Fighting Documentation Ennui

I recently had to add a map to the UCSF Mobile Maps site.  To remember how to do it, I had to watch a series of videos I made after I did it the first time around.  (Sorry, I didn’t have my presentation mojo happening, but the information is good.)

I could have documented what I did in a more conventional way, but here’s the thing: I wouldn’t have been as meticulous.  I would have included what I felt was the minimum that I would need to repeat the task.  I would have glossed over things that were obvious to me because they were fresh on my mind. But after months of not thinking about the task, going back to that sort of documentation would have meant that there would be substantial gaps.

By creating something that would live on YouTube, where I knew others would see it, I was motivated to be complete in my documentation.

It’s tempting to focus on things that aren’t very important when it comes to documentation.  People like to create documentation templates, for example, wherein they try to have a section for every imaginable category of content that might be in a document.  Most of the time, there will be tons of unused sections when the real documentation is written. And then the technique backfires. If someone is given a documentation template that is not even wrong, then there’s an excellent chance that they will just fill out the minimum that they can get away with and move on to a more meaningful task. In other words, they will just create bad documentation.

Of course, that’s not to say something ridiculous, like “All documentation templates are bad.” A template can be great for someone who doesn’t know where to begin or otherwise wants direction, especially if the template is reasonably succinct.  (That said, an example of stellar documentation is usually better than a template.)

And there’s a lot that can be improved in my YouTube documentation.  (A video is a terrible way to pass along a shell script.)

But, ultimately, nothing beats a documentation method and format that excites the documenter.