Documentation

6 Proven Technical Documentation Best Practices to Make it Work

Done right, technical documentation can work wonders for your internal teams and end users. Learn six technical documentation best practices to get it right.

Introduction

In 2019, Spotify's internal tech teams had no outlined workflows to document information. When everyone made documents — on Google Docs, Confluence, GitHub and microsites, "not finding the right information" inevitably became one of the three biggest blockers of productivity for their engineering teams. 

Today, Spotify's response to this chaos and how they improved collaboration, communication and efficiency is a case study on the impact of clear and concrete technical documentation. 

Technical documentation can be a single source of truth for developers and end-users. If you're eager to replicate Spotify's success and create a seamless flow of info internally and externally, here's where to start. 

We've curated a list of six technical documentation best practices for accurate and actionable documentation — without any hassle. 

What is technical documentation?

Technical documentation refers to all documents — updates, guides, workflows and templates — that explain a product to internal and external stakeholders. 

It defines processes for internal development and instructs end-users on how to best use the product. 

Technical documentation is helpful in many ways, such as:

  • End-user support to guide users through every feature and functionality.
  • Developer support to help internal teams build, update and maintain the product. 
  • Sales and marketing to convey the correct information to potential customers. 
  • Knowledge management to capture and store all information in one place.  

Why does technical documentation fail? 

While technical documentation seems simple in theory, it's riddled with challenges in practice. Most teams can't make the most of their documentation because of a few common mistakes. 

You might be making these mistakes if your documentation is:

  1. Too complicated to follow: Your presentation is not reader-friendly. You've crammed too much information in every single doc. 
  2. Jargon-heavy: The content doesn't match the target audience's level of understanding. It's filled with complex terms and jargon. 
  3. Not easily accessible: You've stored the documents in a siloed location with no search or share functionality. 
  4. Outdated and duplicated: Your content is old and repetitive across multiple documents, making it redundant for readers. 
  5. Time-consuming to find: Your knowledge management portal is flawed and takes up too much of users' time and effort to find answers. 

If you ticked off any of these issues, we've sourced a list of six technical documentation best practices from our experts to guide the way for you. 

6 technical documentation best practices to capture knowledge

There's no secret sauce to creating effective technical documentation. But we have something even better — a list of six proven tips to hit the nail on the head for your documentation system. 

1. Perform preliminary research to create a documentation plan

Like any other business process, start your documentation workflow by creating a plan. This would ideally include:

  • Setting relevant goals.
  • Establishing timelines.
  • Prioritizing milestones. 
  • Identifying the target audience.
  • Choosing the right metrics.

A documentation audit can prepare a solid groundwork to chalk out this plan. Analyze your current documents and perform a needs analysis to understand the gaps and opportunities for your documentation process. Asking employees about their pain points can help your research. 

The audit insights will help you choose the right goals and timelines for your documentation framework. Pair this up with milestones and metrics and you're all set to kickstart the actual work. 

2. Outline navigational structure and on-page design

Good design equals better usability of your technical documents because it can simplify information and maximize reader engagement. Design can refine your documents by offering clarity that words sometimes can't. 

Pay special attention to your documents' on-page design to ensure it's appealing and interactive. Here are a few handy design tips for delivering a seamless reader experience:

  • Follow a standard structure for every page to place all the elements in a consistent position. 
  • Create a style guide for content formatting to ensure every page has a uniform interface. 

Here's a snippet of Google's style guide for its documentation team.  

Add a topic-wise breakdown for every page to ensure easy accessibility 

Notion's user resources page is the perfect example of this, with a navigation menu on the left containing all the main categories and subcategories 

3. Create a template to replicate & maintain consistency 

Design can make or break your documentation game. Instead of considering design as an afterthought, follow these tips to create a flawless user experience. 

But we understand that designing your documents, especially technical ones, can be tricky. If beautifying every doc isn't your cup of tea, let Scribe do the heavy lifting on your behalf. Scribe is a step-by-step guide generator that does the documenting for you — complete with text and annotated screenshots. 

technical documentation best practices

4. Create & iterate the content to make it reader-friendly

Most teams fail at creating content that actually helps because they treat it like a one-and-done task. In reality, content creation is an ongoing process with multiple stages of editing and updating. 

