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Proper Software Documentation in Seven Steps (or Less)

21st April 2011 Posted in Blog, Documentation 0 Comments
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The software industry is booming, with more developments than many thought to be possible – or necessary. With desktops, laptops, tablets, servers and other systems, software has become so pervasive that it’s nearly invisible to the everyday user: We just use it and move on with our lives. Behind the scenes, companies understand how technical writing supports software development and usage. With proper software documentation, a user can understand not only how to use and manage their software, but also how to fix potential problems or overcome hurdles while using it. Software Documentation Process The software documentation process should include these steps:

  1. Identify the goal for the technical writer – Is this an instructional document? A support document?
  2. Follow grammar rules – Without proper sentence structure, a person will not be able to follow the content of the software documentation in an effective way.
  3. Screen shots are helpful – If possible, use screen shots of the software program to show a reader to what the instructions in the document are referring. Use smaller screen shots to focus on specific steps or tasks.
  4. Write to the lowest level reader – While a technical document might seem to be written for upper level readers, ensure that the writing can also be accessible the lowest level reader. Remember, a wider audience means technical writing needs to be simpler.
  5. Use a spacious format – The document should not be blocks of text, but rather it should include wider margins and white space that allow for easier reading. When you do this, you will ensure the reader can read, assimilate the technical aspects of the what needs to be done, and then move onto the next step(s).
  6. Include references, as needed – If references have been used, they should be included in the document as a source for more information.
  7. Have the technical document reviewed – Before the software documentation is submitted, it should be reviewed within the technical writing team, QA and the approprpriate SMEs to ensure its effectiveness as well as correctness.

Software documentation is not usually auto-generated by a computer program. Effective instructions, explanations and guidelines are created by technical writers who understand what the reader needs to know and how this information can be presented in an accessible manner.

Related topics

Managing SMEs – Part 1: A Primer for Success
Managing SMEs – Part 2: Selling the Concept to Management
Understanding the Need for Content Quality Management

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