Documentation Is Not Optional

Have you felt frustrated when you hit F1 and the help didn’t show up? Would it have helped you and saved you a bunch of head bangs? One of the important things I have learnt in my experience of developing and using software is that the said benefit is derived only if it is used; and derived to the fullest only if it is used right. Translated for a business, the expected ROI can be achieved only if it knows how to use the software. This can make or break a project, or sometimes the business itself.

There are multiple ways in which a software developer can ensure this, in addition to providing intuitive GUI – by training, help, support, or innovative self-healing software. The common element in all these is documentation. The documentation can be provided in the form of online/offline help, manuals, courseware of training sessions and also forums sometimes. All these things now take part in ensuring that certain business tasks happen, and become part of the business documents.

Basic purpose of the documentation is to impart knowledge to the user, so that he can focus on the business task and use documentation to deal with the software.

The documentation has to be done carefully, because one who is reading it might not know much about the software technology. An assessment of the user’s skill is important. It is quite possible that this software can be his/her introduction in the world of computers! One can also use different forms of documentation – text, audio and video, recordings, demonstrations; I am sure many more innovative techniques will keep emerging.

If your user is another developer, there are different ways of creating documentation from the software code itself, like doxygen, Javadoc, PHPDoc, and many more. They can extract not only comments but also design from the code.

Not only the developers, but the businesses should also realise that documentation will enable them to reap benefits of their software investment. They should make sure that they don’t just buy the software, but learn how to use it.

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Copyright Abhijit Nadgouda
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3 Responses to “Documentation Is Not Optional”

  1. Abhijit Nadgouda @ iface » Blog Archive » Open Source Usability Says:

    [...] In my opinion, documentation should also be more easily available so that users can find guides to usage. The irony with documentation is that, it should not be necessary for usage, but should be available whenever required. Too much documentation and effort for must-read documentation can discourage a user. Currently open source community help is available through forums and is distributed. This documentation should be converged at a single location and made easily available. [...]

  2. Abhijit Nadgouda @ iface » Simplicity and Side Effects Says:

    [...] I think this is the biggest effort cost of providing flexibility. Without supporting documentation it is just another bundle of controls and dialogs for the user. Usable and extensive help can provide the necessary education to the user about the application. [...]

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