Training Documents That Work

A 1 minute read written by Orville September 18, 2011

A chalkboard illustrating that training documents go to clients

Building training documentation doesn't have to be complicated - training materials should be as clean and simple as possible. This will help communicate instructions clearly, and provide assurance that users have taken the correct steps. Here are a few tips to help you out on your next batch of training materials.

Know your audience

Understanding your audience is crucial. It dictates the level of detail you need to provide in your training documents. A seasoned web team member already knows how to log into an application, but beginners need more detail and assurance.

Make documents easy to digest

I like to organize areas of my training materials in a pattern, much like patterns in a pattern library. I use headings like:

What is this?

What is the purpose of this feature or function?

When should I use this?

What is the context of when I should use this feature/function?

How do I use this?

What steps do I need to take to apply this feature/function?

This simple approach keeps things clean and easy to understand. I also try to keep training materials as brief as possible – no one likes reading a thick text book (at least most don’t).

Be visual

Screenshots are key when building documentation. They provide context and help identify navigation landmarks within an application – great for user wayfinding. When demonstrating actions or functionality, providing before and after screenshots assures users that they have completed steps correctly.

Supplement instructions with video tutorials whenever possible. You don’t need to add fancy production elements for a video to be useful. A simple instructional walk-through is often what users need! There are a number of great tools out there too! If you need to produce a quick video Jing works well. If you need to add more production elements you can take it a step further with the Camtasia Studio or Screenflow for Mac users.

Embrace changes and feedback

Since the tools and client requirements often change, I view our training materials as living documents and expect that updates will be required in the near future. Also, be open to asking your user group to provide feedback and suggestions - this will help improve and tighten up your documentation skills.