How To Build Effective Product Documentation for Your Internal Knowledge Base (9 Steps)

Josh Spilker
June 14, 2024
How To Build Effective Product Documentation for Your Internal Knowledge Base (9 Steps)

Imagine a spot where internal stakeholders can find all the important information about a product. 

This happens in an internal knowledge base and product documentation makes up an essential part of it. 

This includes step-by-step instructions, SOPs, troubleshooting tips, FAQs, use cases, API documentation, user manuals, product strategy, system architecture, and installation guides. 

It serves as a vital resource for developers, customer support teams, and other internal users.

So, you do a disservice to your team and business if you don’t have quality product documentation.

Without it, product teams will struggle to get the maximum value from your product, resulting in inefficiencies and a poor working experience. 

This, in turn, puts a huge strain on your team, as they will have to answer the same questions repeatedly and deal with a ridiculous amount of support tickets from other departments.

It is a stressful process for everyone involved, which is why you must create effective product documentation. 

Fortunately, we’ve got some ideas.

Read on to learn how to design one that not only informs and engages your team but also helps you operate more efficiently.

9 Product Documentation Best Practices

Creating product documentation isn’t everyone’s favorite task. It is time-consuming and requires a lot of back-and-forth from several stakeholders to complete. 

Despite this, it is a critical component of the overall internal experience and essential for effective product management.

So, here are nine practical tips for creating great product documentation.

1. Understand who the product docs are for

It isn’t just about creating product documentation. 

The goal is to build one that actually helps your team. So, start by knowing who will use your document, their technical proficiency, when they will use it, with what device, and how they prefer to consume the content.

One way to collect this data is to conduct a survey. 

You can send one to each team member after a new hire or a product update and analyze their responses. 

Another effective approach is to speak to your support team. These are your frontline staff who spend a lot of time interacting with the product and team members, so they are well-informed about their needs.

Additionally, implementing a data sharing protocol among your teams can further refine your understanding of user needs and expectations. By pooling insights gathered from various sources—such as customer interactions, product usage analytics, and feedback forms—you can ensure that your product documentation is consistently aligned with your audience’s evolving requirements.

Once you understand your audience’s needs, you can create documentation that provides valuable solutions. 

Suppose your product is ESG reporting software for businesses that need to comply with environmental, social, and governance (ESG) standards. 

In that case, your documentation should cover topics such as how to generate ESG reports, interpret key performance indicators related to sustainability, and integrate the software with existing systems seamlessly.

2. Define the scope of the product docs

The next step is to decide the type of document you wish to create. 

Clarity on the document type helps you decide the type of content that should be included.

Usually this is done hand-in-hand with a knowledge manager and product manager. 

Let’s say you’re creating a user guide for a product that helps companies meet their CSRD requirements (corporate social responsibility directive). 

The content of that document will include instructions on navigating the product interface, a step-by-step walkthrough to use the program to track CSRD metrics and examples of successful implementation. 

On the contrary, a troubleshooting document will include common issues users encounter and their solutions, and a guide on how to contact support for further assistance. 

Screenshot sourced from Loom

For instance, the first section of Loom’s troubleshooting document divides Common Issues, Microphone, Camera, Audio, Video Processing, and Account and Workspace Issues into categories. 

Defining the document type early on is essential so the content flows smoothly and meets the audience’s needs. 

3. Create a document structure

To help team members find what they are looking for quickly, you need to organize your content. This is referred to as information architecture, a practice of deciding how to arrange the parts of something to make it understandable.

It is important in product documentation for two reasons: 1) it gives new team members a comprehensive education about your product; 2) it allows team members to quickly find answers to their questions.

After deciding on the topic you want to cover, create broad categories and their subcategories. Next, organize the information logically in a hierarchical structure. 

You may consider introducing an introductory or glossary section that explains key concepts or terminologies related to your product.

4. Choose where to host your product docs

The first option is to use an established knowledge management system like Tettra or Confluence. These platforms usually have a set format and navigation – you just have to upload your content. They can also be integrated with a project management platform like Trello, Hive, or Jira, streamlining your workflow and improving collaboration. 

Ensure that the management of online credentials such as user IDs and passwords, for these platforms is secure and straightforward, enabling easy access while protecting sensitive information.

However, before selecting a product documentation tool, consider your budget, the team’s needs, and the learning curve.

You don’t want to invest in a solution that doesn’t meet your requirements or is too complex for your team. So, it is best to start a free trial before you commit. 

5. Communicate clearly

Like with most technical documents, clear communication in your product documentation is super important. Team members need to be able to comprehend the content easily; otherwise, the document may not serve its purpose.

This starts with using plain language. Always use simple terms in place of complex ones wherever possible. For example, if you are explaining how your fitness tracker uses the data it collects from users to fulfill the CCPA compliance (California Consumer Privacy Act), use easy-to-understand language. 

