Opinion

The Twine Guide to Building Your Knowledge Base

Your handbook to creating the perfect library

Connor Ward

Connor Ward

Introduction

We’ve created this guide to help you build the perfect internal Knowledge Base.

In it, you’ll find actionable advice on how to plan, design and build your company wiki. We’ve kept it in plain English, avoiding jargon whenever possible, much in the same way we advise you to do in your Knowledge Base. The break-down is as follows: 

Chapter 1 – What and why
Learn what a knowledge base is and why you need one

Chapter 2 – Getting ready
Where to start

Chapter 3 – Building great content
Make content that’ll keep people coming back again and again

Chapter 4 – The case for maintenance
Keep your knowledge base relevant

We’ll show you how to get up and running with an internal knowledge management system your staff actually use. If nothing else, we hope it plays a part in creating some great Knowledge Bases that help great companies do great things.
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Chapter 1 – What’s a Knowledge Base?

Definition

Think of knowledge bases as libraries. It’s where your company policies and information go to get organised into easily digestible content. These self-service libraries give your users the information they need when they need it and are used for all sorts of things: brand guidelines, policies, training and more.

It is not a document storage, reference guide or FAQ.

Instead, knowledge bases are a form of internal content. Users read this differently than they would a hard copy policy document, which means copy and pasting from a PDF is off the table. Instead, you’ll have to create bespoke knowledge content. But don’t panic, normal web writing rules apply: keep it simple.

Our philosophy: the content of a knowledge library is just as important as the code. Your library can look good, but if the content is poorly structured, the whole thing will fall down.

What’s the difference between an internal and external library?

A knowledge base can take many forms. An internal knowledge base (the one we’re interested in) is aimed at your own staff or team. An external library is aimed at customers. You’ve probably used the latter as most online products and services have one.

For all intents and purposes, they’re identical: both are made of content designed to help their end user do something. It’s just the end user that’s different.

Why do I need one?

Let’s focus on some of the problems an internal Knowledge Base can begin to tackle.

1. Wasting time

We’ve all been there. Headphones in while deep in a text editor. You’re on a roll, tearing through paragraph after paragraph. Then, someone comes up to you and asks you how to work the printer. You try to get stuck back in, but you just can’t.

So, what’s the best thing about building a knowledge base? They’re completely self-service. This means everyone finds their own answers, without taking up someone else’s time.

For example, a big part of our knowledge library is for our developers. They’ve got an impossible number of tools and protocols that need to be learned. Whenever they need it, there’s a piece of content ready to guide them.

2. Onboarding new staff

The group who’ll need your knowledge base the most are your new starters, so ensure your early knowledge content is aimed at them. In fact, moving your entire onboarding process onto your knowledge base has a few key advantages.

First of all, time and resources spent on training will be reduced. Secondly, you’ll be able to gather easy, quantifiable data about your onboarding process.

3. Surviving loss of key staff

No industry is safe from disruption. If you want to stay ahead you’ll need the expertise to take you there. But teams often lose this when someone leaves or is promoted.

To stop your business leaking knowledge, you’ll need to leverage insights from your current employees. A great place to start would be the onboarding content we just discussed. Start by designating writing privileges to your team leaders as they’ll know the sort of content their departments need, and then encourage them to keep on building.

4. Working from the same playbook

Staying on top of change is hard. With a knowledge library, you can ensure everyone has the latest information. You don’t need a 10 person team, but you’ll need to ensure that team leaders are keeping their categories up to date and relevant to your business’s current objectives.

A year in the life of the GOV.UK content team – an inside look at a real-life content team, from the Gov.uk blog.

Case Study – Our Own Help Center

We use an external support library alongside our internal one. It’s a bit different, but the principles are the same: it’s made of content that teaches our user how to do something. We’ve focused on simple language with bold keywords broken up by visual demonstrations. At the end of each article, we’ve suggested articles that go into more detail.

Below are some of our most popular articles, which give a good idea of the content people use a knowledge base for:

  1. Getting started – what to do when you first login
  2. Managing authentications and login – a simple explananation of something that can feel complex
  3. Video Tutorial: Knowledge – a short video on a very important feature
Twine Help Centre Knowledge Base Case Study

Chapter 2 – Getting ready

Building a knowledge library requires a lot of groundwork. So before you begin building your knowledge library ask yourself: what could we do better?

You’re looking for the pain points unique to your organisation that you’re knowledge library can begin to tackle. By defining your objectives, you’ll be able to build a knowledge base that your users genuinely engage with.

Getting your content in order

Most companies are brimming with information and policy documents. It takes careful planning to translate this into a knowledge management strategy.

Too often, before a knowledge management is set up, information is out of date, impossible to find or just plain inaccurate. So, before all else, you need to get your content in order.

Review

First things first, you need to take stock of what you already have. This will involve performing a full content audit: sifting through your content, working out what you have, what you’re missing and beginning to think about how it should be structured. It’s no good blindly copying documents and text over from your old system – inevitably, irrelevant content will find its way onto the new system and the same problems will remain.

Moving to a new platform is an opportunity to review your content and clean it up. Over the years, content will have become out of date, inaccurate or irrelevant and if this persists on the new Knowledge Library, it will lose credibility as a reliable source of information. Now is the perfect time to rectify this.

Be ruthless.

It’s not exciting, it is time intensive, and it takes careful planning to get right – but it’s essential to do it.

