Category: Technical Documentation
Last updated on May 26, 2023
If you’ve read your phone’s manual or gone through the user guides for a tool you purchased, you’ll notice that the steps and how-tos are straight-to-the-point and are written in a language you understand.
Documentation is part of everyday life; for it to make sense, it must be concise.
Here, I’ll explain what Concise Documentation is and its benefits and walk you through the steps of creating one. Let’s dive in.
Here are some of the benefits of writing concise documentation:
A study by the Nielsen Norman Group reveals that most people only read about 20% of words on a web page, and they go further to read if the text is clear, the words and sentences are simple, and the information is easy to understand. This highlights the importance of writing concisely, ensuring the information you are trying to pass is well understood and can be located quickly.
At first glance, complex documentation overwhelms the reader before they can go through it. Writing concisely breaks down concepts into bite-sized instructions that can be quickly followed.
Let’s say you’re trying to set up a new piece of software on your computer. You have a manual that’s 50 pages long, with lots of technical jargon and confusing instructions. You’re unsure where to start or how to complete the installation process.
Now imagine you have a concise version of the manual, which has been carefully written to be user-friendly. The instructions are clear and easy to understand, with step-by-step guidance that includes helpful graphics and illustrations.
The concise manual makes the content user-friendly and the software installation process easy without any confusion.
Spending hours trying to find a solution or information in a document can be avoided with concise documentation. The format and structure of concise documentation, like clear headings and subheadings, enable readers to navigate it, saving time and effort.
I’ve talked about the benefits of concise documentation. Now let’s talk about how to write concise documentation. Here are the steps to follow:
Who will read this? What information are they looking for? What is their level of technical know-how? Why are they accessing it? These are questions to answer before starting your documentation.
The people using your documentation are your target audience; you must ensure they can easily understand it.
For example, you’re writing a user guide for a new video game. The people who will be using your user guide are the target audience.
To determine your target audience, think about who will be using your documentation and their needs and interests. This can involve doing research, such as looking at demographics or conducting surveys to understand better who your audience is.
By understanding your target audience, you can create documentation tailored to their needs, which is more likely to be effective in helping them understand the information you are presenting.
When creating documentation, it’s important to use simple language so your target audience can easily understand what you’re trying to say. This means using words and phrases that are easy to comprehend and avoiding complicated or technical jargon that might confuse your audience.
For example, if you’re creating a user guide for a new software program, you can use simple language to describe how to perform specific tasks. Instead of using technical terms like “algorithm” or “syntax”, you might use simpler terms like “steps” or “instructions” to make it easier to follow along.
To use simple language, you can write in short sentences and break up long text into small, easy-to-digest chunks.
The acronym KISS, which stands for – Keep It Simple Stupid – is a useful reminder to keep things straightforward when creating documentation. It’s good advice to strive for simplicity when communicating complex ideas or information to others.
Keeping your documentation simple to navigate means organizing your content to make it easy for others to find what they’re looking for.
This can be done by:
The usability of your documentation needs to be simple to navigate.
It’s important to make your documentation easy to follow through. This can be done by using a bullet point.
Bullet points are small, circular symbols that precede each item in a list. They are a great way to present information in a concise and organized manner.
Here are some reasons why bullet points are useful:
When using bullet points, it’s important to keep them short and to the point. Each point should be brief and easy to understand.
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A tree structure organizes information into a hierarchical or branching structure, similar to a tree with a main trunk with many branches. In documentation or writing, this means breaking down the content into main sections or headings and then further dividing those sections into subheadings or subsections.
For example, let’s say you’re creating a document about different types of animals. You might use a heading like “Mammals” to group together information about animals that have fur and nurse their young. Underneath the “Mammals” heading, you could use subheadings like “Cats,” “Dogs,” and “Horses” to further organize the information.
Using a tree structure helps to break up the text into manageable chunks so that people don’t get overwhelmed by a big block of writing.
Consider how to break it down into different sections using headings and subheadings.
When explaining something complex or technical, use pictures or diagrams to show what you mean. That’s where illustrations and graphics come in!
Illustrations are drawings or pictures that help to explain a concept or idea. Graphics are visual representations of data, such as charts or graphs, that show information in a way that’s easy to understand.
