Product documentation consists of all the information on an organization’s product, how it functions, and all the features.
Creating product documentation is essential for every company because it serves as a bridge between the product team and customers.
It’s a way to provide relevant information on a particular product, along with things like release notes, guides, and more.
Good product documentation can reduce customer support team burden, encourage self-help among customers, and help you scale your business.
In this article, we’ll go over what product documentation is, along with some tips on developing good documentation for your target audience.
Let’s dive right in.
What Exactly is Product Documentation?
Product documentation includes all technical documentation about any particular product. It can include the system documentation and user documentation for end-users.
It’s a great way to provide information on a product’s features, how it works, and information on the latest version releases.
Other than that, it can include how-to guides, code documentation, and tutorials. For the most part, users receive product documentation in the form of a knowledge base.
However, product documentation can be in digital and print form. That means it also includes the guides and product books you receive when you buy a physical product.
Product documents also help companies centralize their data and information in one place. It’s a great way to collect, organize, and manage product information.
On the other hand, it’s also a great way of providing customer support to user customers. Most customers today tend to find answers to their queries online rather than wait in customer support queues.
Online product documentation allows customers to self-serve themselves. It also helps them find answers more quickly. Meanwhile, it reduces the need for customer service representatives and lowers the burden on existing reps.
Different Types of Product Documentation
Product documentation is a wide term that breaks down into different types. Each kind of document serves a different purpose for businesses and the product.
That’s why technical writers that create product documentation tend to specialize in specific types. Depending on the product type, businesses have to figure out what readers what and what kind of documentation would benefit them.
For example, software and SaaS tools would require developer documentation.
In any case, the following are some of the most common types of product documentation.
A knowledge base is a central repository of information about a product and its tools. It contains information on product features, individual uses, and more.
There are internal knowledge bases that companies use for their own employees. These serve as a central directory of all company information, including company history, vision, mission, policies, and processes.
It also contains things like market research, marketing tactics, onboarding guides, and details on company hierarchy.
On the other hand, there are external knowledge bases that include information for customers. These include written content and other media on products to assist customers.
With each release of a new version, the knowledge base gets an additional article to explain the update and changes.
It needs constant updates to keep up with product changes from developers, product owners, and upper management.
Knowledge bases contain built-in search bars that help allow users to find their answers among various search results. This helps create keyword-specific articles that also help the website rank online.
Furthermore, a knowledge base is usually accompanied by forums and FAQs. They help in the same way as knowledge base documentation help. The combined effort helps create a centralized help center presented in an easily accessible platform.
Product documentation can also come in the form of guides. These can be how-to guides or full-fledged guides, depending on the product.
Each document in a guide tends to have various examples to show how the product would work in different situations. The guides also provide different relevant ideas on product usage.
Writers who develop these product guides work with the product team and subject matter experts. Their goal is to develop an easy-to-understand guide that encompasses all aspects of the product and its uses.
Furthermore, if there are different versions of a product, there may be different guides for each version. However, this only happens if a newer version utilizes different technology than the prior one.
SDK stands for a software development kit that includes code samples, libraries, documentation, processes, and guides for developers. The point is to help developers integrate the software into their apps.
Since SDKs are language and platform-specific, there are different categories of them. That means SDK documentation is highly specialized.
SDKs contain all software-related content, including the structure, code, process document, and other details.
Feature documentation lists down all the product’s features and what they do. In online feature documentation, there are links to each individual feature’s page or site.
The point of feature documents is to provide customers with a complete directory of features. It helps users understand each individual feature, its use cases, and how it can help them.
It also allows users to find out about the full extent of a product. There are times when the covered features may help users provide feedback. The feedback allows companies to update existing features and come up with new ones.
It’s also a great way to show users how a product differs from its competitors. It provides context into what makes this particular product better than others.
Case studies are a great way to show different use cases of a product. They’re also a great way of getting positive customer feedback.
Case studies refer to any successful execution or usage of a product to reach a certain goal. They are a great way to show how a product helps certain businesses in different industries.
The reason they’re important is that they provide real-life examples and not potential uses.
If you have a simple SaaS product, providing 5-10 case studies of it in action is a great way to show its impact. Meanwhile, it also gives customers an idea of how to use the product.
It’s an excellent alternative to long-form guides that can take a lot of time to go through.
The best part is that there’s a good chance that existing customers will publish case studies. All you have to do is link to them.
