Five tips for creating documentation that focuses on the user

Software documentation is not about describing each toolbar button and menu option. Smart technical writers help users. Here are some practical tips that let you zoom in on the people you write for, increase the quality of your user assistance and prove your value to the company.

Text by Karina Lehrner-Mayer


Five tips for creating documentation that focuses on the user

Image: © Diogo Ferreira/

As a technical writer with more than 15 years of experience, I still hesitate when people ask me what I do for a living. From experience, I know that a short answer conjures up a picture that is far from the truth. Still, I usually start with something along the lines of "I work in software documentation" or "I'm a technical writer". This usually entails a long pause and a questioning stare.

Then I fire away, covering all the exciting aspects of the job, from researching the software to designing diagrams, taking screenshots, writing style guides and preparing storyboards. "OK," the questioner goes, "so you describe all the menus and buttons?" Uh, no.

What I actually meant to say is: My job in technical writing is to help users do their job. I am a technical communicator.

And describing all of a program's buttons and menus rarely helps users. In fact, you can produce lots of pages of ...