Aug 27

How to Create Online Documentation for Your Products with WordPress

Thu, 08/27/2015 - 18:42 — julie

When you’re in business, time can seem like a finite resource. Getting things done requires a lot of your undivided attention. That said, fielding calls and emails from current and prospective customers who have questions can take up a lot of that precious time.

That’s why having online documentation is so important. A well-organized collection of articles to help people learn about your products and services can greatly cut down on the number of support and pre-sales questions you receive.

Today, we’ll take a look at the Online Product Documentation WordPress Plugin, from PressApps. It allows website anyone to easily create a documentation section.

doc_preview_590x300

The plugin has some handy features, including:

  • Support for Categories so that you can better organize your documentation.
  • Public or Members Only Voting to allow visitors to vote on whether your articles are helpful.
  • Responsive Design for use on mobile devices.
  • A Color Picker to help match the look of your existing website.
  • Add the documentation you’ve created to existing pages or posts via a shortcode.

Getting Started

First, you’ll need to install the plugin. The easiest method is to take the .zip file you’ve downloaded and upload it via Plugins > Add New > Upload Plugin in the WordPress Dashboard. Once the plugin is installed, be sure to Activate it.

Now that you’ve installed and activated the plugin, you’ll see a new menu item created inside WordPress called Documents.

Before we start creating documentation, though, let’s head over to Settings > PA Document and take a look at what customizations are available.

Plugin Settings

Online Documentation plugin settings

Refreshingly, Online Documentation has a super-simple settings screen. There are options for:

  • Reorder: Choose whether to allow the reordering of posts and categories via a drag-and-drop interface.
  • Voting: Allow documentation posts to be voted on by the public, members only or disable it altogether.
  • Icon: If you allow voting, you can also choose to display an icon with it.
  • Color: Use the color picker to select the color for links and category headlines.

There’s also an area where you can add Custom CSS.

The settings couldn’t have been easier. Now, let’s create some documentation!

Creating Documentation

Categories
In this example, we’ll setup documentation for a web design service (a real stretch of the imagination for me). Before we write any documentation, let’s create a couple of categories by visiting Documents > Categories on the WordPress menu.

A list of Online Documentation categories

Adding a category is exactly the same process as if you were adding blog categories under the Posts section. Simply give the category a name and click the “Add New Category” button. In this example, there will be categories called “Pre-Sales Questions” and “Customer Support“.

In your list of online documentation categories, a shortcode is provided for each category. So you can simply copy and paste these shortcodes into any page or post where you’d like to display a category’s article listing.

Documentation Articles
Now that we have some basic categories, let’s create a few articles for them. Visit Documents > Add New and you’ll be on your way in no time.

Adding an Online Documentation post

Simply write your article, give it a title and check the category you want it to appear in. The articles will have the same capabilities as any other page or post on your site. That means you can easily add media or format text in the same manner.

The Results
Ready to display your articles? The simplest way to go about it is to create a page on your website (we’ll call ours “Documentation”) and place the following shortcode inside the page:

[document]

This shortcode will automatically display all categories we created and the articles within. Remember, you also have the option to show just one category on a specific page using the shortcodes available at Documents > Categories, if you wish.

Online Documentation disiplayed on our test site

Here we have a two column layout that displays an interactive menu on the left and the contents of the chosen article on the right. A nice feature is that the menu in the left column is “sticky”, which means it scrolls right along with the user as they navigate the documentation.

This helps to ensure that it is always easy to find what you’re looking for. All of the articles are included on the page, so you can literally scroll right through each article without using the menu on the left, if desired.

Overall Impressions

Online Product Documentation is a simple, yet powerful tool you can use to create a robust set of documentation for your business, product or item. The setup couldn’t have been easier but there is also a helpful PDF manual included – just in case.

The menu system included with the plugin works quite well. It allows you to simply focus on the content and not worry about how to make it all work. For very large sets of documentation, I can see the ability to display each individual category on a separate page as a necessary feature.

If you are looking to create documentation for your website, Online Product Documentation is a fantastic solution. You’ll be up and running in no time and you just might save yourself some time, too.

tuts_logoIf you’re an Envato Market Author, Tuts+ have published a tutorial series that takes you through a “checklist” to create WordPress themes (also covering documentation) that can be published and sold on ThemeForest.

Header Image Source: Business Man Document Signing Up Contract by prostockstudio.

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