Something along the lines of “We collect your fitness data to help you achieve your health goals and comply with regulations like the (California Consumer Privacy Act). This means we protect your personal information and only use it in ways you allow” would work. 

Secondly, explain every little detail. Never assume that users know what you are talking about. Break down every concept into simple terms and provide examples to ensure clarity. 

Also, use an active voice. It’s easier to read and understand. For example, rather than saying, “The report should be analyzed by clicking Review,” say, “Click Review to analyze the report.”

There are many more principles, and it isn’t always easy to remember them. However, creating a basic style guide can ensure consistency. 

6. Include visual aids

Your product documentation will be heavily text-based, and rightly so. However, you must include multimedia when necessary. Images, videos, GIFs, and infographics are powerful elements that ensure comprehension, retention, and increased engagement.

In fact, research reveals that 65 percent of people are visual learners. No wonder video content is so popular today. That said, you shouldn’t inject visuals into your product documentation for the sake of it. 

Certain documents, such as a step-by-step article or a feature description, will require as many product screenshots as possible to enhance clarity. 

This Trello doc about using the Card Reposter Power-up, a feature that automates the creation of Trello cards for repeated tasks, is accompanied by a screenshot that shows the reader what the Power-up looks like in action. 

Screenshot sourced from Card Repeater

The value of product documentation is in its ability to solve team members’ problems and ensure they get the most out of the software or product—that’s what adding multimedia can do.

One thing to keep in mind is ensuring the visuals fit well across different screen sizes. Team members should be able to access the complete documentation along with the visuals regardless of their device screen size.

7. Make your product docs accessible

Building product documentation that team members can’t find means it is ineffective because it isn’t serving its purpose. Link your documentation so they can easily access it.

For most companies, it is usually in the header and footer of their main intranet or internal portal. 

This is great for two reasons: firstly, it gives team members direct access to it without stress. 

With Tettra, you can quickly search for the type of info you need or use Kai, the AI-assistant to answer for you.

Kai will provide you with a link to the referenced page so you can double check the answer and response. 

These approaches will make your documentation accessible. However, you can make it even better by training your support team to refer to relevant resources when talking to team members. That way, when those team members have a question or encounter a problem, they’ll know they have self-service options.

These approaches will make your documentation accessible. However, you can make it even better by training your support team to refer to relevant resources when talking to customers. That way, when those customers have a question or encounter a problem, they’ll know they have self-service options. 

8. Gather feedback on your product docs

Now that you have successfully created product documentation, it is time to find out if it was really helpful. If it was, great! If not, you need to make changes. 

Now that you have successfully created product documentation, it is time to find out if it was really helpful. If it was, great! If not, you need to make changes.

To gauge the success of your documentation, start by collecting feedback from internal users. Use feedback analytics to discover how many users found your content helpful.

Consider implementing mechanisms for users to provide product ranking or feedback on specific sections, helping prioritize improvements that align with customer needs.

Finally, monitor user engagement. Track the number of times an article in the knowledge hub has been read over a period. If each article’s reading time is similar, it shows readers are finding the content helpful. 

9. Keep your product docs up-to-date

Product documentation is an evolving document. The main purpose of creating it is to help customers get the most out of a product. 

Ideally, you will continue adding features and updates to your product, so those changes must be reflected in the product doc. 

At Tettra, we like to say that you need to curate your company docs to reflect changes in the product or company policies. 

Use verification in Tettra to confirm a page is correct, and then use the update reminders to review it regularly.

However, updating your documentation shouldn’t be done only when you make changes to your product. You can make improvements to your customer support documentation by analyzing performance data, such as article upvotes or downvotes, successful or failed searches, page engagement, broken links, and more. 

Furthermore, significant organizational changes, such as a reduction in force, may require updates to your documentation to reflect changes in responsibilities or the consolidation of roles within the support team.

Over to You

A knowledge base, company wiki, or simply product documentation has one goal: to ensure internal and external stakeholders access the information they need.

It is also an underrated marketing asset that can help you retain and attract new customers. 

So, knowing how to build effective product documentation is essential. It starts with understanding your target audience, choosing the right platform, organizing your content, and making it easy to understand and find. Then, gather feedback and make improvements. 

Ready to build your own product documentation? Follow the tips above. 

More documentation tips from Tettra:

Use Tettra for easy access to your team product docs

Tettra is an AI-powered knowledge management system that helps you curate important company information into a knowledge base, use it to answer repetitive questions in Slack and keep it up-to-date, organized, and complete with automation.

With Tettra, you’ll get:

  • Q&A workflow to capture questions
  • AI-powered knowledge base for instant answers
  • Knowledge management features to keep content up to date.
  • Integrations with your existing tools like Slack, Google Drive and more to make sure your team actually uses Tettra

The sooner you start documenting, the better off your team will be. Ideally, you started documenting things from day one. But if not, there’s no better day to start than today.

Your entire team will benefit from being able to share and find the knowledge they need.

Sign up for a free Tettra account, and get started today.