Structure

After you’ve revised what you have, you want to consider how you are going to organise your clean, freshly gleaned content. This involves planning and executing a coherent structure – we call this the information architecture. Your users need to be able to find the content that they need to do their job, and it needs to be as intuitive as the interface around it.

This also includes thinking about keywords, tags and titles to ensure that your content performs well in search. You can map all this in a spreadsheet, a tool like Trello, or the humble post-it note works pretty well.

How to Conduct A Content Audit – A good introduction from UX Mastery.

Content Audit Checklist

  1. What have we got?
  2. What is the purpose of it?
  3. How old is it?
  4. Is it still factually correct?
  5. Who wrote it?
  6. Who is aimed at?
  7. How easy is it to currently read?
  8. Do you need a level of expertise to understand it?
  9. How is it structured?

Chapter 3 – Making great internal content

Now you’ve got the skeleton in place, it’s time to put some meat on it. This means acting on what you’ve learnt in the content audit to produce new content where information is missing, updating old content to be accurate and making sure that all articles have a consistent style and layout.

Avoid PDFs

We want to do your content justice. But often our customers, who love the idea of a knowledge library, ask the same thing: can’t we just attach all of our PDFs and call it day?

Our answer is always simple: you could do that, but no one would read it. There are two options you’ve got, one bad and one good:

1. Copy and paste the content from the PDFs
2. Get an editor

Obviously, we always recommend the second option.

The content of PDFs will not show up in search and can be difficult to download if using a mobile device. Of course, they can be useful for things like printable forms. However, if the content in the PDF can be consumed just as easily on a web page, get it out of there. See PDFs V HTML for more info. And at the very minimum, put in a short introduction to what the files are about (this helps with search).

Some words of wisdom:

Consider using video rather than words

This can work really well with things like instructional guides. It can be as simple as recording your screen, talking into a £20 microphone and guiding people through how to use a piece of software or process. It can be a much more personal way to teach, rather than having people read an instruction manual – it’s an underused medium in internal comms.

Make sure your style is consistent and coherent

Get your guidelines right (style, tone and voice) – it gets all your writers on the same page, writing in a consistent style. A style guide can come in really useful here, as can tools like GatherContent if you have a team of people working on the content at once. If you don’t have the time or resource to make your own style guide, have your team use GOV.UK’s and you’ll be sure to produce concise and coherent articles.

Use consistent tags and keywords

Good, consistent tagging is vital if your articles are going to show up in searches. Twine’s search uses a combination of category names, article names, content and keywords/tags to produce results. To make sure that the right articles are being shown, you’ll need to tag articles thoroughly.

Further reading

5 tools handpicked by us that’ll not only help you make great content but save you time too.

Our Advice

When one company with over 200 policies asked:

“Is it just a case of copying and pasting from a word/pdf?”

We answered:

“Time spent here depends on the approach that you take. If you have the time, will and resources, we would recommend reviewing your existing content and reworking it so it is optimised for the web. The most important part is making sure all articles are in ‘Plain English’ and follow a good style guide. You’ll also want to consider a content audit and an information architecture review.”
This is a job worth doing. I’d recommend appointing an editor for to make sure that standards are consistent and high. It should take around 2 months to get this right for 200 policies – time well spent for the accessibility benefits.

Chapter 4 – The Case for Maintenance

Now you’ve got your content in order, it’s time to devise a plan about how you’re going to keep it that way.

The number one complaint from companies that come to us is that their intranet is impossible to navigate. This is not because of the interface design, but because the content on it is out of date, irrelevant or duplicated.

You need to get three things right:

  • Consistent: get your guidelines right (style, tone and voice) – it gets all your writers on the same page, writing in a consistent style.
  • Up-to-date: regularly review content, put alerts on content that will go out of date.
  • Useful: gather and review feedback, regularly review your analytics.

Rollout is the beginning, not the end

Too often, rollout is seen as the end of the project: you scope it, you build it, you roll it out.

When technology and user habits are changing so fast, that’s just not an efficient approach. By the time you’ve launched your design, the things that you’ve designed for will have already started shifting. A year after rollout, things will start to become dated. A bit like that game ‘What’s the time Mr Wolf?’, if you turn your back on development, you’ll find everything will have moved.

That’s why continuous, iterative development is essential. Rollout isn’t the time to cease development; it’s the time to begin.

Getting feedback loops in place

Encourage feedback and act on it. Make users groups, grab people in corridors, do whatever it takes. Regularly check in with users, observe them using the system and interview them to ensure that your design works in the field.

Validate your decisions

If you’re familiar with lean or agile methodologies, this will be a familiar concept. When designing platforms like intranets, we are forced to make best guesses and assumptions. That’s fine, but we should seek to validate these assumptions as soon as possible. This relies on those feedback loops that are frequent and continuous.

And once you’ve found something that could be better, don’t be afraid to make changes.

Never stop

An incremental, user-led approach means that your knowledge base will stay fit for purpose for longer.

The work is never finished – that’s why it’s so exciting.

Gather Content put together this fantastic book on how to take control of your content and manage it effectively post-launch.

Wisdom

“Many organizations, large and small, approach creating their web presence as if it’s a one-time project. They invest an enormous amount of time and money in a great web design, content strategy, and technical implementation; and then they let the website sit there for months and even years without meaningful updates or enhancements.”

Swap website for Knowledge Base and the same applies.

Taken from Create an Evolutionary Web Strategy with a Digital MRO Plan by David Hillis