Not all manuals are created equal. Some examples of technical writing are so effective, even enjoyable, that they earn a place in the memory of readers. This post contains such examples, as well as documents of various formats that you can learn from.
If you are starting a new document and aren't sure how to write it, you may need a document template to guide you through the process. Templates provide the standard structure and formatting for various types of documents so you can just fill in the placeholders. They can make the job much easier.
Now, let's look at some examples of different kinds of documents that you can learn from.
- User manual: iPhone user manual
- Help topics: Word 2007 help online (Check out the "Browse Word 2007 Help Table of Contents" section for a list of available help topics.)
- White paper: Windows Vista SP1 Beta Whitepaper
- System requirements: Drupal system requirements
Here are a few technical writing examples that have earned my admiration.
The Commodore 64 User Manual
I owe my career, in part, to this manual. As a wide-eyed fourth grader, I studied it deep into the night by the glow of the blinking Commodore cursor. The pages are filled with illustrations and procedures clear enough to teach a kid the fundamentals of programming, operating systems, input and output, memory addresses, and more.
Also, the Commodore 64 User Manual is fun to read. It teaches the BASIC programming language through worthwhile exercises: how to write simple word games, animate graphics, and other things a fourth grade boy would find hard to resist.
What impresses me most looking back at this guide is that it assumed you wanted to learn how to program your computer. After all, that's what computers are for, right?
The MSDN Library
It's no wonder Microsoft reigns supreme in the world of software. In addition to building must-have applications like Microsoft Office, they've created a massive collection of resources for programmers to digest. The MSDN Library stores an incredible amount of technical documentation that guides programmers in the use of Microsoft development tools.
Recently a friend of mine was assigned to write some data warehousing procedures and wondered if I could point him to examples. Sure enough, I found plenty of well-written procedures on the subject at MSDN, and quickly forwarded him a link.
Many great examples of technical writing carry the Microsoft label. It only makes sense that when you produce massive amounts of software, you become very adept at technical writing.
IRS tax form instructions
Tax code is complicated subject matter. Explaining it in a way that the average citizen can digest is an act of technical writing genius. The form instructions at the Internal Revenue Service website are a great place to draw inspiration and develop some serious technical writing skills, if you have the fortitude to study them thoroughly.
I write manuals for income tax and accounting software, so I have a real appreciation for the work involved in such an undertaking. I guarantee the people who developed the form instructions are some of the most skilled technical writers in the world.
Haynes auto repair manuals
Have you ever tried to replace a head gasket? Or troubleshoot a faulty charging system? If so, you probably already know the value of a well-written auto repair manual.
The Haynes manuals are incredible examples of technical documentation. They make complex (and dangerous) procedures clear, so that do-it-yourself mechanics can fix cars without losing appendages. The procedures build logically from simple to complex, and come with highly-detailed illustrations showing each part involved in the repair process.
The first thing I do when I buy a vehicle (after handing over the $500) is head to the auto parts dealer and pick up a Haynes manual. They are worth their weight in gold. Every technical writer should have one or two nearby for lunch-time reading and inspiration.
Great manuals should never be forgotten. They should be preserved, studied, and enjoyed through the ages. They should be upheld as relics of profound instruction and handed down through generations of technical writers.