Is documentation really a DEI* initiative?

Have you ever stopped to ask why documentation gets created? Those little bits of paper that arrive with your latest online purchase or crammed into that IKEA box, those make sense. They are there to tell you how to use the thing in the box. Their primary function is explanatory, but you could argue that “documentation” as we know it can broadly include these functions:

  • To describe the use, care, purpose, or design of something
  • To train or inform someone
  • To introduce you to features in a product

If you’ve never considered how documentation could be seen as a *diversity, equity, and inclusion effort, I’ve got a few things that will probably help open up that area of thought for you.

  1. Documentation makes learning available – When you write down how to use something, then that information is available at any time for anyone. It removes potential barriers to entry of having to know the right people or having time to set aside for classroom learning. It also enables translation of your words so that learning isn’t limited to those who speak the same languages you do.
  2. Documentation lets you account for many audiences – Documentation also creates the opportunity to account for different ways of learning. Some people are able to learn and retain information simply through reading it, but if you have a video or audio component to your docs, then you can also provide that learning opportunity to visual and auditory learners. And of course, kinesthetic learners will solidify what they’ve learned as they practice.
  3. Documentation clarifies entry points – This one is probably specific to open source or communities, but any time that you document “the way things work” in a community you are making it easier for other people to get involved. And the more we can help people get involved in our communities without making them know specific movers and shakers the more resilient and effective our organizations become.

Had you ever looked at documentation from that point of view? What are other ways that “writing the docs” could bring more diversity into your communities?