Software User Manuals

An article by Richard Hodkinson in the ISO Focus+ magazine states that before using a new software product, we need to understand how it can help us accomplish a given task. Its documentation may be the first tangible item we see, and therefore, influences our first impression of the software product.

If the information is supplied in a convenient form, and is easy to find and understand, we can quickly become proficient at using the product. Hence, well-designed documentation not only assists the user and helps to reduce the cost of training and support, but also enhances the reputation of the product, its producer, and its suppliers.

Although software developers aim to design user interfaces that behave so intuitively that very little separate documentation is needed, this is rarely possible in practice. User documentation is an essential component of usable software products.

Documentation is often regarded as something done after the software has been implemented. However, for high-quality, effective software documentation, its development should be regarded as an integral part of the software life-cycle process. If done properly, documentation or information management is a large enough task to require process planning in its own right.

Joining Forces

This year, ISO, in collaboration with the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC) and the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE), has published two new software documentation standards:

  • ISO/IEC/IEEE 26511:2012, Systems and software engineering – Requirements for managers of user documentation
  • ISO/IEC/IEEE 26515:2012, Systems and software engineering – Developing user documentation in an agile environment.

Under the partner standards development organization (PSDO) Cooperation Agreement between ISO and the IEEE, they will also be published as IEEE standards. This agreement is intended to reduce duplication of effort by encouraging:

  • Joint development and maintenance
  • Adoption of IEEE standards through the ISO fast-track Final Draft International Standard (FDIS) process
  • IEEE adoption of ISO/IEC standards
  • Incorporation of content from IEEE standards into ISO standards.

A New Suite

The newly completed suite comprises the following systems and software engineering standards:

  • ISO/IEC/IEEE 26511:2012, Systems and software engineering – Requirements for managers of user documentation, intended for use by managers of user documentation projects or organizations with information designers and documentation developers.

    It provides requirements for strategy, planning, performance, and control for documentation managers.

  • ISO/IEC/IEEE 26512:2011, Systems and software engineering – Requirements for acquirers and suppliers of user documentation, is intended for use in acquiring or supplying either printed or electronic (on-screen) documentation.

    It is independent of documentation development or management tools or methodologies.

  • ISO/IEC/IEEE 26513:2009, Systems and software engineering – Requirements for testers and reviewers of user documentation, is intended to be used by testers, reviewers, and other related roles, including usability testers, documentation reviewers, information designers and architects.

    It specifies processes for use in testing and reviewing of user documentation. It is not limited to the test and review phase of the life-cycle, but includes activities throughout the information management and documentation management processes.

  • ISO/IEC/IEEE 26514:2008, Systems and software engineering – Requirements for designers and developers of user documentation, is intended to be used by documentation designers and developers, including information designers, usability specialists, content editors, graphic and user interface designers.

    It covers the user documentation process for designers and developers of documentation.

  • ISO/IEC/IEEE 26515:2012, Systems and software engineering – Developing user documentation in an agile environment, provides requirements on information management and documentation processes appropriate for software projects that are using agile development methods.

To learn more about the new suite of systems and software engineering standards, see the article on pages 41-43 of the April issue of the ISO Focus+ magazine.