Write the Docs: Elizabeth Urello – Blogging as Non-Traditional Support Documentation

I’m at Write the Docs today in Budapest and will be post­ing notes from ses­sions through­out the day. These are all posted right after a talk fin­ishes so they’re rough around the edges.

Elizabeth wrapped up the talks before lunch in talking about blogging as non-traditional support docs. For WordPress.com the traditional documentation exists as a sprawling support site with hundreds of docs. The support staff primarily writes and maintains the docs.

Blogs help document things for readers in a few ways. First, they let readers subscribe and provide an incremental introduction to various topics. Email updates are occasional prompts to keep learning for new users.

Second, it turns documentation in to conversation. Readers can comment on the posts and interact directly with staff. That feedback loop can help guide future iterations.

Also, blogs have authors. Users know who the writer of a document is. It can help create an ongoing relationship between staff and users that’s based around creativity and proactive support rather than merely troubleshooting. That aspect can also expand the pool of people writing your docs. People have a better frame of reference for how to write a blog post than a support doc. At WordPress.com this means that the person launching a new feature or theme writes the initial support doc as well as the announcement post.

Blogs also give you a fresh start to your documentation. It’s easier to start a new blog than to overhaul an existing support site which means experimentation comes more easily. What you learn from blogging can then be applied to the documentation.

The two main ways this happens is through the main News Blog and through the Daily Post. The News Blog focuses on new feature announcements, company activity, and highlighting less popular or well known features. The Daily Post hosts weekly writing and photo challenges as well as focusing on more task-based instruction. In the last couple of months the Editorial Team has also put together a couple ebooks that focus on things like Photography 101. The material comes straight from blog posts over the months and acts as a great resource for new users.

An example Elizabeth highlighted was the Zero to Hero program started in January. Alongside each challenge there was an open forum thread for questions and comments. By the end of the month participants published 48 times as often as a randomly selected control group.