With all the talk about Web 2.0 and the attendant technologies, are readers actually being better served by documentation now than they were in the past?
The gaps in your documentation aren’t there because you haven’t consider a particular level of user; the gaps in your documentation are there because you haven’t considered how one level of user becomes another. How DO you get from Beginner to Expert?
Before you release a product, have some people use it. From these "test users" get solutions to problems, tips and knowledge that would help your real-life Users. Put that information in your User Documentation, and on your product support website.
There are a number of well known factors that impact the effectiveness of documentation, both as an aid to learning and as a guide to getting the job done. An approach to documentation known as minimalist has been around for many years, but remains little know outside specialist interest groups. The approach produces clean easy to read documentation. Manuals and guides produced using the approach have a much higher probability of being useful and therefore of being used.
There’s so much you can do with a user guide or a technical document if you’ll just give it a chance. I see technical documents and other materials as fantastic marketing opportunities and potentially great platforms for nurturing customer relationships. They can help establish your business as a leader in your field, they can make your customers proud they chose your business, and they can make your potential customers go “Wow.”
Users would save time by reading the manual, but instead they try to figure the application out themselves and then get lost/frustrated as they end up spending even more time getting up to speed with the application.