User manuals are indivisible from software. There’s no software simple to the point where it doesn’t need a user guide. End users are people who can fall under certain categories and be united by the notion of target audience, but, nevertheless, they are still just a bunch of unique human beings. So, some functionality that is clear to one person is rocket science to another. This proves two points: yes, we all need technical documentation so our product is used properly and, yes, this documentation should be approached from many angles and tested thoroughly to be understood by everyone.
Approaches to Testing Documentation
The QA people know that there are several approaches to testing. For example, testing can be done from two sides: expert review and user testing.
The expert testing is done by people who know the product (documentation is the product in our case); they are specialists familiar with the subject matter. They can do real thorough testing as understanding the inner mechanisms gives them this opportunity. Although, there’s a downside – quite often it is next to impossible to see the bigger picture an ordinary user will face when they try to use your manual.
This is where user testing comes to play. This kind of testing is as vital as the first type – in the end, it’s the regular users who decide whether the documentation is good or not. Of course, it’s the combination of the expert review and user testing that works best.
Let’s imagine that your documentation team has just finished a new iteration of a user manual. Here you have it – a heavy foliant made of pure knowledge and tech writer tears. And, now, you need to test it. But where do you start?
Put Safety First
First and foremost, check the safety. And, by safety we mean that the instructions given in the user manual shall not cause a user’s computer bursting into flames. Joking aside, make sure that all the basic aspects of documentation are intact with one another.
This tip is applicable for any type of technical documentation. So, it doesn’t really matter what product you are writing documentation for – you know best what harm it can cause if used improperly whether it is exposure of personal data, deleting of important user data, etc.
This safety check implies all the pitfalls you can think of on the bigger scale.
Revisit the help topics that contain the most basic functionality and terms explained – this is the core of your user guide, and it should be precise and exact.
The second type of check would be a basic coherence check. Everybody knows that to write a great user manual you need a plan first – a skeleton that you will later extend and fill with help topics. If you did good – the coherence check won’t be too difficult. But if you didn’t, well, brace yourself, then. You have work to do.
At this stage, your main task is to make sure that everything is in the right places. Look through the parent sections first, and then go one step deeper for each parent node. Pay attention to the help topics each section contains. Last second renaming is not a good thing, but you might still require to do this at this step.
Also, there’s no coherence without proper navigation. First, make sure there are no broken links. Second – check navigation elements like breadcrumbs, next/previous topic navigation, etc. If you don’t see too many of these, consider this – you might need to add a couple for the better UX.
Make Users Feel at Home
Now, it’s time for polishing. When all the content is ready, time to clean up the small things.
Most of the companies have ready style guides developed by UX designers to position the company on the market – the company logo, corporate color scheme, fonts, etc. are set there. It is common practice to make your user documentation following the style guide. This helps with user manual usability too, as style guides are created with better user experience in mind.
Also, at this step, the final spellchecking and proofreading need to happen. Typos and silly mistakes can really get on a user’s nerves as he or she might already be not in their best mood – sadly, people do not read user manuals for entertainment 🙂
Of course, it is much easier to use some spellchecking service. Quite often this feature is present in tools for documentation authoring out-of-the-box. For example, check out the WYSIWYG editor in ClickHelp (a tool for online documentation writing), it allows to find mistakes like typos right away and fix them quickly.
These are the stages you should go through to test your user documentation properly. To quickly sum up everything:
● Do a safety check – make sure all the critical terms are correct; check that all the actions that can cause serious issues are described clearly;
● Do a coherence check – take a closer look at the documentation structure, navigation;
● Do a UX check – make sure you corporate UX standards are met.
Of course, you should always make notes or fix any issue you see even if it is a typo and you are looking for broken links at the moment.
With this 3-step approach, your user manual will be of great help for users.
*About the Author – ClickHelp Team*
This guest blog was written by the vendor of the ClickHelp online documentation tool. ClickHelp is a modern browser-based tool in the cloud. It can produce online and printed documentation, knowledge bases, PDF docs, context help, policies and procedures. ClickHelp combines a documentation authoring environment for teams, and a documentation portal for end-users.
To learn more about the ClickHelp documentation tool, visit this website: https://clickhelp.com/
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