How to Design a Knowledge Base


The purpose of a knowledgebase is to deliver solutions and topic overviews quickly and easily in order to increase efficiency. Whether you are supporting products for a helpdesk, managing a project, or capturing knowledge for engineering or design purposes, the knowledgebase can reduce repetitive tasks and help users provide a consistent approach and message when solving problems.The most successful knowledgebases engage the user and present information in a clear, concise format that is easy to find.

  • Define the scope of your knowledgebase. Create an inventory of all the applications, systems, resources or topic areas the knowledgebase will cover and break them down by type and topic name, such as "Software > Internet Explorer" or "Internal Diseases > Lymphoma". Under each category name, write the common errors and problems your customers face. You now have a three-tiered taxonomy under which the articles within your knowledgebase will be cataloged.

  • Develop a template for creating and displaying solutions and include in-line style guides. The template defines the structure of the documents that will be included in your knowledgebase as well as the look and feel of each page. The solution template should include a title, category, author, date published, date modified, keywords and clearly labeled sections identifying who the content is for. Additional features might include a method for bookmarking, rating, and providing feedback for the article.

  • Create overview documents for each topic area that explain its purpose, audience and scope. Create a list of frequent customer issues for each. The common problems are the first solutions that must be documented and published. Solutions should be in present tense, grammatically correct and use numbered steps to outline the content. The overview documents should then include a list of related solutions that updates automatically.

  • Build a method for submitting requests, new solutions and questions that is accessible to your users. On the administrative side, create a time-sensitive work flow that allows data submitted to be reviewed or tested prior to editorial approval and publishing. This ensures the quality and accuracy of knowledge presented.

  • Create a user interface that is simple and easy to understand. Provide direct links to your knowledge management processes and use bold call-to-action for contributing knowledge. Provide a way to jump directly to a list of articles by category or product and include a list of related articles in a sidebar or below an article to enhance ease of navigation.

  • Place the search functionality near the top of the interface and make it engaging for your users. Add a feature to capture queries that can later be reviewed by knowledge managers to create new articles where needed. Allow users to search by various fields such as the problem cause or category, and offer sortable views so users can easily skim groups of articles.

  • Give your users a way to converse. Sharing knowledge through the use of a forum, chat or social media structure within the knowledgebase helps strengthen the knowledge culture within an organization while allowing subject matter experts to assist others and manage their time more efficiently. You can see great examples of this in practice at sites like Microsoft Technet and Adobe's Help Center.

Tips & Warnings

  • The knowledgebase should allow for reporting on types of problems, the frequency each solution is used, records of who utilizes the system, and data on what queries are being run within the system to drive continual improvement.
  • Include training documentation, e-learning, or other resources that benefit your users or supplement its content. A knowledgebase might contain several solutions for fixing common errors in a software application. The training area should contain how-to documentation or self-learning courses for using or administrating the application.
  • The search function should be designed to accommodate different interpretations of the same problem. A mechanism must exist to identify acronyms and commonly misspelled words and route them to the correct solution.

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