Does your business need internal documentation? And what even is internal documentation in the first place?
While you’re probably familiar with the idea of creating documentation to help your customers get more value from your products or services, high-quality documentation can also help your business and employees work better.
This type of inward-facing documentation is called internal documentation and you can use it to boost productivity, preserve and share knowledge, and more.
In this guide, you’re going to learn everything that you need to know about internal documentation, including the following:
- What internal documentation is
- Benefits of internal documentation
- Internal documentation best practices
- How to create your own internal documentation hub
What Is Internal Documentation?
Internal documentation is a structured collection of your company’s procedures, knowledge, best practices, and so on.
Over the life of your company, your company will accumulate a ton of knowledge and expertise. Internal documentation helps you preserve all of this collective knowledge in one easily accessible hub.
You can use it to improve productivity, prevent knowledge loss, onboard new employees, and more.
Let’s break down some key concepts…
Internal vs External Documentation
Internal and external documentation both serve the same goals of documenting processes, explaining how to do things, sharing key knowledge, and so on.
The key difference is in who the target audience is for that documentation:
- Internal documentation – the target audience is your company’s employees.
- External documentation – the target audience is your users, customers, clients, and so on.
Basically – customers, or outsiders in general, should never see your internal documentation, but your employees will likely rely on internal documentation to get their work done.
Different Types of Internal Documentation
We’ve touched on this a bit above, but there are different types of internal documentation, each of which you’ll want to tailor to its specific goal:
- Process documentation – you’ll want to document how to properly perform certain tasks. This could include checklists, tutorials, and so on. For example, you might have an article on “How to create a new piece of internal documentation”.
- Project documentation – you’ll want to document each project’s details and progress. This could include proposals, business cases, meeting summaries, timelines, and so on.
- Policy/HR documentation – you’ll want to document important policies, such as employee onboarding, vacation policies, sick days, employee offboarding, and so on.
- Team documentation – each team might create its own internal documentation for team-specific knowledge and policies. For example, your content team might document the blog style guide and policies for working with guest posters.
- Technical documentation – if you have a development team, they’ll want to create their own internal documentation that explains what’s happening in the code, style guides, QA testing policies, and so on.
Internal Documentation Benefits: Why Is It Worth the Effort?
Creating internal documentation undoubtedly takes some extra time vs “just winging it”.
So what are the benefits of internal documentation? That is, why is it worth investing the time and effort into creating internal documentation?
Here are some of the biggest internal documentation benefits:
- Promote knowledge sharing – you can encourage employees to share knowledge. What’s more, employees can easily access the knowledge that other employees have shared without needing to directly interact with the original sharer each time.
- Boost productivity – by documenting important processes and details, you can ensure that employees don’t get stuck unnecessarily, which boosts your overall productivity.
- Onboard new employees more efficiently – when a new employee joins your company, they’ll be able to rely on your pooled internal knowledge to quickly get up to speed.
- Preserve knowledge – at some point, key employees will leave, either permanently or because of vacation/illness. Having internal documentation ensures that the knowledge of those employees is still preserved and accessible even when they’re gone.
Best Practices for Creating Quality Internal Documentation
Now that you know what internal documentation is and why it’s important, let’s start shifting gears into how you can actually go about creating your own internal documentation hub.
We’ll start with some general internal documentation best practices and then we’ll cover the technical process of creating your own hub.
- Involve key stakeholders – internal documentation shouldn’t just use a top-down approach – it’s important to involve key employees at each level. After all, these employees are often the ones with the “in the trenches” knowledge that you want to preserve. You also might want to appoint specific employees as content curators so that there’s a clear decision-maker.
- Repurpose any existing documentation – you don’t need to build your entire internal documentation from scratch as you probably already have existing content tucked into various spots. Try to repurpose that content into one central hub to make it easier to access.
- Make it easy to access – speaking of ease of access, you want to make sure that your hub is easy to browse and search. Use categories and features like instant search suggestions to help guide employees to relevant content.
- Create a style guide for consistency – if all your documentation uses different formatting, it will be difficult for people to get value from. To avoid this, create a style guide upfront and follow that for each piece of content.
- Include images, videos, and GIFs – don’t just rely on text – including images, videos, and other media like GIFs can make your content more useful. For example, when documenting a certain process, you could include images or a video documenting the process.
- Avoid over-documentation – while there are a lot of benefits to internal documentation, over-documenting can also cause frustration and annoy your employees. It’s important to strike a balance between documenting the important details and burdening employees with busy work.
