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Templatize your knowledge

Learn to build a knowledge template and content standards that fit your company’s needs.

  • Create a solid article structure to make your KB easy to use and understand.
  • Use the same template for all KB articles for better consistency.
  • Digitalize your knowledge assets and optimize them for online consumption.

"Data is nothing without understanding.” – James Freeman‑Gray

With an effective KB article template, you’ll engage your employees easily, answer their questions quickly so they can get back to work, and make it easier for them to be employees at your company.

As you create your article template, you’ll find yourself considering several standards along the way. The list below provides several.

Establish standards for authoring quality content

You only have one opportunity to make a good first impression, so make sure you set standards. Here are several:

  • Keep articles short and digestible.
  • Answer only one question in each article.
  • Use clear, action‑based titles.
  • Define terms and acronyms.
  • Add search phrases to articles.
  • Link articles to show relationships.
  • Add context about why or when someone would use the steps in the article—and don’t be afraid to use examples. 
  • Establish the font and font size(s) to use. 
  • Provide a consistent format for KB authors to follow.
  • Explain how authors should (or shouldn’t) use notes.
  • For multi‑step processes, begin steps with action words and write them in the active voice. 
  • Keep language clear and concise, and improve the user experience with user‑centered language.
  • Show, don’t tell. Whenever possible, add screenshots, animated GIFs, or even videos to make it easier for readers to follow along.
  • If readers need to complete multiple steps—and those steps don’t have to be accomplished in a certain order—start with the easiest step first. This allows readers to get at least one accomplishment under their belt before they move to the hard stuff.
  • Use the tone and voice that fits your company culture.
  • Be straightforward and avoid jargon whenever possible. When it’s not possible to avoid jargon, be sure you define it. Remember, your main goal is to communicate information.
  • Avoid the curse of knowledge. Always remember that your readers don’t have the same depth of knowledge as you do, so try to put yourself in a beginner’s shoes.

Figure 2: A knowledge base article template

Step 1: Choose a title your employees can find

A clear, well thought‑out title is essential because it’s how employees will actually find the answers to their questions. After all, if your employees can’t find the article, it doesn’t matter how good it is!

To make your titles easy to search, avoid jargon. Explain the problem in simple English using the same terminology that you use in your interface.

Figure 3: Sample knowledge search from the ServiceNow Employee Service Center

Step 2: Start with the situation

Start each article by succinctly discussing the actual problem the article solves. This lets readers know they’re in the right place and sets expectations for what they’ll get from the article.

Figure 4: Example of knowledge article introduction

Step 3: Include a table of contents for long articles

If your article is especially long, it’s a good idea to include a table of contents so readers can move to the exact section they need. Whenever possible, consider breaking up the article into separate, shorter articles. But if long content is unavoidable, definitely include a table of contents.

You can use HTML to link the TOC to the applicable section in the article. You may have to disable the HTML sanitizer for this to work.

 

Figure 5: Example of an article’s table of contents

Step 4: Create step‑by‑step instructions

For articles that include instructions with multiple steps, add a section to your template with guidelines on how to do this. Make only one point or provide one direction in each step.

And do your best to keep the instructions simple. And make sure the content is specific rather than generic so readers can put the article to use. You know the ins and outs of your HR processes, so it’s easy to forget that your readers lack the same level of expertise.

Customer example of step-by-step knowledge article instructions
Management guidelines:

  1. A manager who receives a report alleging harassment should take detailed notes of the complaint and should reassure the employee(s) concerned that the matter will be treated in confidence and will be investigated promptly.
  2. The manager should immediately advise the VP EMEA and the HR director of the allegation.
  3. The VP EMEA, together with the HR director and the manager who received the allegation, will agree on a plan that ensures that the matter is thoroughly investigated and the facts established as soon as possible.
  4. Once the facts are established the VP EMEA (or their nominee) will determine the subsequent course of action to be followed. In the situation where the investigation establishes that harassment has taken place, the matter will be dealt with in accordance with local disciplinary procedures.
  5. The manager who received the original report of harassment is responsible for ensuring that the employee who made the allegation is advised of the outcome of their complaint.
  6. The manager who received the original report of harassment is responsible for ensuring that the employee who made the allegation is advised of the outcome of their complaint.
Customer example of step-by-step knowledge article instructions
Management guidelines:

  1. A manager who receives a report alleging harassment should take detailed notes of the complaint and should reassure the employee(s) concerned that the matter will be treated in confidence and will be investigated promptly.
  2. The manager should immediately advise the VP EMEA and the HR director of the allegation.
  3. The VP EMEA, together with the HR director and the manager who received the allegation, will agree on a plan that ensures that the matter is thoroughly investigated and the facts established as soon as possible.
  4. Once the facts are established the VP EMEA (or their nominee) will determine the subsequent course of action to be followed. In the situation where the investigation establishes that harassment has taken place, the matter will be dealt with in accordance with local disciplinary procedures.
  5. The manager who received the original report of harassment is responsible for ensuring that the employee who made the allegation is advised of the outcome of their complaint.
  6. The manager who received the original report of harassment is responsible for ensuring that the employee who made the allegation is advised of the outcome of their complaint.

Similarly, if you’re writing FAQs instead of instructions, keep each question and answer to a single, specific topic.

Step 5: Break up content with headings

Use intelligent headings to break up your content into easily digestible chunks. If one article requires readers to complete two different sets of actions, it’s a good idea to put them underneath separate headings.

Here’s how one customer created knowledge article sections:

  • General information – Authorized business travel for staff that includes prepayments and must be pre‑approved. Reimbursement of parking, mileage, gasoline in lieu of mileage and ferry or bus passes do not require requests if they are under $10. Requests for reimbursement of expenses over $10 are to be submitted on a Travel Reimbursement form.
  • Permissible prepaid travel expenses – Before the travel, [Company Name] may issue prepayments for airfare, rail transportation, rental vehicles, conference registration fees and cash advances. Applicable policies and methods of payments for these prepayments follow.

You can add links to your content, but try to avoid creating an article with several outside links. You can also add attachments, but you may prefer to store attachments elsewhere.

Step 6: Use proper formatting for asides, notes, and a mobile‑friendly display

Sometimes you’ll need to add more information to your articles as an aside. When you do add extra information, make sure you format it so readers know it’s an aside. This helps readers quickly distinguish between instructions and additional information. Proper formatting of different types of information goes a long way toward enhancing your readers’ comprehension.

Keep in mind that employees will access knowledge articles on a mobile device, so use a mobile‑friendly format for your articles. Then test the view yourself on your phone or tablet!

Figure 6: Advanced design of a mobile‑responsive KB article

The ServiceNow Employee Service Center includes tools that will help you create mobile‑friendly articles using a responsive design.

Step 7: Use the template to standardize your KB articles, then review

Finally, you need to standardize your articles. By using the same template over and over, your employees will develop cognitive fluency, making it easier for them to navigate your KB.

As soon as your template is complete, start moving your articles and policies into it. This is also the right time to make the necessary updates to the documents where applicable.

The knowledge articles will then go through a review process. Normally, at least one role is assigned to this, typically a knowledge owner. The knowledge owner might first review the format of the knowledge artifact then consult with a content owner for accuracy and relevance. Since content owners are SMEs, using them in the knowledge management process is paramount because they provide the expertise you need to ensure the information you publish is accurate. A SME working on the example shown in Figure 6 above may be a Tier 2 or 3 representative or HR personnel in benefits.

Technical reviews are required before you publish content in order to:

  • Ensure the content is correct before it’s published.
  • Remove errors and inconsistencies that reduce the effectiveness of your KB.

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