For example, suppose you were creating a user manual for a new computer game. In that case, include illustrations of the game’s interface to show the player where different buttons and options are located. You could also include graphics that show the player’s progress through the game or their score.
By using illustrations and graphics, you can make your documentation more engaging and easier to understand. Visual aids help break up the text and make it less intimidating, encouraging people to read and engage with your documentation.
It can also help to make your documentation more accessible to people who learn better through visual aids.
If you’re creating your illustrations or graphics, many tools available online can help you create professional-looking images. You can also find free images online that you can use in your documentation. Just credit the original creator and check that you have permission to use the image.
As you work on your documentation, it’s crucial to have someone else review your writing to ensure it’s concise. This is where peer review comes in – it involves asking someone you trust, like a friend or coworker, to read through what you’ve written and give you suggestions on how to improve it.
The reviewer can provide feedback on various aspects, such as:
Once you’ve received feedback from your peer reviewer, you can use their suggestions to improve your writing.
When you conduct a peer review, it’s important to choose someone you trust to give you honest feedback and who knows the subject you’re writing about. You can also return the favor by offering to review their writing in exchange!
Here are some best practices for writing concise documentation:
It’s easy to get carried away and include many details that aren’t necessary when writing. Starting with the main points means focusing on the most important information first and adding additional details only if needed.
This helps to keep your writing clear and easy to understand without overwhelming your reader with too much information. Think of it like building a puzzle – you start with the big pieces that form the main picture and then add the smaller pieces to fill in the details.
By starting with the main points, you create a strong foundation for your writing that is easy to build on.
To ensure that your documentation is clear and understandable, it’s important to organize the content logically. This means presenting information in a structured way that makes sense to your readers.
For example, if you were writing instructions for a recipe, you would want to organize the content logically so that someone who has never cooked before can follow along easily. You might start with a list of ingredients, followed by step-by-step dish preparation instructions. You might also include tips or variations on the recipe
It’s important only to include the information that is relevant and necessary for your audience to understand.
This means removing any extra or unnecessary details that may confuse or overwhelm your readers.
For example, if you’re creating instructions for how to use a new product, you don’t need to include information about the history of the company that made it.
Eliminating unnecessary information can make your documentation easier to read and understand and save your readers time and effort.
Extra nouns are words that don’t add meaning or information to a sentence. For example, instead of “The car that I own,” you could write “My car.” This is because the word “that I own” doesn’t add any new information, as it’s implied that you own the car if you’re talking about it. You can make your writing more concise and easier to read by eliminating extra nouns.
Here’s another example: instead of “The teacher who teaches math,” you could write “The math teacher.” This is because it’s clear from the context that the teacher is the one who teaches math, so there’s no need to include the extra words “which teaches.”
To write concisely, it’s important to ensure every word counts.
When writing, we can use either passive or active voice. Active voice means that the subject of the sentence is doing the action, while Passive voice means that the subject is being acted upon.
Using an active voice in your writing clarifies who or what is doing the action and makes your writing concise and more engaging for the reader.
I’ll give an example of a document that uses these best practices well. By analyzing this example, you can learn more about how to make your documentation concise.
One great example to explore is the Document360 Getting Started Guide, which provides a helpful introduction to the Document360 platform. Let’s look at what makes it a great example of concise documentation!
The Document360 Getting Started Guide is a great example of concise documentation. It’s easy to read, well-organized, user-friendly, and helps us quickly understand the needed information.
Also, check out our Guide to Create Technical Specification Document
Document360 is a documentation software that you can use to create concise documents by implementing various features, such as:
Formatting content: You can format text using bold, italic, or underline options, change font sizes, and add bullet points or numbered lists.
Adding headings: With Document360, you can add headings to your documents, making it easier for your readers to navigate through the document’s different sections.
Subheadings: You can also add subheadings to your documents, which help to organize the content and make it easier to read.
Visuals: Document360 offers the option to add visuals such as images, videos, diagrams, and graphs to help illustrate the document’s content.
Table of Contents (TOC): You can create a table of contents to provide an overview of the document’s structure and allow readers to switch to specific sections quickly.
By utilizing these features, Document360 enables you to create well-organized and visually appealing documents that are concise.
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