Writing the software documentation might seem like an easy task for some people, while for others this can be a real nightmare.
The generic term for this type of writing is also referred to as “technical writing”. The person who is given the task to do this job is called a “technical writer”, and they usually are people who have an extensive amount of knowledge about software and technology, or they can sometimes be less familiar with the algorithms of the software but great at writing proper technical text.
Nevertheless, whatever kind of writer you are, you probably need some advice on how to write the software documentation.
Preparing for Writing
Make sure that you receive proper training as to how the software you are going to be writing about works and how it can be operated. Have it placed on your computer and make sure that you are provided with all functionalities that it has. Then, start exploring it to check out all of its functions; don’t be afraid to ask for help when you don’t understand something. While the exploration might be fun to do, this whole thing is done so that you can gather enough information to understand what you might need for when the writing comes.
Make sure that you keep everything simple. Avoid using too much styles as it will make the document hard to follow. Do not include any headers or footers in the first two pages of the document, and instead begin using them when you reach the Table of Contents part of the document. Don’t use any unnecessary symbols and remember that black text is always the best. Don’t experiment with the fonts and ruin the document.
Be accurate when writing the software documentation. Respect all of the requests about the documentation that might come from both the client and your supervisors. Make sure that you check your spelling and grammar regularly in order to avoid any mistakes. Try to avoid putting in any ambiguous phrases as they will serve no purpose to the people reading the documentation later. Make sure that you put in references to any manuals or products, and also make sure that all such references have their names spelled correctly.
Whenever there is something that you feel the need to bring up to the reader, mark it with a simple NOTE instead of some flashy images. Make sure that you never insult your reader’s intelligence by pointing out things that are really obvious. Even though you might just want to be sure that they get it, some people may find it offensive that you explain to them how to start the software several times during the documentation, for example. What’s more, make sure that you don’t give the readers information that is either unnecessary or irrelevant to what they are reading. You need to keep your reader’s attention to the product and the things about it that they want to know.
One thing that many people fail to remember is that you should always be very careful when writing in a gender-neutral style. You should make sure that you use thing such as the imperative mood (Do this ), the second person pronoun (you), and in some cases “they” over the regular “he/she”. This is something that is of greater importance than many people actually believe and it is essential for a good software documentation.
After You Finish Writing
Proofread the whole document no less than a couple of times to be sure that all grammar is correct and that you have not misspelled any words, or even that you haven’t missed some vital piece of information. The inserting of the indexes is recommended to be done once everything is finished so that the most important terms and phrases can be understood easily. The same thing can also be applied to the Table of Contents.
Finally, before submitting your software documentation make sure that you send it to get reviewed. After you have checked everything yourself, it is always recommendable that you ask a friend or a colleague to give it a look as well, because you never know when you might have made a mistake.