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Say goodbye to bad documentation with these best practices
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Say goodbye to bad documentation with these best practices

A headshot of Holly Aspinall
Holly Aspinall
27th June, 2023
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A headshot of Holly Aspinall
Holly Aspinall
27th June, 2023

Discover how to identify poor document management in your company and improve it with these four best practices. Is your documentation up to scratch?

"What's your documentation like?" might not seem like an obvious question to ask in an interview, but it's a really important one. Here's why.
Imagine you've recently joined a team in a large company. It's your job to take over an ongoing project, but there's a hitch: multiple departments are involved, the deadline is rapidly approaching, and you have no idea where to begin.
This is where documentation comes into play.

What is documentation?

The name "documentation" is pretty self-explanatory: it's essentially a collection of files and documents that help explain products, processes, or systems. The documents are usually stored or hosted online, so it's easily accessible to the users that need it. Documentation comes in many forms and is used for many different purposes.

Internal documentation

Internal documentation is designed to guide and inform teams within an organisation. This type of documentation isn't shared with customers and might include business strategy, company policies, and product details. Here are a few examples:
  • Product documentation outlines the requirements and features of a product. This documentation helps teams develop a product that meets specifications.
  • Project documentation relates to a specific project. Project documentation might include project plans, requirements documents, and progress reports to help keep teams on track.
  • Onboarding documentation helps integrate new hires into an organisation. Documents such as training materials, an onboarding schedule, and setup guides help employees understand their role and the company better.

External documentation

External documentation is created to help users outside of the organisation (such as customers) understand its products and services better. Customer-facing documentation might include:
  • User manuals to help customers use a product, tool, or application when they first get started.
  • Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) to help customers find answers easier without contacting support.
  • Troubleshooting guides to navigate users through common problems that they might encounter.

Why is good documentation important?

Documentation influences everything from how a business operates to how its culture, values and vision develop and evolve over time. Good documentation lays the foundations for success. It supports employees with the guidance they need to get up and running quickly, empowers teams to achieve their goals, and allows leaders to track progress and make informed decisions quickly. But when your documentation isn't good, your company suffers.
So now you know why good documentation matters. But how do you spot bad documentation? And how do you fix it?

Four signs your documentation isn't working

1. Everything slows down

Poor or non-existent documentation creates voids and inefficiencies in your teamwork and processes. In projects, for example, outdated or incomplete documentation can lead to delays and confusion as team members have to continually verify and check information.

2. Risks are rising - and trust is falling

Inadequate documentation also leaves the door open to risk, especially in highly regulated industries like banking and energy. If documentation is not prioritised or managed properly, it can create serious problems and headaches for companies, resulting in hefty fines, legal action, reputational damage or, worse still, business failure.
Three computer servers behind a cloud of smoke
Improper document management can lead to serious security issues

3. Knowledge vanishes without a trace

The greatest asset any organisation has is its knowledge. Creating a culture where documentation is created regularly and consistently ensures that knowledge doesn't disappear out the door when employees leave. High-quality documentation is vital to ensure everyone can benefit from the experience and knowledge of others in an organisation and, of course, pass it along.

4. There's a constant cycle of duplication and déjà vu

Have you ever created a document from scratch, only to find that someone else did the same thing just a few weeks ago? You're not alone. According to the Global IIM Benchmark survey, a staggering 83% of global employees report having to recreate lost documents that already exist but can't be found. This isn't just soul-destroying: duplicating documents is a huge waste of energy and time that could be spent on something else.
If you've read this far, maybe you've spotted some warning signs in your own documentation. But what's the solution?

Four best practices to improve your documentation

1. Keep it consistent

You likely won't be the only one contributing to your company documentation. By creating a style guide that outlines how documentation pages should look (and read), you can save time and effort upfront.
Standardising this process not only makes it easier for other team members to create and edit documentation but also creates a smoother experience for users.

2. Make documentation easy to find (and navigate!)

Sure, documentation brings together all of your information in one place, but what good is it if nobody can find what they're looking for? Here are some ideas that can make documentation easier to find and search:

  • When you create documentation, make sure everyone (customers or employees) can view the pages.
  • Group related topics together and use clear titles to help users navigate.
  • Create a homepage for your documentation with clear, engaging links to other sections.

3. Update your documentation regularly

Your documentation is only helpful while it's still relevant. For internal documentation, updating your content reduces miscommunications and confusion among teams. This is particularly important for documentation such as onboarding because new hires are less likely to question this information.
Keeping your external documentation up-to-date means customers can continue to find the answers they need, saving your support team time and effort. So if you release a new product update, remember to update your documentation to include changes and new features.

💡 Tip: Include documentation updates as a task in future product communication plans to help keep information relevant.

4. Choose the right platform

This is the most important step! Picking a tool built with documentation management in mind will make everything else a lot easier.
A browser window showing a mock-up of a Confluence webpage
Confluence is a great platform for your documentation
What should you be looking for in a documentation management system?

  • Scalability: Whether you're a small business or a large enterprise, you should pick a tool that will scale with your needs. You never know how large your organisation might grow!
  • Integration support: Whether you want to add extra features to your documentation or save customers the effort of navigating to your support desk, it pays to have a platform that integrates with your favourite third-party tools.
  • Collaboration support: Maintaining documentation by yourself isn't easy. Pick a platform that makes collaboration easy, so you can coordinate updates and share knowledge quicker.

✅ We recommend using a platform like Confluence for documentation because it ticks all of these boxes and much more. Confluence is easy to use (regardless of your skill level), secure, and lets you easily search and update page content. This means teams always have access to the latest and greatest information.

Okay, you're ready to overcome your documentation woes!

Take your documentation a step further

Tackling poor documentation doesn't need to be a headache. But while the right platform can make document management a lot easier, that's only half the battle - you still need to learn how to use it effectively.
If you work with Confluence, we can help you take your document management a step further. Ready to get started? Check out our six-step guide that'll help you create better documentation in Confluence.
Share our article and help others improve their documentation too!
Written by
A headshot of Holly Aspinall
Holly Aspinall
Content Marketing Manager
Holly is dedicated to writing valuable, accessible guides that help users understand their tools better. She champions products that help modern workers do more with Confluence,, and beyond.

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Knowledge Management