How to Create a Knowledge Base (10 Steps)
Do you ever go to start a project and think, “That’s impossible”?
Maybe you need to do something major like remodel your basement. Or maybe your impossible task is the long to-do list on your desk Monday morning. Either way, you may feel a little defeated before you even start a project.
Sometimes that is how people feel when they start creating a knowledge base. The project seems herculean, untouchable, and draining. But, I promise the work is worth it if you take the right steps to make your knowledge base.
As the Director of Transformational Services at ScreenSteps, I’ve worked with many companies to implement their ScreenSteps knowledge bases. Clients who kept their goal at the forefront and broke down the process for building a knowledge base achieved their goals of having a single source of truth.
Below, I outline a 10-step process for creating a knowledge base. If you follow these 10 steps, in this order, then you have a better chance of creating a knowledge base your end-users can rely on.
1. Identify the purpose of your knowledge base
What is the purpose of your knowledge base? Or, maybe a better question is, why are you getting a knowledge base for your company? Is it:
- To deflect questions?
- Improve compliance?
- To capture everyone’s knowledge and ideas?
- Another reason?
The answers to these questions are the foundation for building your knowledge base. They affect every aspect of your knowledge base, particularly your approach to organizing it and the content you create for it.
The main purpose of a knowledge base
Overall, the purpose of a knowledge base is to answer questions. On a higher level, a knowledge base should help your end-users when they get stuck.
This means that your end-users have a question and they can’t move forward with a task until they get an answer. Your knowledge base should help them find their answers and perform the necessary procedures.
A knowledge base is like your internal Google search engine. People don’t browse Google. They use Google when they want to make lasagna and need a recipe. Or when they want to know the circumference of the earth.
Your knowledge base exists to help people when they want to issue a refund and don’t know how. Or, when they need to troubleshoot a problem and need some help.
Determine who will use your knowledge base
There are a variety of different types of knowledge base software options available. Depending on who you want to use your knowledge base, you’ll want to invest in different systems.
The two main types of knowledge base software services are internal and external knowledge bases.
An internal knowledge base is the private knowledge base for your confidential information. Your primary end-users are your employees.
An external knowledge base is a customer-facing knowledge base. It is primarily for your customers to self-service their questions.
Learn more about internal vs. external knowledge bases and when you should use them here.
2. Identify the system you want to use
With the purpose of your knowledge base in mind, your next decision is how to present this information. You’ll want to decide how you want to store that knowledge.
Choosing knowledge base software for your company can be challenging. You need to consider the features and capabilities you need. Plus, you need software that fits your company’s budget. Use these five tips to help you find the right knowledge base software for your business.
Should you build your knowledge base from scratch?
I’ll admit — I’m not an expert in this area. Through all my research, I haven’t found any advice or feasible tips on building your knowledge base from scratch. But that doesn’t mean it can’t be done.
In sales and coaching calls, I’ve talked with people who were considering building an HTML, Drupal, or WordPress site for their knowledge base. However, they opted against these options because they posed more challenges than solutions.
Keep in mind: You already will need to write knowledge base articles, create training plans for teaching employees your knowledge base system, and create a plan for ongoing optimization. That’s a big enough project without coding a whole system.
The advantage of having a ready-made knowledge base software program is that you already have features in place for writing content, optimizing search, tracking user analytics, and more.
Because of that, my advice would be to research and choose an existing knowledge base software to house your company’s knowledge.
Alternatives to a knowledge base
While we recommend using a knowledge base, there are other knowledge management software options.
Some companies use Google Workspace and store answers in a Google Doc or Google Sheet. Some companies use an Intranet or SharePoint and upload PDF documents. Some companies use a wiki. Some companies use knowledge base software
While uploading files to Google Suite or SharePoint is free, the disadvantage is that those systems were designed for storing documents that have knowledge, but they are not optimized for using or updating that knowledge.
If your goal is the main purpose mentioned above — to help end-users get unstuck — then you’ll need a knowledge base.
3. Write down topics
What topics are you going to cover in your knowledge base? Consider the topics as the table of contents for your manual or knowledge base.
You choose the topics first because people need context to help them understand stand operating procedures (SOPs) and how to find them.
For example, say you are a call center for a bank. Some topics you may cover include:
- Checking Accounts
- Savings Account
- Online banking
- Mobile banking
- Lines of credit
- Commercial checking
- Commercial savings
- Commercial loans
- Commercial online
- Commercial mobile
- Wire transfer
- Debit/ATM cards
As you can see, these are broad topics. You aren’t getting into the nitty-gritty details about what information needs to be explained about these topics. It is a list.
