How to Build an Effective Knowledge Base

Lindsey Bly
May 7, 2022
September 25, 2023
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A knowledge base enables employees to do their jobs faster and more accurately. Building one the right way is crucial to its adoption and effectiveness.
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Forty-nine percent of your employees spend up to two hours every day trying to find the information they need to do their jobs. 

Knowledge sharing problem has been the major roadblock for growing companies and startups. Here we could introduce a knowledge base as a revolutionary solution for collaboration and knowledge sharing. But we won’t.

Simply creating a knowledge base isn’t the ultimate solution to the problem. It’s the beginning of a lifelong process called knowledge management. 

You might have already made a couple of attempts to implement a knowledge base. Or you're lucky, and you’ve come across this article first thing after deciding to create one. 

Anyway, you should know you won’t be able to build a solid knowledge base without help from your team. To get started and succeed, you need to sell the idea to them first. With this in mind, we’ll begin by explaining the value of having an internal knowledge base and bringing in the best use cases.

Be careful, we’ll also take a chance and try to convince you not to build a knowledge base. 

Let’s go.

Knowledge base as a collaboration tool

A knowledge base is a collection of information about your company, product, workflows, employees, and customers. In every specific case, it might include industry- or department-specific information, like job specifications, training material, troubleshooting guides, etc. 

So far, a knowledge base sounds like a pile of documents nobody ever touches, doesn’t it?

A knowledge base is a collaboration tool in the first place. It can facilitate project management and make teamwork easier. Most importantly, it eliminates numerous Slack threads addressed to those two-to-three people the information is concentrated among. 

Knowledge base use cases

A knowledge base is more than a collection of boring documents. It can be used for a variety of tasks critical to your organization:

  • Transmit company culture.
  • Enable team collaboration.
  • Streamline interdepartmental communications.
  • Optimize sales operations.
  • Facilitate customer/employee onboarding.
  • Train employees/customers.
  • Organize paperwork.
  • Transfer knowledge during employee offboarding

The two types of knowledge bases

Before you get started… Who is your knowledge base intended for?

If you build one to ease collaboration among employees, it’s an internal knowledge base, also called an internal wiki. If you think of a library where your prospects and customers can find answers to their questions, it’s an external knowledge base, also called a help center.

Creating an external knowledge base is easier and more rewarding. First of all, an external knowledge base is less dynamic than the internal one as you don’t need to update it unless you have announced a product update. 

Secondly, it’s easy to measure its effectiveness – having a self-service help center decreases the number of support tickets and reduces the unwanted load from your sales and support reps.

The benefits of building an internal wiki aren’t so obvious. Your company might develop new processes every week if not more often. Documenting new tests and projects will easily take a couple of hours every week. And the result? It’s not so easy to measure the outcomes of implementing an internal knowledge base. 

As a result of streamlining collaboration, an internal knowledge base can deliver way more significant benefits than an external help center – but it’s typically more difficult to communicate it to stakeholders. Here are some of them:

  • Prevention of knowledge loss. An internal wiki prevents knowledge loss as employees leave your organization.
  • More effective onboarding. 55 percent of employees agree that their company has problems with making the necessary tools and documents accessible by new members – an internal knowledge base helps to solve this problem. Additionally, fewer people hours are spent on transmitting the information that could have been documented once.
  • No duplicate activities. Say, your marketing department decides to run Twitter Ads. In a few months, they come to a conclusion this channel doesn’t work for your brand. To prevent future advertising experts from testing this idea in 5 years, you can document the outcomes of the project in the knowledge base. The company won’t waste time working on the tests someone has already run and documented. 
  • Fewer distractions. On average, employees spend about 20 percent of their workweek searching for internal information or tracking down the colleagues that might share their knowledge with them. An internal knowledge base allows reducing the amount of time employees spend searching for data by 35%.
  • Improved operations and sales processes. 41 percent of employees still find it difficult to pull and find data on sales operations – for sales teams, an internal knowledge base is a way to avoid document mismanagement.

Do you need an internal knowledge base?

‘Every business needs a knowledge base!’ – proclaims every article on the subject. 

Can it happen that you actually don’t need a knowledge base? The short answer is yes.

You don’t need a knowledge base if any of the following sentences is about your company: 

  • You have already implemented a project management solution effectively.
  • You don’t experience problems with collaboration.
  • You have no resources to maintain a knowledge base.

While very few companies can brag about one of the first two points, many have capacity issues. So, before you spend too many hours creating a comprehensive knowledge base, ask yourself whether you can assign a person who will keep it updated. 

The information gets outdated fast, and there’s no sense in creating a knowledge base if you can’t maintain it. 

What does it take to create a knowledge base?

Building a knowledge base is an ongoing process. We mean it – once you start with it, you should never stop. Therefore, it’s impossible to estimate how much time it takes to build a knowledge base.

Fear not. The lack of resources can be compensated with software.  With the right tools at hand, you can build your knowledge base on the fly.

Tools like Scribe capture your process for you — making it easier than ever to document and build a knowledge base. Scribe is a step-by-step guide generator that follows along as you work.

In seconds, it'll create a visual process guide, with text and screenshots. he tool completely eliminates the need to spend hours documenting the workflows. No matter what type of knowledge base you work on – you can share Scribe’s guides internally or externally. 

