Great Technical Writing – The User Product Life Cycle – A Documentation Tool


The User Product Life Cycle (U-PLC) is a powerful tool for the user document writer. Use the U-PLC to generate the high level topics for your user document.


Typically, when we think of the life cycle of a product, we think in terms of the development and production of the product itself. When writing user documentation, consider the U-PLC to help you generate all the necessary topics for a complete document. User documentation should help your users in all their interactions with the product.

The User-Product Life Cycle refers to the full range of interactions between the User and the Product itself. This is more than just “how to use the product”. As you will see below, “Using the product” is just one step in the U-PLC.


These are the steps IN the U-PLC (assuming that the User has purchased the Product):

— UP LC stage: transportation of the product to its place of work

— UP LC stage: unpack the product

Transportation and unpacking of the product are listed here for completeness only. These are currently displayed on the packaging itself, usually in the form of images, and they do a good job of it.

— UP LC Stage: Global Knowledge about the Product.

This is information that is presented to the User at the beginning of the User Documents.

Topics here include safety, legal, and product-related disclaimers.

The product description must indicate how the product can change the way the User currently does things. For example, an analog voice recorder will require the User to listen to all stored items to find a particular one; a digital voice recorder will allow the user to quickly jump from one message to another.

— UP LC stage: configure or install the product

* Environments

It is important for the writer to think about the various environments in which the product will exist. For example, how should a computer program be installed in a Windows, Mac, or Linux environment?

“Environments” includes other things that the product should work with. For example, how should a DVD player be installed in a system that currently consists of a TV and a VCR? What about installing in a TV and VCR system where the TV has only one video input?

* User capabilities.

The capabilities required by the User to configure the product are also important. Since the User-related assumptions for configuration may be different from the User-related assumptions when using the product, the smart writer will present the skills (and perhaps regulations) needed to configure the product. A section titled “Can you configure this product?” will allow the User to make the decision to configure the product himself or seek external help.

For example, suppose the product is an electric light dimmer that is intended to replace the light switch in the User’s home. Using the product simply requires adjusting the single dimmer control to set the desired light level. Product installation requires experience with household electrical wiring. Does the user have these capabilities?

Sometimes the limitation can be legal. In some jurisdictions, for example, Quebec, Canada, only qualified electricians are allowed to install or modify electrical circuits in the home. Therefore, in Quebec, the general user of the dimmer will not (legally) be able to install the dimmer.

— UP LC stage: use the product

This component is the center of most user documentation. It must contain at least these three subtopics:

– Start-up of the product.

– Actual use of the product

For most products, “actual use” is the central focus of the user document.

Ideally, this should be divided into basic or common product features and advanced features. A good example is photo editing software. Most of the users want to crop, rotate, and adjust the brightness and contrast of the image. These are basic functions. More advanced features might combine parts of one image with another.

– Turn off the product

Is there any maintenance to do when shutting down? Write it down here and in the “Keep” section.

— UP LC stage: Maintain the product

Consider breaking this down into time periods such as: after each use, weekly, monthly, yearly, as appropriate.

— UP LC stage: move the product

For a computer software program, how the User must move the program and its data to another computer; Computer users often upgrade their computer hardware. While the user is often supposed to re-install the product on the new computer, there is always the question of how to move data related to the product: where is it located and how should it be moved so that the newly installed program can recognize it? on the new computer?

For a physical product, are there any special considerations when moving the Product to another location?

— UP LC Stage: Discard the Product or its By-Products

Here I would like to mention only the sale of the used product. It would be worth mentioning that by keeping the Owner’s Manual, the seller will find it easier to sell and possibly get a higher price for the used product.


As you generate the topics for your user document, be sure to keep the U-PLC in mind. Be sure to include topics in your user document outline to help your user in all phases of the U-PLC.

Great User Documents can help with the UP-LC section I didn’t present here: Product Acquisition. Your marketing department can use your BIG User Document as part of their marketing campaign.

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