User documentation is a tricky thing to manage. On the one hand, docs are invaluable to your clients. But on the other, keeping “Write User Manual” at the top of your priority list is next to impossible, especially as you approach your go-live date.
The secret to squeezing good user docs into your schedule is to approach them the same way you would any other deliverable: create as little as possible from scratch by building on work you’ve already done, keep your users in mind at all times, and work efficiently.
That all sounds pretty familiar, right? Let’s talk about how to adapt these practices to user documentation.Build a Template
Every site you build is different and requires a tailored set of docs. But that doesn’t mean you should be writing documentation from scratch each time. Instead, take a few hours to pull together a docs template. Working from a template can take the documentation process from a long, painful slog at deadline-time to a set of manageable little writing sprints, spread out over the entire development process.
Where to start?
First, pull together the elements that will appear in every user manual, for example, a general introduction to Drupal. Include chapters that cover the steps in content creation, an overview of the administrative menus, and a layman’s definition of things like nodes, blocks, and views. All these chapters will remain virtually untouched, from one site to the next, saving countless hours of writing.
As you build out the framework for your docs, keep your content as modular as possible. Creating self-contained chunks does two things for you: it makes it easy to rearrange sections from one manual to the next – without extensive rewrites – plus, it helps you keep track of what content needs updating and what doesn’t.
Once you’ve got the basics covered and the overall structure of your template worked out, writing your docs will be a simple matter of filling in details. If you write up features and functionality as they are being built, by the time you’re in the deadline crunch, your docs will be 90 percent complete.