Guiding Myself Through Developing the Jungle Disk User Guide
By: Sarah Scott
When I first started at Jungle Disk, I had a project idea in mind: write a user manual for the Workgroup software. However, my English degree-in-progress didn’t help me get an idea of how to actually begin this task. The accounts of Romantic era writers, unfortunately, do not include technology beyond the telegraph. Having no input yet, I pictured a user guide as a long software agreement: the kind that you scroll through in 3 seconds before confirming you read the entire thing, or, a short FAQ with pictures.
What I found in my research was very different. A user guide is intended to be a complete explanation of a product and its features. It’s not a summary of errors and their fixes either, but rather, walking customers through a product so they can fully understand it. When I give a quick summary of my job to other people, they usually tell me they never read user guides (ouch). Jungle Disk, though, can store vital data for a business, or treasured personal files like family photos. If the software is used improperly, and a client’s computer dies, all that data could be lost. For this reason, it’s very important to write a clear and understandable user guide.
After looking at examples and reading lots of technical writing tips, I could begin writing the manual. I was lucky enough to have great support articles on hand, as well as a long training guide for new employees. The real task would be to piece the raw information and narrative articles together in a way that fit the format, and translated technical details to real world application. Since I entered Jungle Disk as a fairly technically inexperienced person, I was able to see any small gaps in the information provided to customers. Links to basic setup instructions were provided upon installing the software, so I started there. The instructions given were clear, and I was able to start backing up my data with no problem. One major change I needed to make with this guide, I realized, was consolidating all the tips and information that was distributed in the blog posts. I also got unique input from the support team regarding common customer questions. Usually, the answers to these questions were already documented, but scattered between the support site, blog posts and the private training guide. It was clear to me that the ease of access for customers could be helped with a compiled version of these sources.
The product manager, Wes, also explained to me that Jungle Disk has a core purpose (backups) which new features like Web Access build upon. Its basic form was created over a decade ago, meaning there are plenty of articles describing how to use the Backup Vault and Network Drive. The nature of software is frequent updates, however, this means that accurate statements about it are constantly changing, and new features are regularly released. I need to take into account the fact that my guide may be slightly outdated a month after publication – which meant structuring it in a way that it could be easily revised.
I hope my status as a tech outsider can help the customer experience, and continue to help in the form of a guide after my internship is up. When I read a poet’s tear-jerking account of heartbreak for class, I’ll hope customers will have avoided a data loss from reading my guide - and therefore be much less upset than the poet.