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--- User focus ---


Describe the importance of user documentation.


Teaching Note:

S/E The quality of user documentation can affect the rate of implementation of the new system.


Sample Question:


JSR Notes:

User documentation refers to the documentation for a product provided to end users to help them understand and use it efficiently and effectively. Making good user documentation is one of the most critical stages of assuring the success of a software system or product, yet it is often the part given the least amount of attention. User Documentation is particularly important for people who may not understand the program for one reason or another. But there are other reasons to focus on good user documentation as well:

Why is user documentation important? 

Not to be Pooh Poohed

In the grand scheme of the development process, user documentation can be something that is easy to pooh pooh. But "Oh, the user will figure it out..." is a tendency that has to be suppressed. You, yourself, may be able to figure things out fine, but you're a developer; you should be able to figure things out. You have to keep in mind that many people a lot less experienced with IT than you may be tasked with using your software product at some time. So be explicit with your instructions and explanations. Even something as simple as an installation instruction of "Drag to the Applications folder" should be included.

The other thing to keep in mind is that making good user documentation is not rocket science, so in terms of the acceptance and propagation of your product, this is the last thing that should end up holding it back. But even though not necessarily rocket science, it still takes thought, planning, and commitment of resources, to produce documentation at a professional level. Companies that pay attention to user documentation and tutorials etc. tend to be more successful than those that don't with their implementation of new systems, and new software in particular.

User Documentation Then-and-now

In the early days of software development, most user documentation was provided to customers through paper user guides and instruction manuals, but user documentation is now most often delivered on-line, through FAQs, video tutorials, support portals, and embedded assistance like roll-over tool tips and other dynamic help, built right into the software.

Third-party Documentation

Often times, now-a-days, the best documentation, instructions, and tutorials come from third party sources on YouTube etc. It is tempting to rely on these third party individuals, websites, and YouTube channels etc. to take the place of good, original documentation. But it should still be a priority for individual programmers and companies to produce the best user documentation they can. Ultimately, potential users who end up walking away from a product because they can't figure it out are lost revenue.

Limits of YouTube & Google

Videos can be great, but can be shunned by users because they take too much time to look through to find one specific point. And that's where the good old direct access of using an on-line or even instruction book index can make old-school techniques just as effective. And we all know how Google or YouTube searches can be perfect sometimes and a wild goose chase other times. Professionally produced, comprehensive, and easily searched user documentation can prevent such frustration.

Documentation Upon Release of New Software

Note that it is particularly important to have good documentation immediately upon the release of a product, before third party sources have had a chance to both master the software, and get quality instruction produced. For a while, your user documentation will be the only available resource. So if for no other reason than to get your product off the ground, you should invest strongly in good user documentation.

A good recent example of quality instructional videos being immediately available by the company associated with the technology was the release of Swift, Apple's new app programming language - leave it to Apple to recognize the importance of a good start, with quality, professionally produced, timely, user documentation.



WikiBooks.org *



Jaime: Not just comments in your code/JavaDoc, but user manuals.