your documentation has no chill

writing for millennials

Posted by casey on July 25, 2015

I’ll preface my rant with this: I bristle at the term millennial. I hate being associated with those people. Buuuuut…’s the best term we’ve got, so I’m gonna use it. You might hate millennials too – either because you’re a millennial, or because you’re threatened by them.

Either way, we gotta talk about your boring-ass documentation and why you should consider switching up your docs strategy.

So why you should give a shit about writing for millennials? Millennials could make up 75% of the workforce by 2030. Guess who’s gonna be using the products you document?

We are the most educated generation in history, we’re internet-savvy, and face it: we’re eventually going to be a majority in the workforce.

So how do you write for us? Let me break it down for you:

keep it short -- we grew up with short-form help

Millennials grew up with the internet. We used Wikipedia to get through college. We asked questions on Yahoo! Answers, reddit, user forums, and StackOverflow. When iPhones, apps, and games act janky, do we read long-ass manuals? HELL NO – we ask Mother Google.

We grew up with online help and forums. We want bite-sized answers that tell us how to do something, or how to fix something we broke. We don’t want to read a book-length manual on how to work your broken product.

Takeaway: If it’s over 500 words, we ain’t reading it. Expect a support ticket or a Twitter rant. We’ll definitely bitch about you on Twitter. 

put it online -- we'd rather self-service than talk to anybody

That’s right – almost 3 out of 4 millennials would rather RTFM than have to talk to support.  We order toilet paper on Amazon so we don’t have to deal with stores, we complain about companies that don’t have online billpay. We don’t want to interact with your support team.  Let’s face it – even if your support is really flippin’ good, we’d still rather find the answer online. Especially if your product is something we use online.

Takeaway: You need online help, early. Save your support team for customers with complicated issues that can’t be resolved with self-service. 

lean on training and tutorials

Let’s pretend you’re writing for a sophisticated (read: complicated) product. If your product is harder-to-use than the average mobile application or involves any kind of administration, you need training or tutorials. Good UX only goes so far: some people need direction. This is especially true for products that people use for work.

If we don’t understand the basics of how to use your product and what it’s supposed to do, how in the hell do you expect us to formulate search queries for your knowledge base?  If we can’t figure out how to help ourselves, you’re gonna get a support ticket with this in the subject: “How do I [insert the basic thing your product does]?!” This sucks for all parties involved.

I’ll say it again: you need to offer training.

Maybe not for the average straight-to-consumer app, but you should at least consider having basic tutorials or some “Getting Started” materials. You should pay attention to newbies – new users can become evangelists or detractors. I haven’t used Sharepoint in 4 years. I STILL talk shit about it.

Takeaway: You need to give newbies an easy way to learn about how to use your product. Otherwise, they’ll hate you forever and blow up your support team. 

Well, I ran over 500 words, so you’re probably not reading anymore.

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