Writing technical documentation

The process of writing technical documentation can be enjoyable if you follow some basic principles. The tips below should help you to produce high-quality instructions for your users.

  • Stay user-focused. Remember, not everyone knows what you know. Develop profiles of different types of users, and double-check your documentation against the profiles often.
  • Outline the tasks users will perform with the product, and then start writing. Don't worry about the technical details until you have a clear understanding of what should be included in the manual.
  • Avoid jargon. Most people don't have the technical knowledge of an engineer, or the linguistic abilities of a professional writer. Speak in plain language.
  • Think safety first. If the product can cause injury when used in the wrong manner, be sure to include appropriate warnings and draw attention to them.
  • Follow these guidelines for drafting effective procedures.
  • Interview subject matter experts so that you have a clear understanding of the product you are documenting.
  • Schedule formal reviews so that other experts can check your work, and don't take corrections personally. Many such corrections and reviews will be necessary if you want to produce great documentation.
  • Explain to readers the benefits of reading your document. Otherwise they may not be motivated enough to learn to use the product effectively. If they can increase productivity by 10% using your instructions, tell them so.
  • People often read instructions only when they run into problems. Provide troubleshooting tips that address specific questions and issues.
  • Be open to communicating directly with users. Feedback tools, forums, usability studies, and other user contact will help you get a clearer understanding of how users interact with a product.

If you follow the guidelines above, the process of writing technical documentation will be much more enjoyable. Your users will thank you!

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