Product documentation can also include all the marketing documents and copy you create to attract visitors and leads.
For example, if you create a landing page that lists out the cost, features, and uses of your product, it will be part of your product documentation.
As long as you provide information on your product, it will be part of your documentation.
Similar to internal knowledge bases, internal documentation is all product-based documentation for employees and staff members.
Internal documentation is usually a central repository of all product-related information. Employees can always look for what they need within the documentation.
It’s a great way to keep track of everything and helps in the future development of the product.
Furthermore, it also helps new employees and team members get all the information they need. Therefore, it acts as a great onboarding asset too.
What Does Product Documentation Contain?
Depending on what type of product documentation you’re creating, there may be different things to add. For example, guides and knowledge bases may have videos but internal documentation may not.
However, there are a few different things that should be part of every product document.
Images and Screenshots
Visual aids are extremely powerful when it comes to product documentation. If you give your customers a block of text in the form of a guide, there’s a good chance they won’t go through it.
Furthermore, text instructions don’t always explain a process well enough. However, if you add screenshots and images, it’s much easier to understand.
It also gives users confirmation that they’re on the right track.
On top of that, visuals aids improve user engagement. That means customers are more likely to be happy with their experience if the product documentation has images, screenshots, and vectors.
It’s a great way to replace a thousand words of text in your documents. That’s because you can completely replace all text if you provide easy-to-understand image instructions.
You can just provide information on product use, you need an accompanying example that shows the product in action.
Examples help users understand how the product works in different situations and cases. It also helps them understand how to use a product under different circumstances.
In some cases, it may be a learning opportunity for users.
Part of a knowledge base may be about troubleshooting. Examples of different kinds of troubleshooting are extremely important because they list common issues that customers may have.
This helps users find solutions to their problems by themselves without having to make a lot of effort.
Furthermore, if you provide good examples with proper visual aids, there’s a good chance that customers will manage to solve their problems easily.
Release Date and Version
If you create new product documentation for every release, you need to include the release date and version of the documentation.
Users should immediately be able to tell whether the documentation is for the current version or not.
While most products utilize numbers in different versions, it can get confusing. That’s why some companies tend to name different versions and releases.
That’s one reason why Google gives a different name and theme to each Android version.
This way, users can find the exact product documentation they need.
Process flows include any step-by-step instructions in the documentation. The idea is to provide proper process flows instead of long paragraphs explaining an action.
For example, if you want to explain how to add a new entry in the software, you can’t write one long paragraph to explain it.
Instead, provide a numbered step-by-step list that details each specific action that the user needs to take.
It’s even better if you add screenshots and images in the mix. It helps show the steps too, making it more user-friendly.
Other formatting tips include using bold, italic, and underline options for specific processes. They help emphasize certain aspects of your instructions.
How Do I Optimize My Product Documentation?
When creating product documentation, you need to keep some things in mind. Save the following tips and use them whenever you need to develop product documentation, regardless of what type it is.
- Make sure you define your target audience. Conduct in-depth interviews, surveys, and get feedback from customers to determine your audience.
- Utilize proper information architecture to ensure your users have an easy time going through the documentation. Make sure there are categories, subcategories, hierarchies, and conventions.
- Understand the type of documentation you’re creating because it will help plan out an outline better.
- Make sure you optimize the documentation for non-linear discovery. That’s because users will not go through the documentation like a book; they will only search for what’s relevant to their current need or issue.
- Focus on improving the quality of your documentation by making sure it completely encompasses all aspects. Other than that, it should be contextual, simple, and concise.
- Differentiate among your product documentation and other forms of documentation. For example, product documentation needs updates as soon as new content is available or when errors show up.
- Utilize different formats for the same content, including videos, images, screenshots, audio files, and code samples.
- Make an effort to choose the right software solution for your documentation. If you’re creating a knowledge base, choose the right knowledge base software that works well with your industry, organization, product, and team.
- Make sure you consistently update and iterate your documentation based on updates, new releases, and user feedback.
Most importantly, make sure you optimize the UI and UX of the platform that hosts your product documentation.
Wrapping It Up
If your organization consistently manages and updates all product documentation, there is a lower risk of any long-lasting issues.
It allows new employees to get used to the product, new users to understand product features, and existing stakeholders to keep up to date.
Furthermore, it helps maintain a centralized repository of information on the product.
In all cases, every organization has to accept that they need good product documentation, regardless of whether their users will go through it or not.