How efficient is your documentation?

To gauge the efficiency of your documentation, consider the time spent to create it plus the time it takes to use it.

That’s the lesson I learned from applying Scott Berkun’s make vs. consume ratio to documentation. Scott’s idea is generally that it takes time A to create a tweet or a poem, a book or a movie, and time B to read or watch it. Scott relates the two measures and points out how you can easily consume in a few hours what authors and publishers, actors and movie people have spent months fabricating.

“make + consume” in documentation

When it comes to documentation, I think you can add both measures to gauge efficiency of documentation – though not its coverage or quality!

But just for time, I try to keep in mind these tactics:

  • Minimize the total time required for you to create your documentation and for customers to find, use and apply it.
  • Consider spending more time to make your documentation faster and easier to use, especially if you find that customers have trouble with it.
  • Consider spending less time with documentation tasks that do not help your customers in using the described product.

Of course, time isn’t the only yardstick. Accuracy, completeness, legal and contractual obligations are just some of the other factors.

Still, I’ve found “make+consume time” a useful benchmark to stay focused on what ultimately benefits the user and what doesn’t.

Further reading

If you’re concerned about documentation efficiency, you might also find earlier posts of interest:

Your turn

How do you gauge the efficiency of your documentation process and output? Can you credit your efforts towards making your documentation faster and easier to use? Please leave a comment.

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5 Responses

  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Kai Weber and Tom Smith, Technical Comms. Technical Comms said: kaiweber: How efficient is your documentation? http://bit.ly/fNXeC3 […]

  2. When you say “Consider spending less time with documentation tasks that do not help your customers in using the described product”, think MINIMALISM!
    Users need no long description of what they see on the screen. They need HELP to perform a TASK!

    • Good point, Marie-L. However, sometimes you need to comply with additional standards or legal requirements that require extra information.

      Minimalism is great, but it loses when it’s abused as an excuse to write insufficiently short documentation.

  3. […] Kai Weber discusses efficiency and documentation […]

  4. […] How efficient is your documentation? […]

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