation KPI that allows you to understand how popular your documentation is. If you notice a sudden drop in views, it could indicate that users are struggling to find your documentation or are not finding it helpful.

Time on Page

Time on page is a user documentation KPI that shows how long users spend reading your documentation. If you notice that users are spending very little time on your documentation, it could indicate that they're not finding it helpful.

Bounce Rate

Bounce rate is a user documentation KPI that shows the percentage of users who leave your documentation after viewing only one page. A high bounce rate could indicate that users struggle to find the information they're looking for.

Best User Documentation Software

There is a variety of software available in the market for user documentation. Some most popular user documentation software platforms are:

Whatfix

Whatfix provides contextual, step-by-step guides that help employees and customers perform complex tasks using your software. It also offers interactive walkthroughs and how-to videos.

Bit.ai

Bit.ai is a user documentation tool that helps you create, collaborate and share knowledge base articles, product manuals, and support documentation.

ProProfs

ProProfs offers tools to help you create, manage and share user manuals, product documentation, and online help guides. Mobile devices such as tablets and smartphones are also supported.

Scribe

Instruction manual creation software that helps you create user manuals, product documentation, and other types of technical documentation.

GitHub

It provides a learning curve for non-technical people as developers mainly use it. It also ensures better quality control and support for your product documentation.

Tettra

Tettra is a helpful documentation tool that helps you create, organize and share internal knowledge base articles. It offers a simple, clean interface that makes it easy to start.

Tallyfy

New users find it hard to understand product information. Tallyfy helps you by delivering better user documentation. You can create a step-by-step guide for every business process your team can follow.

Apiary

Apiary is a user documentation tool that helps you create, manage and share API documentation. It can easily integrate the support tickets with your existing support system.

Conclusion

User documentation is an essential asset for software products. After all, user documentation helps users understand how to use the software and get the most out of it. For any business, their user documentation is one of the essential communication channels. It is the first and often the last line of support for customers and potential customers.

User documentation, in a nutshell, is user assistance. Modern user documentation has to do more than explain how the software works. It also needs to be engaging, user-friendly, and visually appealing.

The user documentation helps customers understand how to use the software and get the most out of it, including features, benefits, installation, usage, and so on. Customers can get their questions answered quickly by going through the user documentation. So, if your company has created a new product, don't forget to write user documentation to facilitate users.

FAQs

How do I know if my software is well-documented?

Your software is probably well-documented if you can find what you need without too much difficulty. If you often have to guess something works or can never find the information you need, your software needs better documentation.

What are some common elements of user documentation?

User documentation typically includes an overview of the software, a description of each feature, and instructions for using the software. Some software may also have a glossary of terms and a FAQ section.

Who writes user documentation?

User documentation is usually written by the same people who develop the software. In some cases, however, a separate team of technical writers is responsible for creating and maintaining the documentation.