How to build a knowledge base

26 May 2021 5 min read

Written by

Nicoleta Binca

, Marketing Specialist

In today's world of rapid-evolving business, knowledge has become the most valuable currency. Businesses change through time and the accumulated knowledge is what matters the most. Today’s connected users also want information without having to read printed material or ransack through hundreds of emails. If previously, classic tools such as white papers or emails managed to do the job and get the information across the organization, that is not the case anymore. Today’s solutions lie in knowledge bases and collaborative platforms where information can be stored and easily accessed by anyone, at any moment. A knowledge base has many benefits, but it also requires time, team effort, and real work to get right. In this article, we'll walk you through all the steps you should follow to learn how to build and maintain a successful knowledge base.

1. What is a knowledge base

While the exact definition of a knowledge base may vary, it boils down to a self-service online library, serving to keep and share information and data. Today, more than ever, information is power and that power relies on quick access to quality information. However, information is not hard to come by, in fact, sometimes there's just too much of it. A knowledge base can solve this problem and become the foundation upon which an organization grows and evolves.

Sitting at the heart of knowledge management, a knowledge base allows you to create, collect, and share information. In short, it can help you do more with less by curating information, centralizing, and eliminating repetitive tasks. It also improves information retention when key employees leave, eases onboarding, boosts productivity, and enables better cooperation across the whole organization.

2. Why does a knowledge base matter

Internally. When it comes to your employees, a well structured and put-together knowledge base can become the foundation upon which your organization grows and evolves by:

  • Providing a knowledge hub that speeds up onboarding and improves efficiency. Turn conversations into action, centralize information to ensure you never lose great ideas or context, save time searching for information, and focus more on accomplishing meaningful work.
  • Opening access to more information across the organization. This helps ensure an easy way to scour past documents to find solutions when faced with difficult tasks.
  • Breaking down silos and filling in knowledge gaps. This cements a better communication flow by enabling all departments - from marketing to development - to stay on the same page, have access to each other's data, share announcements, and get instant feedback.  
  • Enabling a collaborative working environment. The more your company develops, the more a dedicated space where valuable information can be shared and employees can learn from each other helps cooperation flourish.

Externally. When it comes to your customers, a well written and managed knowledge base can become the cornerstone of your customer service strategy by: 

  • Encouraging self-service. Nowadays most customers prefer self-service before officially reaching out to someone for help, making a knowledge base the perfect place to point them to.
  • Increasing customer satisfaction. A knowledge base is available 24/7, which means fewer tickets submitted or time spent waiting for an answer, which, in turn, allows your support team to handle other complex requests.
  • Adapting to various learning styles. The information inside a knowledge base can be made available as text, images, videos, or even audio, meaning each customer can absorb it at their own pace.
  • Reducing the time and effort spent looking for information. A knowledge base allows searching for and pinpointing exactly to the needed piece of information in a short time and with minimal effort. 

3. How to build a knowledge base: step by step

Implementing a knowledge base is not something you should rush, but instead, take one step at a time. A well-put-together knowledge base can create an effortless experience for employees to find everything they need to do their job and for customers to find answers to their questions. When managed properly, it can become part of a larger toolset that helps foster collaboration and improve communication across the organization. It can increase your employees’ productivity and proactively solve your customer’s problems, ultimately reducing the risk of churn.

1. Analyze your team's needs

Before deciding on a knowledge base software, it is best to understand why you need it. Assess how much time you and your employees might save with one and if it will make a difference. When there is a high volume of information, it can do wonders for your business as it helps improve productivity and efficiency. Once you decide you do need one, establish if you plan to use it internally or open it to customers. Finding the right information at the right time can be a challenge for both your employees and customers, especially when business-related information is scattered within your workforce's minds and computers across the organization.

2. Research your content

You probably already have a majority of the content to add to your knowledge base — it’s just scattered everywhere across the organization. This is a process in which all departments should be involved as they each have their best practices, guides, and information on which they base their work. Copy all the information into one place and then go ahead and decide — what you still need, what is a duplicate, and what can be further detailed and improved.

3. Structure your content

Having all information in one place is a good thing, however, it's not enough. Without an intuitive and easy-to-follow structure, things are bound to get messy again and you might find yourself back to square one where finding information is a chore. Keep in mind that your knowledge should be your own, but take liberties in going beyond simple text and structure. One way is to base your content categories on a hierarchy, unraveling information only when needed. This makes it easier to keep information in check and avoids overcrowding. Then, you can go ahead and design forms and templates, use tables to filter and sort pages so that you don't have to worry about a cluttered virtual workspace. 