Thus, if you choose to use process documentation software, developing and maintaining an internal wiki or an external knowledge base won’t take time at all – you just need to press the ‘Record’ button before you start with another task.


How to create a knowledge base… that you’ll use

As much as 43 percent of organizations rate their knowledge-sharing culture as a five or lower on a 10-point scale. For sure, one of their main problems is dust-covered knowledge bases. 

Here are seven steps toward building a knowledge base your team will be grateful for.

1. Define your target audience and their needs

Employees or customers? 

Even though you might create a universal library for both, it’s best to address one audience at a time.

If it’s an internal knowledge base, you still need to specify whether it should be company-wide or department-specific. 

Next, define your audience’s biggest knowledge gaps. What questions do they typically ask? To get inspiration for an internal wiki, run an employee survey, delve into Slack threads, and review worklogs – the latter will give you a better understanding of your employees’ daily tasks and the roadblocks.

To map out an external knowledge base, start with checking out support tickets, examining live chat transcripts, and visiting competitors’ FAQ sections. When you outline at least a few key topics and get started, you’ll naturally identify a lot more ideas to elaborate on.   

2. Get armed

After you have a vision of your future knowledge base, you need to choose a tool (or tools?) that will be helping you on your way. 

  • Knowledge base software. Obviously, all the data should go live somewhere. Be it Google Docs or Zendesk – it’s your choice. Just make sure that your knowledge base software will still fit your needs as you grow.
  • Procedural knowledge-sharing tools. Knowledge base software allows you to document each and every piece of data, but it hardly lets you automate the creation of process documentation - which is the most time-consuming task. Let procedural knowledge-sharing tools, like Scribe, do the boring work for you and then embed the visually appealing guides into your knowledge base. 
  • HR management tools. Wait, what does HR have in common with knowledge management? Quite a lot to be honest. Your HR tool stores tons of useful people data that uncovers workplace problems and negative trends in employee behavior that might have been solved by establishing a strong knowledge-sharing culture.  
  • CRM. Similar to an HR tool, CRM will help you collect information. But instead of focusing on employee data, it’ll deliver insights into your customers’ needs. 

3. Invite contributors

Someone should be responsible for structuring and maintaining your knowledge base. Ideally, there will be several people managing specific sections of the resource. 

For instance, a community manager or an HR rep will be documenting everything related to the company culture, policies, employee benefits, etc. But content concerning onboarding programs should always be curated by experts from respective departments.

Ideally, everyone should have the right to contribute to the knowledge base – this way, you’ll encourage employees to use it on a daily basis. To avoid false or irrelevant information, assign one or two editors (it can also be a community manager and/or HR rep) who will review content before it gets published. 

4. Nail information architecture

Before anyone adds their content, outline a structure for how the information should be organized. It goes without saying that a clear structure is critical for easy navigation. Most importantly, taking care of information architecture at the beginning will help you keep your knowledge base organized as your company grows.

You may want to structure your knowledge base by one of the following criteria:

For employees
By topic
By department
By role
By product
By seniority
By location

For customers
By product feature
By solution
By desired action
By job title (for B2B SaaS)
By content format

As you expand your knowledge base, you’ll create a lot of subcategories and subtopics – try not to be too granular with these. It’s best to have less than 10 top categories to avoid confusion. They should also be broad enough to avoid confusion. And to make content easy to navigate, use tags and labels or/and enable the search feature.

5. Secure sensitive data

Who has access to which information? 

At large companies, managing data access can easily become a disaster.

When you build an internal knowledge base, we recommend that you set permissions based on department, seniority level, or employment type. Also, it’s good to regulate who can edit and approve content submitted to your knowledge base. Although we insist on the benefits of letting everyone contribute to the library, we firmly believe that the vetting process shouldn’t be neglected. 

And what about an external knowledge base? Typically, companies make self-service help centers accessible to everyone. However, there are cases when you might want to restrict some sections for everyone but your paying customers.

6. Adopt your knowledge base

Creating a knowledge base is often easier than adopting it.

If people got used to asking questions over Slack, it might take some time before they stop doing it. Don’t want to wait? You may integrate your knowledge base with Slack (or another internal communication tool) to immediately answer with relevant links from your internal wiki without leaving the app. 

The process is even more complicated when you adopt an external knowledge base. Customers want personalized support, and you can’t blame them for it. Prior to searching a help center, many will turn to a live chat widget. The easiest way to reduce the workload of your support reps is to implement a chatbot that will be offering relevant help desk links based on people’s requests.

7. Track knowledge base usage

Has the adoption of the knowledge base proven successful? When is the time to update it? What kind of information is missing?

There are about a hundred more questions you might have soon after you’ve implemented a knowledge base. To get the answers, you need to keep track of how your employees or customers interact with it. 

If you use knowledge base software (and we don’t see why you wouldn’t), you’ll find analytics features inside the platform that will inform you on: 

  • who uses the knowledge base;
  • how often they open it;
  • which sections people explore most often;
  • how often its content is updated;
  • how much time users spend searching for necessary information, etc.

Use the insights to keep improving your knowledge base with fresh and useful content.

Turn your knowledge base into a collaboration tool

The only way to adopt a knowledge base is to treat it as a collaboration tool. Encourage your employees to contribute to an internal knowledge base or build a forum where customers can share their insights complementing your external knowledge base – and you’ll always keep your KB live.

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