Five Tips For Writing Great Technical Documentation

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Published: 10th May 2013
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Creating technical documentation is a part of being employed in the IT industry. Technical manuals, technical specification guides, support manuals, implementation guides - all are types of technical documentation and are a part of the job. A lot of technical roles in the IT industry are involved in the documentation process. It might seem an easy task to just put some words and diagrams together, a table of contents and refer to it as a technical document, but itís much more than that. Iíve outlined five tips below on how to write great tech docs.

Use A Well-Structured Table of Contents

The table of contents is among the most important portion of a document. The table of contents details what is really in the document and how it is arranged. It is used to help users realise that the document delivers the information they are looking for. Going through the table of contents, they are able to easily check if it contains what they need, or if they need to read another document.

Another benefit of having a well structured table of contents is it permits the reader to find the information they need quickly. Microsoft Word, Adobe PDF as well as other document applications allow clickable links of the table of contents. This allows you to click on the item or the page number and it will move you to that page. Very helpful for finding topics quickly.

Be Succinct But Thorough

For a technical document author, itís hard to really know what amount and what kind of details to put into this document. To write a great document, try to be brief, but thorough. What this means is not to continue on and into all kinds of detail about certain areas that are not necessary for the reader. It's not easy to tell whatís relevant and what isnít - but make an attempt to think about the reader and target audience when youíre creating the document. If you are too ďwordyĒ or use too much information where itís not needed, it will turn the readers off and it wonít be an effective document.

Be Consistent Throughout The Document

Consistency is a large way to enhance a document. It makes it look more professional, and in actual fact more readable to the user. When I say consistency, I am talking about regularity both in the vocabulary you use and the formatting you are applying. Some people wonít notice this. Even so, if youíre composing a technical document, itís probably for other technical people, who are usually detail-focused people. Ensure your document uses the same style throughout. Try to break the information up and make it easily readable to the users by utilizing white space effectively.

Employing the same terms is also recommended. This should ensure that the user knows youíre writing about the same thing by using the same words. If you utilize words interchangeably, for example ďdesktopĒ, ďPCĒ, ďcomputerĒ, it could possibly confuse the user, when you actually mean the same thing. Thatís a quick example, but the idea is that you should select the one term and stay with it.

Keep It Accurate And Error-Free

It almost goes without saying that technical documentation ought to be error free. As I stated above, a lot of readers of the document might be other technical users, and thereís a fairly good chance the errors will get noticed to them. In addition to that, if the errors donít stand out, then it will provide them with the wrong information regarding the system or area that youíre documenting - which defeats the aim of the document!

Avoid Large Screen Captures

Applying screen captures or screenshots as part of your technical documentation is a really effective way of outlining your point to the reader. Itís particularly useful for software documentation or support processes, which are easy to take screenshots of. However, computer screens have gotten much bigger over time, but A4 sheets have continued to be the same size.

This leaves a tendency to incorporate large screenshots in a document, which makes the screenshots small and ineffective. Incorporating screenshots is a great idea - donít get me wrong - but seek to only include the areas which are connected to the section youíre explaining. It might lead to more screenshots, but they also will be more effective and make the document more readable.

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