How to Write Awesome Internal Documentation?
As your business grows, your company knowledge base expands. Documents tend to accumulate on the employees’ PCs, usually connected by intranet. This is an internal document management system allowing for storing and sharing information. The information is generally structured. Every employee can see the structure in the file manager. It is presented in folders usually named Departments, Projects, Teams, Personal folders (each employee has their own folder on the disc), Contracts/Agreements, Quality Assessment, Training, Certification/Licensing, etc. There are also such folders as ‘General’ or just ‘Documents’ used as information silos. Here you can find all kinds of documents not fitting into any other folders.
The thing is, no matter how well-structured the information in the file manager looks, people always find it hard to get the info they need. The structure described above is usually too general. Sometimes people are just too lazy to share files in common folders, and the information finally gets lost in personal folders. Sometimes people share files via company e-mail and forget to upload them on the intranet.
These are just some of the reasons why internal documentation systems become inefficient. This blog will help you learn the best practices for internal documentation creation.
Internal Documentation and Its Types
Internal documents can be split into several groups. The main types are listed below.
- As a rule, the largest group is project documentation. This group includes all project-specific information. If it is a large engineering company, this information consists of design and detailed design documents, drawings, specifications, datasheets, terms of reference, design assignments, technical queries, and other process documentation, contractual and cost-estimate documentation, minutes of meetings, etc. If it is an IT company, internal documentation can include details on which tools to use for development, how to use the build process, which coding practices to choose, etc. Normally, there is a special Projects folder in the company intranet system where the information on all projects developed by the company can be uploaded, accumulated, stored, accessed, and shared.
- Another type is team documentation (team-relevant information). It usually concerns people involved in a specific project. This information is created, accumulated, and shared taking into account the team’s needs. Usually, there is no general information (like information on completed projects, information on the company’s field of work, etc.). Only the information relevant to the project the team is busy with at the moment is required. Team documentation can include all the docs listed in the previous group but with an intermediate (non-finished) status, which is logical when the work is ‘ongoing.’ After the team finalizes the documents, they can be shared with other employees in the Projects folder.
- Onboarding documentation. This type of internal document includes your company policies, HR processes, organization structure, top-level employees, etc. Getting acquainted with information of this kind helps new hires to get immersed in the regular work process.
Benefits of Internal Documentation
If you create and manage documentation the right way, it becomes an asset that can give your business a number of advantages. Some of them are listed below.
- Generally speaking, it enhances your overall company efficiency. People get more done in less time. If the internal knowledge base of the company is not just information silos but is structured and organized, searching for information will become faster and more convenient. The result will be saved extra time otherwise wasted on clueless searches on the intranet or writing e-mail requests to colleagues to provide the necessary documentation.
- Speeding up the onboarding process is another advantage. Of course, documentation cannot substitute face-to-face communication with colleagues, but it can facilitate the process of the new hires getting acquainted with the internal work practices.
- Promoting knowledge-sharing practices within the organization can be also added to this list. If a well-organized, structured, and easily accessible internal documentation system is available, the employees are motivated to share their knowledge. This is what makes state-of-the-art organizations different from backward authoritarian companies where the only stimulus for sharing knowledge is an order from the supervising manager.
Best Practices for Creating Internal Documentation
When creating internal documents, you should consider several important factors that will help your employees read the information carefully, not ‘look through’ or just skip it as useless or too hard to understand.
- Make texts concise and simple. This rule of thumb works for any style, genre, document type, or format. No matter what language it is — IT, engineering, or medicine — the main thing is to avoid complex sentences and try not to ‘pack’ all possible information in one sentence.
- Avoid humor, metaphors, and idioms. These often look ambiguous and are sometimes hard to grasp even for native speakers, to say nothing of the employees or partners who will read the translated version of documents (in case you are an international company).
- Make information focused and sufficient enough for the employees to solve a problem.
- Use visuals (graphs, diagrams, drawings, screenshots, figures, images). On the one hand, Illustrations help the reader to perceive the information. On the other hand, any visual is a chance to switch from reading to viewing and have a short rest before plunging into the text again.
- Make search fast and convenient. This can be achieved if there is a search bar (‘quick find’ bar) where the user can enter an information request. This is especially important for new hires, as they cannot understand the structure of the company or the scope of its work. In the case of a simple search using a search bar, they can just enter the keywords, and the system will offer a list of suggestions.
- Make navigation easy. As in the previous case, the employees might not understand the whole ‘ramified’ documentation tree. This understanding comes only with experience, and when experience is not profound enough, navigation via cross-links will be very useful. It will help the user to gather all the related information in one place.
Internal Documentation With ClickHelp
ClickHelp offers a powerful online documentation tool based on single sourcing and content reuse. This allows the use of ready-made content from one project to another without wasting time on checking if text fragments from several projects coincide and derive from the same reference text. Texts based on single sourcing are automatically updated. This makes the authoring process faster and more efficient, especially in the case of multiple authors working on the same project.
Besides single sourcing and content reuse, ClickHelp offers cloud content hosting. This saves the company budget otherwise spent on buying a company server.
At the document creation stage, ClickHelp offers automatic creation of TOCs (Tables of contents) for your documents with one click of a button. This feature helps to organize each document and make it easy to navigate.
Other outstanding features are reviewing and commenting. These are important technical documentation tools that can be used on a daily basis in the routine work process of any design and engineering company where reviewing or revising documents is normal. Several revisions of a text can occur before the document is finalized. With ClickHelp, the user will get notifications about comments or questions from colleagues or reviewers on the dashboard. This allows resolving problems at the initial stage of documentation development.
ClickHelp online documentation tool will make the life of your employees easier as it offers a patented full-text search engine based on taxonomies (index keywords) and search customization features.
If you have to deal with foreign-language documentation of your partners or translate your own internal docs into other languages, the ClickHelp online documentation tool will make things easier with the Translation Module.
In other words, the ClickHelp online documentation tool is a help authoring tool that combines many features and supports the process of document creation and management at all stages of the Document Development Life Cycle (DDLC). The stages include analyzing and planning, design, content development and reviewing, publishing and maintenance.
Internal documentation can be a valuable asset to your company. However, this can be achieved only in the case of proper documentation creation and management. Only in this case will this asset work, save time, enhance efficiency, and bring profit. ClickHelp offers an easy way to make your business more competitive by improving your company’s internal documentation.
Good luck with your technical writing!
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Originally published at https://clickhelp.com.