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Killer Docs for Killer Devs

Killer Docs for Killer Devs



My WordCamp Presentation from WordCamp New York 2012

My WordCamp Presentation from WordCamp New York 2012



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  • \n
  • My name is Siobhan McKeown\nWordPress documentation specialist. \nmeans I write docs for lots of different WordPress people and companies.\nWrite blog posts, articles, make screencasts, work on UI text, web content, press releases, but favourite thing is to write docs, which is what I’m going to talk about today.\n
  • Clients\nRecently reworked all the user docs for ManageWP and am currently doing screencasts for them\nWritten docs for Event Espresso\nInfinity @ Presscrew\nCurrently working with Piwik - OS web analytics\n
  • When asked why good Javascript libraries fail, the author (and developer?) Nicholas C Zakas said:\n\nFor me, the key phrase is here: “if you’re the only one who understands it.” \nAsked to work on Infinity, the only people who really understood how to use it were Bowe and Marshall. But, as the developers, their immediate proximity to Infinity made it difficult for them to write about it in a way that other people would understand. \nOther thing to take from this quote - “all three to make sure your library can easily be adopted.” See how that works in a WordPress context.\n
  • Two broad groups - Developer and End User\nWho writes developer docs?\nWho writes end user docs?\nWho jumbles them both up together?\n\n
  • A complete documentation project will contain many different types of documentation\n
  • Going to take a little divergence into some learning theory.\n
  • VARK - Visual, Auditory, Read/Write, Kinesethetic\n\nPeople take a 16 question questionnaire to discover what their learning preferences are.\n\nGoing to talk briefly about each of these\n
  • On one side got the learning strategies that the VARK website recommends, and on the other how I think about reaching these people in my documentation.\n
  • Auditory - hearing, listening, discussing. Much more difficult to reach through a screen which is really a visual medium.\n\nHowever...\n
  • \n
  • These guys are probably the most fun group to write docs for - they’re about using all of their senses and getting hands-on\n
  • If you’re thinking that people can’t be divided up that neatly - you’re right.\n
  • So often get asked to review a product’s documentation and it is just straightforward (boring) text. The first thing I do is look at ways to bring variety to it, even just simple things like using bold and italics in the formatting, using headings, and adding screenshots.\n
  • I love that.\n\nPeople will be excited - not about your documentation, but about your product.\nThis is definitely the lot of a documentation writer - no one cares what we do really (which is sad, because we’re writers and we want people to love our writing). But as long as it’s good then it’s just a seamless part of the background. And when it’s clear and useful, and helps people to actually learn, it gets people excited about your product.\n
  • Focusing on end user docs\n
  • Back to Infinity - I wrote a whole load of documentation and tutorials for Infinity, and then a few months later I talked to Bowe and he was all “yeah, so we’ve changed how loads of things are done so we’re going to have to rewrite it.”\n\nIn the first months of running Words for WP, this happened quite a lot. Now I tell developers to please have a features freeze in place. Without it, money and time is waisted with docs having to get written twice.\n\n2. Access the developer - so important. Need to be able to ask for help. Often the product has no documentation yet so everything needs to be extracted from the mind of the dev.\n\nDon’t assume your writer is dumb!\n\nYour documentation project is a great time to be checking for usability issues and bugs. I have a tracker that I use in Google Docs to keep track of these things. I always come across bugs and usability issues (and UI spelling errors).\n
  • Overall structure - if you’re thinking about a complete doc project think about how you want your user to navigate through it. Do you want to go Beginner > Intermediate >Advanced or do you want to have discrete sections that cover different features - depends on the product.\nIndividual Article Structure - going to go into how to structure individual articles next\nAccess to resources - do you have everything you need? Will your user be able to get access to everything they need? Link to an FTP program, free text editor, etc.\nDoc Type - Ask what type of documentation is most suited to what you are trying to achieve. Do you want to produce a user guide that someone can dip into for what they need? Is a step-by-step tutorial more suitable? Would a screencast help? \nA complete documentation project is likely to contain many different types of documentation.\n\nThink about the level of your novice user. This is who you should be aiming for in your docs. A more advanced person will be able to extract what they need, whereas you still have yourself covered for novices. After all, they are probably going to be more of a hassle on your support forums.\n\nAnticipate user questions - with your novice in mind, anticipate what their questions will be and make sure you incorporate the answers into your docs. \n\nWP Admin Screens - you can integrate using the contextual help menus - have a link to a tutorial for that at the end.\n\nFigure out what your message is - this is really really important. Each piece of documentation should have a purpose, and a message, and your user should come away with that message, whether it’s “how to set up my eCommerce plugin” or “integrating Google Maps with my event management”. Good docs are streamlined, to the point, and not full of fluff.\n\nWould be amazed how many things I’ve come across which try to pack so many messages into one place that it’s hard for an end user to know what to do.\n
  • Every good story has a beginning, a middle and an end.\n
  • introduce your reader to what you’re going to do: eg. This tutorial with walk you through how to enqueue styles with an Infinity configuration file. or “in this user guide, learn more about the different security settings for ManageWP.\n\nHow you’re going to do it - not always relevant but if you’re introducing a tutorial it’s helpful to say something like “in the next 7 steps, I’ll walk you through blah blah blah”\n- demo of what is achieved - screenshot, link to a demo, screencast.\n\n\n
  • User guide - discrete sections. So, if you’re writing a guide to payment gateways for your ecommerce plugin, break it up into PayPal, PayPal Pro, Authorize.Net etc etc\nTutorials - see next slide\nCall outs are really helpful as they alert people who are scanning text to things that are either important or outside the normal flow.\nScreenshots - I am screenshot liberal.\nScreencast - guy at wcnl asked if he could just use screencassts\nBe varied\nSyntax Highlighter - no doubt you all do. Have had a nightmare in the past with using syntax highlighters and then someone switches to the visual editor and everything goes kaboom.\n
  • Imagine everyone here knows how to upload a plugin via FTP.\nDemonstrates the point.\nHeadings - can be clearly read by people with intermediate to advanced knowledge (go through stepsP\nBody text is detailed and useful for novices \nImages complement the text and could even be used on their own by someone scanning (go through images Download > upload > activate)\n\n
  • Sum up what has been learned overall. That means if someone wants to return to a doc to get the essence of it, they can just check out the summing up at the end for a reminder.\nList the main points - get to see me doing that in action.\nAgain, a link to a demo or a screenshot of what the user should have achieved.\nList of resources or further reading - these could be on your site or elsewhere\nRelated tutorials or tutorials for taking it further.\nRelated posts plugins never work as well as I’d like them to so I often do this manually.\nLink to support forums or feedback form.\n\nNever just end something - always show where the user can go next.\n\n
  • Stage 3 is to Test, Revise, Update\n\nI ask a WP user to test complex pieces of documentation, especially tutorials that are code heavy or complicated. This ensures that the tutorial can be followed, that the steps and the code are correct.\n\nIf you’re getting someone to read a user guide, think back to that main point or message that you came up with in your research phase. Ask questions to see if the user gets it.\n\nCollect their questions for use in an FAQ\n
  • Incorporate changes.\nPare down language\n
  • Documentation never ends.\nWordPress is updated\nYour product is updated\nbrowsers are updated\nAPIs change\neverything is constantly evolving.\nYou must be updating your documentation all of the time.\nGet a process in place to keep track of what needs to be updated. You could use a Google Spreadsheet, or a plugin such as content audit.\n
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  • Mention going to work on the codex on Sunday\n

Killer Docs for Killer Devs Killer Docs for Killer Devs Presentation Transcript