4. Tailor it to your audience

Once it’s up and running, remember that your knowledge base is a self-serve operation. Keep in mind that nobody ever really browses one just for the sake of it. Everyone that landed there has done so with a purpose — finding the answer to a question they have regarding your company, product, policies, etc. Make sure your knowledge base is easy to navigate and use so that whoever browses it is able to find what they need with minimal effort. Keep the navigation simple, make content easy to skim, define confusing terms, and make visualization easier with images.

5. Review the content regularly

While you might be tempted to... don't ever think of your knowledge base as complete. Your organization and the teams within will continue to grow and evolve in different ways and those changes should be reflected in your knowledge base. Create additional content, edit it and keep it up to date. Make sure you don’t repeat the same information over and over again so that you can avoid being redundant. Last, but not least, check thoroughly and ensure that every change and improvement being made is done with good reason.

4. How to choose the right knowledge management tool

Ask yourself 4 simple questions

There’s no one-size-fits-all solution for building the perfect knowledge base. The tool will need to be able to adapt and fit your organization’s needs. Choosing the right one is a trial and error process that takes time and requires research, testing, and feedback. However, one of the simplest ways to get started is to ask yourself a few questions - which we’ve narrowed down already for you.

1. Do you need multiple knowledge bases? Can the tool handle them?

Think this through and choose a tool that suits your needs. You don’t want to start with a certain tool, get stuck then immediately have to do it all over again with another.

2. How many people will be involved in creating and monitoring content?

It’s best that you have an idea of the number of users you will start with. Your knowledge base will inevitably grow as you continue to add information, so choose a tool that can keep up. 

3. How high is the tool’s skill ceiling for (non-technical) users?

The tool you choose needs to be simple and intuitive to use. Each user has to get familiar with it and learn how to use it, but the learning curve shouldn’t be too steep. You want to make things easier for them, not harder. 

4. Is there a reliable way to transition to another product and import your content?

Think of this as a safety net. It is possible that after a while, you may want to move to another tool that fits your needs better. Look for one with no vendor lock-in and with reliable import/export options so that you can transition fast and without facing too many obstacles along the way. 

If you want to see how XWiki compares to other tools, check out our comparison pages with CMS, Confluence, Notion, MediaWiki, SharePoint, G Suite, Office 365, Nuxeo, Wrike, and more

Decide on the kind of knowledge base software you need

Once you've got the answers to your questions, it's time to think about what kind of software best fits your needs. The two we will tackle in this article, in particular, are second-generation wikis and content management systems, but there are others are out there you can choose to focus on.

On the one hand, new generation wikis are used for more dynamic content and provide all the basic wiki future plus a few more advanced ones, such as content structuration applications and finely grained rights management features. They are all-around powerful management tools that improve the cooperative environment of an organization and are a suitable answer for any type of enterprise. Content Management Systems, on the other hand, are mostly used for enterprise and web content management, usually "static" content. They provide features such as standardized templates to make usage intuitive even for non-technical users and are suitable for organizations looking to set up complex content-focused projects. If you are looking for a tool with emphasis on content, a large of number of contributors, and innovative, flexible content structurations, second-generation wikis (such as XWiki), might be the solution for you and your team. 

Another thing you should ask yourself is you would prefer the tool to be Open Source or proprietary. When it comes to the latter, you will get a stable, reliable tool with increased functionalities and conveniences, but you will be dependent on the upgrades, face security concerns, and have no clear overview or ownership of your data. With an Open Source tool, however, most of those concerns are eliminated. With XWiki, for example, you are free to customize and adapt it to your specific needs, control the upgrades and also access the community for support. Moreover, you have full ownership over your data and can switch between your own servers or cloud whenever you wish.

5. Knowledge base examples built with XWiki


For the last 15 years, our team has worked relentlessly to build innovative features and to help people, and their organizations, have crucial information at only a click away. Here are a few examples of successful knowledge bases we have built for the different client to enable better, faster collaboration that you can draw inspiration from:

  • Lenovo, for which we facilitated collaboration for over 7000 users by migrating to a custom knowledge base in under 30 days.
  • CNFPT, for which we built and launched WikiTerritorial with XWiki-all-in-one spaces for knowledge, articles, news.
  • EasyVista, which we helped reduce silos and improve internal communication with a bi-lingual Knowledge Base solution
  • HLS (The Historical Dictionary of Switzerland), for which we implemented a solution allowing publishers to create, edit and publish articles in 3 different languages while offering powerful search and indexing capabilities. 

Ready to streamline your business with a Knowledge Base? Download our guide for a step by step how to and examples.

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