User Documentation: The Ultimate Guide for Product Managers
Knowledge is power and user documentation is necessary for building it. But great documentation doesn’t happen by accident.
This comprehensive guide will enable proactive product managers to figure out exactly how to craft documentation that will help users solve their problems and delight them.
Let’s get you started!
- User documentation describes any kind of helpful material intended for the user of a product.
- There’s an important distinction between documentation intended for your end users, and the more technical docs leveraged by developers and software architects.
- Great user documentation brings many benefits: it can help boost product adoption, improve customer retention and satisfaction, and reduce the burden on your support team.
- User documentation comes in many shapes and sizes: step-by-step guides or manuals, frequently asked questions, video tutorials, release notes, and more.
- To create documentation of your own: start by defining what you’re trying to achieve, make sure you understand your audience, use a clear framework or outline to structure what you’re doing, choose your selected medium, and iterate your documentation over time.
- Some best practices of effective documentation include experimenting with formats to see what works best, remembering simplicity is key, using analytics to identify friction areas, and listening to feedback.
- There are many fantastic examples to draw from across the SaaS marketplace. But to build fantastic documentation of your own, you need to choose the right tool for the job.
- Userpilot is a powerful platform that makes it simple to create resource centers, contextually relevant guides, and more.
What is user documentation?
User documentation is any form of documentation intended for the end-user of a product or service.
The objective of this sort of documentation is to guide your users on exactly how to use your product (and potentially troubleshoot common issues).
User documentation can come in many forms (more on this later):
- User guides, or instruction manuals
- Video tutorials
- Frequently asked questions (FAQs)
User documentation vs. technical documentation
There are important distinctions to keep in mind:
- End-user documentation: Geared toward users who are probably not technical. The instructions focus on helping them understand how to use your product and its features correctly.
- Technical documentation: Intended for a far more technical group of users – those that build or maintain technical services and who understand the underlying software architecture.
Why is user documentation needed?
Well-written user documentation can be a huge asset to you, your team, and your end users. Ultimately, it can help users get the most out of a product and avoid frustration.
Let’s explore some of the key benefits below.
Increases product adoption
User documentation can drive product adoption in a number of ways: first, it can help users hit the ground running. Great documentation means your end users reach the Aha! moment quickly.
You can also use it to teach each user about new features. As your product iterates and evolves over time, users need to be able to learn how to use the new features you launch. Documentation can help by providing clear and concise instructions.
If users run into issues – which they inevitably will – documentation can help them troubleshoot problems. They can refer to the documentation to find solutions quickly. Hence, encouraging frequent use of your product.
Reduces the burden on the customer support team
Top quality end-user documentation will drastically reduce the burden on your support team.
It can help users find answers to their questions independently. They won’t have to contact customer support as often, freeing up your team to focus on solutions for more complex issues.
Being able to solve problems on their own also saves customer time and frustration: your end user doesn’t need to sit in a support queue, and the workload is instantly slashed for your support team.
Since there are fewer support tickets, you can save up on customer support costs as well.
Improves customer satisfaction
Documentation can help users get the most out of your product. Rather than just scratching the surface, new users can learn how to use a product to its full potential – which typically boosts satisfaction and loyalty.
The clearer and better quality your documentation is, the less confusion and friction for your users… and the happier they’ll be.
What are the different types of user documentation?
As we discussed above, end-user documentation will come in many shapes and sizes. Documentation should be contextually relevant: it depends on what your software does, what problems you’re trying to solve, and the needs of your audience.
Here are a few different sorts of documentation to bear in mind.
- User manuals. This is essentially an instruction manual for new users. A good user guide will be clear, comprehensive, and easy to understand.
- Tutorials. A more interactive form of end-user documentation, tutorials will take your users step-by-step through a specific process, feature, or part of your product. These can be multi-channel; an article, a guide, a collection of video tutorials – whatever helps your users!
- Frequently asked questions (FAQs). Users will always have questions – it’s inevitable. Analyzing what the commonly asked questions are, detailing helpful answers, and documenting them can be enormously valuable.
- Knowledge base. A complete package that stores all helpful information/resources. If you make it simple to search, you’ll help users debug issues and solve their own problems without having to contact your support team.
- Release notes. Summarises key features, bug fixes, and updates in a release to keep your users informed of changes.
How to create user documentation for your software product?
Next up, we’re going to break down the key phases in creating documentation for your own product.
Define the goals behind creating user documentation
It’s always good advice to start with the why. What’s the fundamental reason behind your desire to create documentation? Do you want to focus on easing the burden on your customer support teams? Or are new users struggling to adopt key features?
Having a clear idea of your goals will help inform what your documentation needs to look like and define precise measures of success so you can track performance later on.
Research your target audience
You wouldn’t build software without a clear understanding of your end users, would you?
Well, the exact same thing applies before you start writing a user guide, detailing step-by-step instructions, recording helpful videos, or constructing FAQ pages.
Do proper audience research; start to analyze distinct user segments. Build an understanding of their pain points, primary tasks, technical expertise, and more. From there, you can figure out which sort of documentation is likely to help them the most.
Create a detailed software documentation outline
In exactly the same way a roadmap sets out a path to delivering outcomes that will delight users and drive value, a software documentation outline gives you a clear framework to create all your documentation from there on out.
Importantly, it can also help you create common terms of reference and start building a clear brand identity. That’ll help your users figure out what to expect.
Write and publish the technical documents
Don’t skimp on the detail when it comes to sharing technical knowledge.
API specifications, logical flow charts, and business process documentation, all have a part to play in the landscape of effective user documentation.
Once you’ve decided what to include in the documentation and how to present it, proceed by publishing it.
Continuously update, test, and improve user documents
The best user documentation continually evolves.
