I’ve always liked to learn new bits of software by trial and error, trying things out for myself first and learning from my mistakes but there’s only so far you can get before you get stuck. This is why documentation and help are so invaluable because a piece of software is worthless unless you know how it works.
In today’s fast-paced world, people don’t have time to read chunky 900 to 1000 page manuals, they want information to be quick and accessible. As a result, technology companies and their technical writers are having to adapt their techniques and content strategies to make documentation more exciting and engaging for readers.
Here are some of the best ways to keep people interested in your content:
As you have probably seen from my blogs, I am a real advocate for using good images to break up text and make documentation more approachable and more visually interesting.
This is just the Firefox help homepage but as I mention in my blog last week, I thought the design and use of imagery was really visually appealing.
Taking this approach one step further, videos are another brilliant and effective way to engage help users as long as they are well put together, short and succinct.
The example above is one of Skype’s excellent video tutorials which are really well produced.
Like videos, it is possible to add gifs to make your content more dynamic and visually interesting. They are a quick simple way to show an example of how something is done:
This gif was produced using free open-source software called ScreenToGif.
I think graphics are a great way to get a lot of information across to your readers in one image if they are designed well.
The Spotify infographic above has 10 separate facts spread across one image.
Using examples is the best way to show your readers what you are trying to explain.
On the page above, taken from the Twitter, the help describes how to embed a Tweet and then gives examples.
6. Be Human
Use an informal or conversational writing style. Write as if you were describing how the software works to a friend. Readers won’t engage with a robotic tone of voice.
Linkedin’s Help addresses users by their first name to make the experience more personal.
7. Keep it Short
Don’t overwrite. If you can explain it in one sentence then write one sentence. It’s better to use 25 words rather than 250. The shorter the better.
Facebook’s Help Centre covers the login basics in just 73 words (and three links).
8. Keep it Simple
Don’t use lengthy words the average person won’t understand or that will get lost in translation. Go with “move in a circle” rather than “circumbilivagination” or “use” instead of “utilise”.
Sorry Royal Mail but I really dislike the use of “utilise”, it’s just a waste of four letters!
9. Easy Navigation
If your help system is easy to work your way around then people will want to use it.
Skype’s Help is really easy to navigate from my experience. You can check it out here.
10. Make it fun!
Use humour and unusual text to catch people’s attention. This is discussed by Mozilla’s Michael Verdi in his presentation How To Write Awesome Documentation.
Atlassian Confluence’s help system, shown below, encourages new users to join a fictional space program and complete a mission:
Sure, it’s a bit wacky and off-the-wall but its fun, it catches attention and keeps readers interested and engaged.