What cooking videos can teach you about user documentation

If you’re on social media, you’ve probably seen a cooking video like this.

Not only does this video put you in the mood for beef stroganoff, it is also a great example of user documentation. Here’s why.

It solves problems with recipes.

Most of us cook from recipes, but they have several problems:

  • We can confuse units of measurement. Have you ever used a half a tablespoon when you should have used a half a teaspoon?
  • They use specialized cooking terminology. What exactly do they mean by “reserve half the liquid” or “fold in the wet ingredients”?
  • They aren’t specific about how ingredients should be cut. If we’re told to slice something, how thick should the slices be?

This video solves all of these problems. It shows us exactly how things should be cut and stirred. We can see what 2 teaspoons of paprika look like so we can be sure we’re putting in the right amount. Even if you don’t know what a “cornstarch slurry” is, you can get a good idea from the video.

It’s short so it’s easier to use.

The jerky sped-up movements in cooking videos have been parodied, but they serve a useful purpose. They show us proper technique while keeping the video short. The beef stroganoff video is only 38 seconds long. Compare this to cooking shows that show some steps in real time, but can dedicate an entire 30-minute episode to a single recipe.

The video’s brevity offers a number of benefits to the viewer. You can easily go back and view a part of the recipe. It’s much easier to find a step in a 38-second video than having to wade through minutes of video to find the right spot. If you’re completely lost, you can just watch the whole video again. The short video also makes the recipe seem easy. How hard can a recipe be if it can be covered in a 38-second video?

It is easy to localize.

Translation is hard enough to do in text. It is much more difficult in video. Since narration can be different lengths in different languages, it is hard to sync it with the images. It also requires vocal talent who can use the correct translation and accent for different locations. In this video, the only words (except for the joyful exclamation at the end) are the captions that appear on screen. Those are easy to replace with translated text and metric measurements. You can use the same video for viewers in different countries with a few minor changes.

It shows you the result.

A good procedure shows you the end result so that you can verify that you did it correctly. This video does that. You can see the color, texture, and consistency so that you know your dish turned out correctly. It also provides serving suggestions and recommends a portion size.

More than that, showing the result motivates you to want to make the dish. Who wouldn’t want to dig into a rich, satisfying bowl of beef stroganoff like the one in the video? You are then motivated to find a great cooking video for a dessert!

When you are done in the kitchen, you can use videos like this to help you produce better user documentation. Find ways to simplify and shorten procedures. Explain industry-specific terms and present information clearly. Find ways to make your information easy to localize. Show each step of a process and the end result. Whatever media you use for documentation, you can find ways to make it more useful for your readers.