Digital documentation shouldn’t remain static: as you learn more, deliver new features, gather user feedback, or tweak your user interface, you should be making updates to all your online documentation.
- Look out for recurring customer queries that come to your support team, and use them to build user guides
- List down the most common problems that can form the basis of an FAQs page
- Analyze areas of friction and create helpful resources to guide users toward activation
- Make a note of the technical details surfaced by your product team that might be valuable for existing customers
- Tweak your written content and writing style: does technical language perform better?
- Think about the medium: iteratively test different formats out and see if they shorten the learning curve
Best practices for creating great user documentation
Next up, we’re going to explore best practices to follow throughout the process of creating spectacular documentation.
Experiment with various formats for effective user documentation
You’re never going to be able to predict exactly which documentation will hit the spot with your end users.
Ultimately, you just need to produce something – knowledge bases, step-by-step guides, video tutorials, FAQs tackling common problems, help centers – then figure out which format benefits your users the most.
Use simple language in your user manuals
Above all else, you shouldn’t overcomplicate your documentation. Try your best to communicate with clarity and simplicity. It’s good practice to use plain language to convey important information.
Just put yourself in your customer’s shoes… The more convoluted and difficult to understand your documentation is, the harder it is for users to find relevant information – and the worse your support team’s workload.
Monitor product analytics to remove friction
Data is power: don’t miss a valuable opportunity to use it to your own advantage. There are many ways real-time insights into customer behavior can help inform your documentation:
- Tracking engagement with events (e.g., using the search bar)
- Measuring success toward important milestones
- Analyzing which articles and resources are most frequently accessed in your knowledge base
- Identifying friction points and targeting them accordingly
Collect feedback to understand the customer experience with your knowledge base
Most companies are well aware of how valuable user feedback is.
Understanding the most common problems, the various types of friction a user faces, and the troubleshooting steps they’ve tried to follow… all of this information can help you review and improve your existing documentation.
How do you gather this feedback?
The best way is to reach out to users in-app. Trigger surveys with different categories of users (e.g., those accessing documentation during the onboarding process, or reading an article in your help center), and ask them directly about their experience.
There are many types of surveys to choose from but a customer effort score survey is the most useful measure of how well a piece of documentation is working.
The final step is to be proactive: use the feedback you’ve gathered to improve your documentation.
Good user documentation examples from successful companies
It’s always handy to have some use cases to draw inspiration from. So next up, we’re going to break down some fantastic examples from across the industry.
Remember, there’s always something to learn from a bit of competitor analysis!
First up, let’s take a look at what makes Userpilot’s user documentation so effective:
- Resource center. Complete with an embedded knowledge base, detailed tutorials, and webinars, it’s easy for users to find the help they need.
- In-app. By providing support directly within Userpilot, users can solve their queries without having to juggle between screens.
- Visually appealing. There’s nothing worse than a boring wall of text. Whether it’s video tutorials or case studies, Userpilot’s documentation is engaging, contains graphics, and is consistent with the rest of the brand image.
- Searchable. You can easily search from the knowledge base within the resource center.
Monday.com is a cloud-based platform enabling users to create their own applications and project management software. Compared to their competitor’s documentation, they really go above and beyond.
Here’s what works well:
- Range of documentation. Knowledge base, community, academy, live chat, and more.
- Exploration and discovery. They make proactive recommendations about similar documentation. There’s a logical hierarchy of how information is shared (i.e., if you read an article on task management, you’ll receive prompts and links for others in that theme).
Asana is a comprehensive task and workflow management tool, designed to help you and your team collaborate more effectively. Below are some key elements to draw from in your own SaaS.
- Understanding of segmentation. Asana split out their technical documentation into a standalone site. That means developers can essentially skip the basic information about setup, and focus only on what’s relevant for them. It’s a fantastic practice to understand that your users aren’t one homogenous group.
- Interactive and engaging. Throughout their documentation, Asana has mixed and matched formats to create an engaging experience. Interspaced with videos, recommendations, and quick links, a user will never feel lost or like they can’t proceed.
The best tools for creating end-user documentation
You won’t be able to translate any of this into reality without the right tooling for the job. Luckily, there are some great options in the market – let’s compare two knowledge base tools.
Userpilot – the best user guide platform
Userpilot is a powerful adoption platform you can leverage to design engaging product experiences for your users and easily create documentation that’ll delight them.
With Userpilot, you can:
- Build an in-app resource center for guiding the user toward completing a certain action, adopting a feature, or completing a goal.
- Include various modules in the resource center, like a knowledge base, survey, live chat, and more.
- Localize your resource center to the language spoken by your users.
- Trigger the resource center for different user segments.
Here are some other relevant features:
- In-app surveys – to collect and analyze user feedback in-app (which you can use to improve your documentation).
- Product usage analytics to monitor the performance of your resource center.
- Advanced user segmentation – to figure out who needs to see which bits of information.
- A/B testing: to iterate, improve, and experiment.
Userpilot’s resource center functionality is available in its Growth and Enterprise plans which have custom pricing and usage limits.
Zendesk – the recommended tool for writing user docs
Zendesk is a fantastic option for quickly writing helpful articles.
The integrations Zendesk offers are what make it truly effective, though. You can import Google Docs directly into the tool, making it simple to migrate an existing set of documentation from one place to another without having to start again.
With Zendesk, your users can access live chats and open support tickets which will get triaged quickly and enable your users to access the support they need from day one.
Zendesk has four pricing tiers, starting at $49 per month and scaling up from there: Team, Growth, Professional, and Enterprise.
That just about wraps up our comprehensive look at the world of user documentation.
You should now be well-equipped with the knowledge, understanding, and examples you need to craft fantastic and effective documentation for your own product.
If you want to get started today, get a Userpilot Demo and see how you can quickly and easily build resource centers without any coding.