Greg DeVore

By: Greg DeVore on November 2nd, 2016

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Teaching vs. Reminding

Software Documentation Tips | Call-Center | Ed Tech

If you are building a knowledge base for customer support or for internal training, then it is important to keep in mind what you want the article to accomplish.

In a perfect world you could write one article and use it for training, onboarding and support. And this is the approach that many people take. But it is a big mistake.

When someone needs to be trained, their needs are very different from when she need to be reminded.

The person who is being trained needs to understand concepts, definitions and workflows. The person who just needs a quick reminder only needs a quick step-by-step guide.

 Common format of a training article

It's common for a training article to start out with some background information, include step-by-step instructions, explain some of the concepts, go back to some more step-by-steps, then cover a few more concepts.

Combined training article.png

This format may work well for first-timers; however, it's very tedious for readers who already understand the concepts and the background information, and simply want a reminder of which buttons to click.

Extract how-to information from a training article

Our recommendation is to create a second (set of) help article(s). All you need to do is extract the simple step-by-step explanations from your training articles, and create reference articles.

Separate Article.png

If the step-by-step instructions from a training article are all related (e.g. "How to create a user account"), then you just need to create one additional reference article.

If, however, your training article includes step-by-step instructions for several different tasks (e.g. "How to create a user account" and "How to budget for overtime"), then create a separate reference article for each task.

That way, your readers can look up how to do the exact task they need help with, without having to wade through a lot of information that isn't applicable to the job at hand.

More is better (at least in this case)

If you try to create one article for both situations (training and referencing), then you will frustrate both audiences.

When you are creating a training article, be sure to explain:

  • Why something is important
  • What definitions mean
  • What the overall workflow and business goal are

If you are just trying to create a reminder article, such as a job aid or step-by-step guide, then just include a clear list of the steps that need to be completed.

Yes, you will end up with two articles instead of one. But both articles will get used more.

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About Greg DeVore

CEO of ScreenSteps