What is Technical Writing? Technical Writing involves the creation and publication of technical material in a structured format. The range of material covered by the role of 'Technical Writing' is therefore more varied than one might expect. For example, during my own experience of Technical Writing, I have worked on 'Information Governance' material such as Data-Protection and Freedom-of-Information documents. In addition, I have created and maintained installation, configuration and reference manuals for computer software.
Further examples of everyday Technical Documentation include car maintenance handbooks, home appliance instruction leaflets, or even 'how-to' notes for flat-pack furniture!
The Importance of Technical Documentation Why is it so important to write according to a standard structure? Well, contrary to common belief, it is possible to provide useful and clear instructions on how to perform a task. But this means making use of the appropriate formatting in relevant places within the document. It is also important to define and consistently use the same terminology within each document, and from one document to the next, in a set (or suite). In this way, readers will feel much more at ease with the information being provided.
Can Technical Writing Be Creative? There is of course some room for creativity with any written Technical document – the layout, the sentence structure, the effective use of headers, body-text, bullet lists, bold print, can all help to make the construct of a document a creative experience for the author, and an interesting read for a user.
Remember that when creating Technical documents - "... consistency equals clarity."
Tips for Technical Writing Before you start to write a document, it is worthwhile taking the time to plan a few points – e.g., who the audience is, the structure, the terms you will use, etc. You may find that you will need to do some research regarding your content, or even for another similar example document to base yours on. This is fine. There is nothing wrong with being influenced by another good project.
When you have gathered the information for your content, then create a 'skeleton' document to begin with. Next try to 'flesh' this out. If you can, make use of the style headings available, or better still, set up some basic styles yourself - e.g., Header level 1, Body Text, Table Text, screenshots, etc. Once your draft document is complete, you may want to get this reviewed - e.g., firstly, by someone with a technical outlook, and secondly by an end-user. Aim to create a template which is robust and yet flexible. I.e., robust in structure, and yet flexible enough for users to adapt to their own needs. Only 'publish' this document once you are happy with the layout and content.
Using Templates Once you are happy with the finished version of your document, then consider using this as a basis for an official template. With most modern Word Processing applications, it is possible to create and save a template using a unique file format (e.g., DOTX). From this single 'parent' template, it should then be possible to generate 'daughter' documents which inherit all of the styles set within the 'parent'.
Controlled Access to Documents Once you have created a number of templates, then these can all be stored within an appropriate document 'directory' of a Document Management System (such as MS SharePoint). In addition, any further daughter documents created can also be stored within the same repository (under a separate folder). A Document Management System will allow you to set up permissions for access to relevant information. I.e., different types of users can access and update different documents, as and when required.
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