Technical Writing for Documentation

Does anyone enjoy this? It’s probably the single most important thing we do, but I swear, there is not a more boring part to my job. Right now, I’m researching guides for Banner, the ERP system we are implementing, with the goal of putting together 5-6 guides we can have on our website that detail what each component is, who might need/use it, how they get it, what the software requires, etc. I’ll start drafting the docs this afternoon, which is only slightly less boring than researching for them.

Turns out most universities keep their Banner documentation locked up where no one can get to it, which I guess… well, no, it doesn’t really make sense. I suppose if they have passwords on the documents, they should require authentication to view them, but they really shouldn’t have any sort of credentials on a document accessible via the web, regardless of a login requirement. Nevertheless, I’ve found enough stuff to get a good idea of what to write, and I suspect the process will go fairly quickly once I get started doing the actual writing.

If I were a programmer, I could probably force myself to write comments… but stopping in the middle of working on something to note down every step, to explain in detail why something is done the way it is, or to take and/or edit a screenshot for inclusion, is just a pain. But again, there’s nothing more important, both to our customers and to our co-workers. Good documentation allows our peers to get up-to-speed on software more quickly (which distributes the support load and means no one person has to do 100% of the support), and it also allows the client to help themselves, resulting in fewer support calls. The goal for any good documentation person should be to write themselves out of a job.  The (un?)pleasant truth of documentation, though, is that there is always something else to write. Turn out good documentation, and someone will find something new for you to write about.

Still, you can’t underestimate a good wiki. Maybe we’ll copy these guides over there once we get the first drafts done.

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