The simples way to improve your documentation is to add more pictures.
Most help files are text based. And they are awful.
Adding screen captures or other visual elements to your documentation can dramatically improve its effectiveness. The video below explains why pictures matter in a little more detail.
Video: Why pictures matter
When someone views an article that is part of your documentation they need to quickly answer two questions in their mind:
- Does this article apply to me?
- Is this article current?
Adding screenshot to your articles helps them answer these questions instantly.
Does the article apply to me?
By just adding a few screenshots the user can instantly see:
- Where the starting point of the article is - Are there certain requirements that need to be met before you use the information in the article? For example, if your article covers a function of Excel, does the user need to have imported some data before they can do what is described in the article? A screenshot of Excel with the data already imported will communicate that immediately.
- What part of the application the article applies to - If the application you are supporting has multiple screens, a screen capture will instantly communicate what part of the application the article covers.
- What type of result the instructions will produce - If the user can see an image of the end result the article produces they can quickly decide if that is the result they are after.
Is the article current?
This is probably the most important question you can answer. There is nothing more frustrating for your users than following the directions in your help article, only to discover that the instructions no longer apply to the version of the software they are using. Screenshots help the user quickly determine whether the version of the software that is described in the help article matches the version that they have. This saves a lot of frustration and lot of confused emails and/or calls to technical support.
Looks at the image below. It is the same article on both sides, but the left one has images. How much more quickly can you understand the information in that article?
If users can determine that an article is applicable to them then they are much more likely to put the effort into reading it. By adding screenshots and other visuals you can help your readers make that decision in less time and get them to engage more quickly. This will dramatically increase the effectiveness of your help articles.
To end with, watch the video above to get a sense of how your users feel when you leave the pictures out.