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How Out-of-Date Documentation Can Cost You Your Brand and Your Company

By Jacquie Samuels

Documentation is (sadly but understandably) often the last push in the great effort to get a product out the door and into the hands of your customers. Because it’s the last thing on a long list of release requirements, it sometimes gets downsized in effort or time or neglected completely. At the heart of the matter, companies feel like shirking on their documentation deliverables is a possible solution to time and budget crunches. They feel this way because they consider documentation as an add-on to the product, an extra bit of service provided to customers but not an essential component of the product itself.

Guess what: That’s not how customers see it.

Anything but the simplest product is useless unless it comes with documentation. If you deliver a product without documentation, it’s the equivalent of dumping a jumble of IKEA pieces in their laps without assembly instructions. Congratulations, you’ve made your customer very, very unhappy. After all, they’ve just paid you hard-earned money for your product and you’ve rendered it immediately useless and possibly dangerous.

To your customers, a product without documentation is a product that isn’t complete.

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If you think no one reads the documentation, you’re sadly mistaken. The truth is that everyone turns to the documentation as soon as they need help. If they can’t find the answer (quickly and easily) in the documentation, they will a) be annoyed and b) call Support—a far more costly action for you.

Customer Frustrated by Out of Date Documentation

In many ways, out of date documentation is far, far worse than no documentation at all. There is implicit trust when a user reads documentation—that it is as correct as humanly possible.

The only way you can possibly deliver out of date documentation is to say loudly and very visibly that it is, in fact, not up to date. Then you might as well beg for mercy because, these days, that is simply not acceptable. What bits are out of date? If unknown pieces are wrong, how can they trust anything in the documentation at all? Don’t forget that errors in documentation are often seen by users as mistakes in the product itself—they expect the product to work as documented and if it doesn’t then the product must be broken. If you’ve cut corners in documentation, where they go for help, how can they trust your product? How can they trust your company at all? It snowballs very quickly into a complete breach of trust.

In these days of Web 2.0, people don’t sit idly by being furious with you. They take to Twitter, Facebook, and every other social media outlet they can find and they share their anger with the world.

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So please, on behalf of all consumers of your product, put that extra time and money into writing and updating the documentation. Build it into the cost of the product because, after all, your product isn’t complete without it.

About the Author

Jacquie Samuels is a technical communication consultant providing companies with DITA, CMS, and information architecture solutions and training. She endeavors to help everyone create documentation that is stronger, faster, and smarter. You can connect with Jacquie through Writing Assistance, Inc. at www.writingassist.com or
sales@writingassist.com