We have many ways to measure how healthy we are – blood pressure, BMI, heart rate, cholesterol levels, age, temperature and many more. From these measures we know what is good or bad health.
Using this analogy, documentation standards are measures of the “health” of your documentation. Does your documentation help the reader? Does the documentation make it easy to find the information the reader wants? Just how good is your documentation?
What are documentation standards?
Standards fall into two main categories – internal and approved standards. Internal standards are standards that have been set and agreed within a company. A branding style guide is a good example of an internal standard. These standards only apply to the company that has defined and enforced them.
Approved standards are standards that have been defined and agreed by internationally recognised committees and standards institutes. These are national organisations that provide guidelines and regulations across a vast range of products and services. Some of these standards and regulations are required by law.
Principally there are two key documentation standards although some industries or products also have their own specific standards for documentation requirements.
- IEC 82079-1 2012: Preparation of instructions for use – Structuring, content and presentation – Part 1: General principles and detailed requirements
- ISO/IEC 26514 2008: Systems and software engineering — Requirements for designers and developers of user documentation
The standard IEC 82079 provides guidelines and recommendations on what content should be included in a document. There are references to other related standards for other key elements that are typically found in technical documentation. For example, safety notices are mentioned in other sub-sections but are also defined by the standard ANSI Z535.
IEC 82079 also includes guidelines on graphics, captions, purpose and structure of documentation.
Alternatively, ISO/IEC 26514 provides more process related information. This standard was primarily developed for documentation for software-based products. However the principles and processes described are applicable across all technical documentation.
Why are standards needed in product documentation?
As mentioned before, standards give us a measure of health of your documentation. Understanding and applying standards has several benefits.
- Consistent quality: A reader knows that the documentation for a product is going to be of a high quality. This improves the product brand quality – if the documentation is good, then so must the product be and vice-versa.
- Consistent content: A reader becomes familiar with content structure. If all your documentation follows a known standard then a reader, for example, will always know what a warning notice should look like. They should always know where to find document identification information. The benefit of this is a user gets to the information they need quicker, and with less stress. The content is always going to be in the same place.
- Quicker document creation: If you know what sort of content is required and where it is going to end up in the document, you can build documents quicker and make better use of single-sourcing.
- Better quality document reviews – If your team know the standards then document reviews look beyond the content and start to look at information structure and compliance to known standards.
Standards are good things to have, especially if you create lots of content for lots of different products and services.
How does 3di implement standards?
3di Information Solutions has built robust processes that implement and enforce document creation and delivery around the key documentation standards.
Our internal style guide and templates all reflect the conventions and guidelines covered in the standards. Our processes follow the recommendations to ensure quality is maintained and documents are delivered at -or above- expectations.
Our review process, for example, includes using both our style guide and our clients’ style guides. The process includes a comprehensive checklist developed from the standards, extensive experience, and continuous training.
Standards help deliver high-quality product documentation
Documentation standards are critical for delivering consistent, high-quality and “healthy” documentation. A “healthy” document should be easy to create and use, and should provide all the information the reader needs.
Readers easily spot inconsistencies, and confusing and different communication methods from your competitor’s documentation. It can be good to be different but this can be done through branding and style changes.
The content has to fit a purpose and that purpose is for a reader to get their job done with your product. Documentation that complies with standards helps them get the job done.