Technical Documentation refers to documentation about a product. The information contained in these documents can be varied and can include product information, description of features, instructions on how to use a product and troubleshooting techniques. A Technical Writer is a professional who focuses on creating technical documentation such as user guides/manuals, system manuals, operating manuals and product guides. The documentation produced is targeted at business and technical audiences besides consumers at large.
Types of Technical Documents
Two of the most common types of technical documents are described below:
Operating Manual: These documents describe the procedure for installation of the product and subsequent use of a product. This document also includes troubleshooting tips and may include safety information.
User Manual: A User Manual is a document intended to give assistance to people using a particular system.
Skills required for creating Technical Documentation
To create technical documentation, Technical Writers rely on their research capabilities and written communication skills. They may also possess skills in graphic design, course content creation or business analysis. Technical Writers may also be required to interview experts to gather the relevant information pertaining to the product. Technical Writers are engaged for their ability to produce well written documentation, not for their subject matter expertise. Depending on their education background, Technical Writers may choose to specialize in a particular area.
Writing Technical Documentation
A Technical Writer should first understand the intended audience and type of documentation that is being created. The next task would be to identify the source of information and obtain the required information. Subsequently, the Technical Writer would embark on developing the content before getting it reviewed by the experts who were associated with the product development. The technical expert reviews the contents for accuracy of information and an editor checks the document for grammar, readability, structure and layout.
To allow for consistency, templates and samples will often form the basis for the creation of a new technical document.
Delivery of Technical Documentation
Traditionally, technical documentation was delivered as a book. In recent times, these are generally delivered as online help, Acrobat files or on a CD.
Rationale for engaging Technical Writers
- Technical documents are targeted at system integrators, operators and service personnel. These documents are distributed widely and great emphasis is placed on clarity, layout, language and ease of comprehension.
- Creating these documents does not require specialized technical knowledge.
A combination of the above factors presents the opportunity to outsource documentation responsibilities to Technical Writers. Many organizations prefer this option over in house writing.
Career Path for Technical Writers
Technical Writers typically start off as individual contributors. With experience, they may subsequently advance to a senior technical writer position leading a small team of Technical Writers. This may lead to further opportunities for advancement into a management role, overseeing multiple projects and teams. Over a period of time, technical writers gain expertise in a field and may choose to become specialists in their chosen field. In such cases, technical writers may opt for a career change, switching from technical writing to working in that field.