- Keep everything updated – your processes and institutional knowledge will change over time, so it’s important to update your internal documentation to keep pace with those changes. Again, it can be helpful to appoint employees as stakeholders who are responsible for updating your internal documentation over time.
- Ask for feedback from employees – remember that your internal documentation is there to make employees’ lives easier. Don’t be afraid to ask for feedback from employees as they might have some great ideas for how to improve your internal knowledge.
How to Create Your Internal Documentation Hub
Now for the final question – how do you actually create the hub where all of your employees can access your internal documentation resources?
Well, you have three main options when it comes to knowledge base software:
- Use open-source software like WordPress and HeroThemes.
- Use a SaaS tool.
- Code your own solution.
While we may be a bit biased, we think the open-source approach with WordPress makes a lot of sense for a few reasons:
- You have full ownership and control over your documentation. Your documentation might contain sensitive information that you don’t want sitting on someone else’s server (as with a SaaS tool). With WordPress, you can keep all of your data and information on your own server.
- It’s still very simple. If you use a WordPress plugin like Heroic Knowledge Base, you can be up and running in very little time, which isn’t likely to be the case if you develop your own solution.
- It’s cost-effective. The WordPress approach is generally a lot cheaper than a SaaS tool. Amortized over a year, you’ll generally pay less than $15 per month for unlimited articles and unlimited users.
Here’s how to create an internal documentation hub using WordPress and the Heroic Knowledge Base plugin.
1. Set Up a WordPress Install
To get started, you’ll want to create a fresh WordPress install to act as your internal knowledge hub.
You have two options for the WordPress install:
- You can create an intranet site that’s only accessible from your company’s local network. We have a guide on setting up a WordPress intranet site.
- You can create a public WordPress site that’s accessible from anywhere, but restrict access using a password and/or user accounts for employees. There are many plugins that let you create user accounts or just restrict the entire site by a single password that you can share with employees.
Because of the popularity of remote work these days, you’ll likely want to go with the second approach so that employees can access the internal documentation even when they’re not at the office.
2. Install Heroic Knowledge Base
Once you have your WordPress install, you can add the Heroic Knowledge Base plugin to turn it into an internal documentation hub.
Heroic Knowledge Base is a WordPress plugin that adds full knowledge base functionality to WordPress. It includes a number of features to make your internal documentation hub a success:
- Instant search suggestions to guide employees to relevant content.
- Unlimited categories to organize content by topic, department, etc.
- Built-in feedback tool so that employees can provide feedback about articles.
- Easy versioning and revision management via WordPress’ built-in versioning system. This is great for seeing how articles have changed over time (and reverting changes if needed).
- Built-in analytics to see what content employees are most interested in. You can use this information to refine and optimize your documentation.
- The help assistant widget provides another easy way for employees to find relevant documentation.
Once you purchase Heroic Knowledge Base, you can install it just like any other WordPress plugin. You’ll then get an easy-to-use settings area where you can configure everything about your internal documentation knowledge base:
Alternatively, you can also use the KnowAll theme, which handles the design of your documentation hub while also building in all of the features from the Heroic Knowledge Base plugin.
3. Add Your Documentation Articles
After installing the Heroic Knowledge Base plugin, you’re ready to start adding your internal content.
With Heroic Knowledge Base, you can do this using the flexible WordPress block editor.
Heroic Knowledge Base also adds some dedicated blocks to help you enhance your documentation. For example, you can easily add callouts or warnings to highlight key information or issues to avoid:
You can also add unlimited categories to organize your content.
To change the order of your articles and/or categories, you’ll get special drag-and-drop interfaces. You can access these by going to Heroic KB → Article Ordering or Heroic KB → Category Ordering:
Create Your Internal Knowledge Base Today
While creating internal documentation does require a commitment to invest time into creating content, that investment will pay off when you’re able to preserve and share knowledge, improve productivity, and more efficiently onboard new employees.
For the easiest way to set up your internal documentation hub, you can use the open-source WordPress software and the Heroic Knowledge Base plugin.
By using WordPress and Heroic Knowledge Base, you’ll get the following benefits:
- Full ownership and control over your company’s data because everything stays on your servers.
- Lower costs because you pay one low flat cost for unlimited usage.
- Simplicity because Heroic Knowledge Base offers all the features that you need, which eliminates the need to code a custom solution from scratch.
Set up your internal content hub today and you’ll be benefiting in no time.