Documenting A Premium Theme

On Monday I submitted a beautifully simple theme to the ThemeGarden marketplace — “Simplicity” is a minimalistic, typographic and simple addon for Genesis. If you would take a look and perhaps even buy it (for only $9.99!) then that’d be lovely.

That’s self promotion covered.

But it comes round to a more serious point: documenting premium themes. In my experience, documentation is poor. I appreciate that the likes of Woo have extensive and excellent documentation, but the same doesn’t apply to everyone. Amongst the best I’ve seen is a couple of lines on the website explaining how to upload the theme and press the install button. Whilst this is helpful, not saying anything else when the theme is the monster it was was a little unhelpful.

This isn’t just a convenient isolated example; I can’t recall a single premium theme I’ve worked with where the documentation has jumped out at me as being nice. And why would it? It’s something that gets done as an afterthought once the rest of the proper site is finished.

That’s as may be, but it’s the first thing someone who’s just bought your theme will see. That’s why it’s vital your documentation is good. There are a number of steps to documentation nirvana; we’ll discuss them in the rest of this post.

1. Clear, concise and jargon free

Installing a WordPress theme is easy, right? Just unzip, upload to your theme directory via FTP  and activate the theme from the backend.

In know that, you know that… but the person who’s just bought your theme doesn’t. It’s vital you make no assumptions and explain absolutely everything that is needed to set up your theme. Use language everyone can understand and be as clear as possible but at the same time don’t get too wordy. It’s a precise art which is probably why I’ve never seen something that fits the bill perfectly.

2. Make it visual

Fact of the day: people like pictures. Fact of the week: people like moving pictures. Fact of the year: people like moving pictures in high definition which are clearly narrated.

Screencasts are a godsend when it comes to documentation. Web apps such as the excellent (and free) Screenr make it so easy to make your own screencasts that there’s no excuse to not have them. Write out each section as normal and then record a two minute video explaining everything.

3. Readable and looking nice

You’re (probably) a designer. Why on earth would you put your documentation in a plain text file?

Spend ten minutes making your documentation look nice. It needn’t be fancy; Thematic’s, for example, is fantastic. It’s just a single column layout but it serves its purpose perfectly.

4. Link to other useful resources

I’ve got a question! I’ve just finished reading the documentation and… oh, where do I go?

Helpful links at the end of the documentation are just a little extra touch that show there’s somewhere a customer can go to find extra help. It’s a small thing but they all make a difference.

Making documentation a better place

Hopefully this (ironically horribly wordy) post will inspire you all to go and update your documentation to make your customers’ lives just that bit easier once they’ve bought your theme.