Case study: good documentation decreases costs and increases sales

SDL International ( is a medium-sized software company. One of its products is the SDLX translation memory system. SDLX is a tool for helping human translators. Words and phrases are translated and saved in a database. When those words and phrases appear again, the translation is automatically given to the translator. SDLX has been on the market for many years, and is a tried and tested product.


Much documentation was available for SDLX. There were user guides (one for each software module), frequently asked question (FAQ) sheets, online help, self-paced training guides, 'how to' guides, and other items of help. SDL realised that the documentation did not give the right image. Although much of the necessary information was available, users could not find it easily. The information was fragmented, it made the product look difficult to use, and it did not help new users of the software.

TechScribe won the contract to re-design the documentation. This new documentation has cut support costs and directly lead to new sales.

What we did

First, in a briefing session, SDL personnel explained the purpose and the functions of the SDLX software. Then TechScribe investigated user requirements. Who were the typical users? What were the most frequent tasks that they performed and with which software modules? What were the most frequent problems? In which order were tasks performed?

As a result of this analysis, we designed a 'Getting Started' guide that explained the basic tasks that users performed. An introductory chapter explained typical scenarios in which users work, and the software modules were related to these working patterns. Diagrams and real, but simple, examples helped users to see the big picture.

This 'Getting Started' guide was less than half the size of the original manuals (35 sides compared to approximately 80 sides).

We also created online help, which contained a mix of task-based material and reference material. Usually, information in the 'Getting Started' guide was not repeated in the online help. However, the online help specified where in the 'Getting Started' guide users could find the information that they needed. The guide was also available in electronic format. Therefore, users were guaranteed to have a copy.

The online help included the items of help that were available in the old documentation, so that now it contained FAQs, troubleshooting information, and so on. Instead of many documents to search, users now only had to look in two places ('Getting Started' or online help) to find answers to their questions.

To see what TechScribe did, download the user guide and online help.


Decrease support costs
The new documentation was supplied with a new release of the software. An immediate effect was to decrease the number of support calls to the service desk, particularly from new users.

"One noticeable affect of the new documentation from TechScribe was to significantly reduce the number of telephone calls and email requests to our support desk."

Denise Baldwin, SDLX Software Support Manager.

Generate new sales
The new documentation was instrumental in generating new sales.

"This customer says his decision to buy is not just because of the great product but also because of the clear and concise instructions in the 'Getting Started' manual making it easy to get to grips with SDLX.

I would like to convey my thanks to all the team for their efforts in improving the manuals to such an extent that they become instrumental in procuring orders.

This initial order has been made for a specific project and there will be more orders to follow."

Steve Westover, Product Technology Program Manager.

See also

The documentation that TechScribe developed for SDL

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