If you're wondering how to write technical documentation, here are some ground rules to remember:

  • Speak to your SMEs: Tap into the expertise and knowledge of your subject matter experts to find the most accurate content for your documents. Reach out to SMEs through 1:1 interviews, questionnaires, or group discussions. You can also let them prepare the first draft while you edit it for consistency and clarity. 
  • Adopt reader-friendly language: Use easy and everyday language to make your documents more accessible for everyone. Write in a conversational tone—how you'd like people to perceive your brand. You should also focus on using short sentences, less complicated words, an active voice and a coherent flow. 

Look at how monday.com takes a lighthearted tone to address its users in one of its help center articles. It's fun and gives you the feeling of talking to a friend! 

technical documentation best practices

  • Make it scannable: Your readers—employees and end-users—are too busy to spend more than a few seconds on a technical document. To give them quick solutions without compromising clarity and accuracy, draft your content for skimmability. Use bullet points, line breaks, short paragraphs, pull quotes and white space. 

Webflow's help center is one of the best technical documentation examples. The document uses a highlighted section to mark essential details, followed by short paragraphs and a bulleted list—a breeze to read. 

  • Get readers' feedback: Creating content is just the first step. Constant iteration based on readers' feedback is where all the heavy lifting happens. Ask employees and users to review the docs and leave feedback on what you can improve. 

Here's how LaunchNotes collects feedback from users with negative reactions to any document. It's convenient for the users and helpful for the team to identify the exact issue. 

Without the right content, your documentation efforts aren't worth the hassle. So, prepare a solid strategy for your content creation process to ensure you're producing nothing but the best. 

5. Choose the right software to maximize accessibility 

Circling back to Spotify's case, missing out on the correct information can be a major challenge for companies. If there's one easy and efficient fix for this, it's choosing the right software to standardize and store your documents. 

The best technical documentation tools make information more accessible, shareable and consumable. One tool that fits all the brackets is Scribe

Scribe automates the documentation process to save you the trouble (and time) of creating and designing content for every task and feature. On top of that, easy-to-use permissions enable anyone to view Scribes on any device or system. 

Here's how Scribe documents critical information in an interactive format.👇

Here's the best part: you can keep all your documents in a single place with Scribe Pages. Bring multiple Scribes together in a visually stunning process doc, complete with rich media, texts and other customizations. 

6. Initial launch & test the document's validity 

Before launching your document to everyone, soft launch it to a smaller group for initial review. This is a healthy exercise to double-check your doc's validity and fine-tune it for a more fulfilling user experience. The soft launch will also reveal anything you might have missed when drafting.

Ask reviewers to analyze the doc from the intended audience's perspective. The goal should always be to make the information more accessible and engaging.

7. Audit & update the content consistently 

For the final practice, create a maintenance calendar for your technical documentation. As your product scales and processes change, some methods will naturally become outdated and invalid. Update these docs to ensure users or team members don't act on the wrong information.  

With every product update and release note, you must also update your documentation. Run audits at regular intervals to identify and remove duplicate content that keeps your documents as clean and concise as possible. 

With Scribe, you can make universal edits in seconds. After every audit or product update, you can tweak your Scribe to update wherever it's shared. Just go through your Workspace and click "Edit" on the guide you need. You'll never have to launch another "V2" again. 

Create interactive & brand-aligned documentation 

Technical documentation can convert: 

  • Potential leads to paying customers and 
  • Customers to brand advocates. 

It's also the key to unlocking better team collaboration. The more precise and accurate your documentation, the stronger the impact. 

With this article's six technical documentation best practices, you're all set to create a robust documentation workflow for your business. 

Remember that your documentation process is incomplete (and ineffective) without a good tool to deliver all the information. Thankfully, you don't have to look far for a solid tool—Scribe can work wonders. Try it today and see for yourself!