4. Write FAQs/article titles
For each topic, write down the questions people have about those topics.
In a broad sense, your knowledge base is a collection of frequently asked questions. However, that’s a bit misleading since you also need to answer not-so-frequently asked questions in your knowledge base.
In the banking example, there are 15 topics. If you can think of 10 questions for each topic, your knowledge base will have 150 articles in it.
Some of those questions would be:
- Do you charge ATM fees?
- How old do you have to be to set up a checking account?
- Do you charge fees to have a checking account?
- How do I get a loan?
- What’s the difference between a loan and a line of credit?
The question should be the title of the document/article. And you should use language your employees or customers use — not corporate jargon. This will make it easier for your end-users to find your guides in your knowledge base.
5. Identify who should write that content
As the person who oversees knowledge management at your company, you don’t have to write every knowledge base article. Ideally, you can delegate specific articles to subject matter experts (SMEs) to write.
If you have an SME for the loan application process, have them write the help guides for how to complete loan applications. They can make sure you don’t miss any outcomes for your troubleshooting guides.
Assign SMEs to create the content. You can also make them the “owner” of specific articles, meaning they will ensure that the articles are always up-to-date with accurate information in the future.
6. Create a style guide
If you are using more than one person to write your knowledge base articles, you will want a knowledge base style guide.
A knowledge base style guide helps you keep your articles looking consistent. It is easier for your employees to follow your guides and for your SMEs to write the articles when they know what cues to look for.
Need help writing a style guide? Here are five elements you should include in your knowledge base style guide to help you get started.
7. Write down the answers to the questions
Finally, you get to write the answers to those questions (see step 4). Some of your answers will be pretty simple. Others might be more complex.
There are many different types of articles and resources you can create for your SOPs. A few options for writing your knowledge base articles include:
- Bulleted lists
- Step-by-step instructions
- Decision trees
- Interactive workflows
- Call flows
Your knowledge base articles are the coal to your knowledge base train — they keep the train moving, they give your knowledge base power and purpose.
As you write your knowledge base articles, write the answers in a way that people can perform the tasks as they are reading them. Leverage formatting best practices so content is easier to understand. Building out decision trees for complex situations.
One simple way to make it easier for your end-users to follow guides in real-time is to incorporate screenshots into your guides.
8. Optimize content for search
As you fill your knowledge base with articles and help guides, it will be more difficult for your employees to open your knowledge base and immediately see which article they need. That is why you need to optimize your content for search.
Earlier, I mentioned writing your titles in a way people naturally ask questions. That is one way to optimize content. Another way is to add additional search terms to your articles.
You can use your knowledge base software’s usage reports to adjust your content so it is easier for your end-users to find it. Find out what your end-users are searching for and add terms, adjust article titles, and make other changes to increase your end-users’ chances of finding the help guide they need.
9. Test and revise content
Before you launch your knowledge base, you’ll want to test it out. Run your knowledge base through a trial. Select end-users to try it on real tasks.
Watch them perform the tasks. Take notes where they get stuck in a procedure. Figure out where directions aren’t clear or you are missing steps in a process. Listen to your end-users’ feedback.
Using those comments and feedback, optimize your knowledge base for usability. Update your articles so the instructions are clear.
After all, you don’t want to launch a knowledge base that has incomplete instructions, confuses employees, or causes end-users to make mistakes.
10. Publish and maintain it for accuracy
At last, it’s time to publish your knowledge base. You’ve put a lot of time and effort into prepping your knowledge base for launch.
Unfortunately, pushing the publish button and sharing your knowledge base with your team is not the last step. Since your policies and procedures are constantly changing, you will need to have a plan for updating your knowledge base articles.
Come up with a schedule to keep your knowledge base up to date. Provide a way for end-users to comment on articles and provide feedback. They will use your articles every day, so they will be the first to know if your articles of out of date or inaccurate.
Determine a way to communicate knowledge base content changes to your staff.
Achieve your goals with the right knowledge base software
When you create a knowledge base for your company, you’re building a one-stop shop for all of your company’s knowledge. While it is challenging, the time and effort will be worth it if you achieve your purpose — supporting your end-user.
With ScreenSteps, it is fast and easy to create help guides with our simple yet powerful content creation tools. User reports help you optimize your content. And, most importantly, end-users can find the articles they need in as few as two clicks.
Of course, there are many ready-made knowledge base software companies available. Compare these top knowledge base software services to see which is the right fit for your company.