Why bother with end user documentation for Web Applications?

In Rahel Bailie’s excellent presentation at the STC Conference (“The New Face of Documentation“), she looked at the “No Documentation” approach to software user assistance. This, she summed up, as the “we don’t document it; we just fix it” view of software development.

She argued that a “No Documentation” approach doesn’t lead to no documentation. Users soon start to share their tips, tricks and information. They generate the content they need. The consequence of this is that the software developer loses control of user documentation – what is said, and which pages users view when they search in Google.

She made a good case for the need for user documentation where:

  • The application or system is complex
  • Training is needed
  • You want to guide users to additional features or services
  • The concept or process is not familiar to users
  • Assistance needs to be embedded in the User Interface

I think that’s a great analysis.

She covered a number of topics we’ve looked at in this blog: the impact and role of Twitter; Web 2.0; component based authoring of re-usable topics; user generated content; and an ecosystem approach to user assistance.

It’s clear that technical authors can produce more than just paper manuals. I’m sure in the next few years we’ll see technical communication evolve, as software developers embrace and master these new technologies, and user assistance, in some form or another, will still be needed.

One Comment

Keith Johnson

Documentation will always be needed because there will always be a gap between a company’s understanding of its software program and the user’s understanding of the software program. Documentation is written to try to fill this gap and so no matter the platform, whether it be web-based or desktop-based, applications will always need at least a basic help file to move users toward increasingly optimal use of the program.

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