Technical documentation basics: benefits and tips

It would be difficult to overstate the value of good technical documentation. Whether you’re a pilot trying to fix a mechanical issue mid-flight or a gamer experiencing glitches on that final level, there’s just no substitute for having reliable information right at your fingertips.

What is technical documentation

Technical documentation is any form of content that describes how a product works and how to use it. These documents can come in the form of manuals, repair instructions, FAQs, wikis, tutorials, knowledge bases and more.

The goal of every technical writer is to make these documents as useful as possible to the end user, often enlisting the help of subject matter experts (SMEs) in boiling down complex topics into clear, concise and helpful pieces of information.


What is technical documentation software?

Technical documentation software are programs that enable technical writers to create, disseminate and maintain these all-important documents.

The best technical documentation software choices come preloaded with all of the tools technical writers will need, such as spell check, robust security controls, collaborative editing capabilities and smart search. Authoring management platforms like Author-it even provide translation and localization features.


Author-it Advantages

For businesses that require robust features from a CCMS tool, Author-it comes loaded with advantageous functions:

  • The power of separating content creation, from style and formatting, functionality and presentation.
  • Intelligent content structured for retrieval and reuse.
  • Content efforts that scale.
  • Simple creation, importation, reviewing and collaboration with technical writers and SMEs and more!
technical documentation

What are the benefits of technical documentation

An exhaustive list of the benefits of technical documentation would be extremely long! It would be hard to overstate the value of these documents, both to internal processes and external users.

Our top five benefits of good technical documentation are that it:

1. Leads to more efficient problem-solving

Whether you’re trying to fix a dishwasher or a broken bit of code, having access to comprehensive technical documentation makes troubleshooting go much faster. Some technical documentation types that are useful in problem-solving include these features:

  • Step-by-step instructions and procedures
  • FAQs and troubleshooting tips that address common issues
  • System maps and catalogs for technicians

2. Prevents legal issues

Users are less likely to misuse a product if provided with good technical documentation from the time of purchase, such as warning labels and start-up guides. Organizations should be aware of what kind of technical documentation is required by law in their industry, and keep abreast of any changes to avoid legal consequences, such as government fines and lawsuits from users.

3. Saves employees’ time

Did you know that knowledge workers spend two and a half hours a day searching for information, or that data professionals lose 20% of their time duplicating work?

Well-written and organized technical documentation can cut down significantly on the amount of time employees spend on these superfluous tasks, putting everything they need to know within easy reach.

4. Cuts down on tech support calls

These days, users are more inclined to search for troubleshooting tips online than brave call center wait-times for human help, but they might not have a choice if their particular issue isn’t addressed in the technical documentation.

Your business can cut down on tech support calls and save money by providing robust knowledge bases and FAQs for users to resolve issues themselves online.

5. Improves future projects
Good technical documentation for a project provides a roadmap of its creation, its failures and its successes. These documents are an invaluable resource for your organization, allowing knowledge to accumulate and be shared across projects and teams. When your organization takes on its next venture, these documents will light the way.


Technical documentation examples

Technical documents fall into two broad categories: project-based and product-based documentation.

Project-based technical documentation is used internally to describe how a product is developed and manufactured. These documents are an invaluable resource for any organization, whether they’re building cars, websites or shoes.

Product-based technical documentation is generally written for the benefit of the end user. Documents in this category are designed to help users achieve very specific goals, such as turning on a dishwasher, while using language and other media that are as straightforward and accessible as possible.

How to start writing technical documentation

Technical documents serve a very specific purpose: to convey critical information clearly and efficiently to the user. Technical writers should therefore follow these eight steps when creating their documentation:

1. Do a full audit of all your existing technical documentation. This first step is absolutely crucial! Identify what you have, what’s missing and what can be improved before jumping in.

2. Figure out your audience. Successful technical documentation caters to many different types of users, from non-technical to highly experienced. A pilot trying to troubleshoot a critical technical problem mid-flight can’t afford to waste time flipping through a disorganized manual.

3. Plan out your writing process first. You’re about to create hundreds, if not thousands, of pages of content. A robust outline – including deadlines, tasks and who is in charge of what – will save you big headaches later on.

4. Use templates. You shouldn’t have to start from zero every time you add a new piece of technical documentation. Create a template that includes everything each document needs to cover, such as tables of contents, keyword lists, headings and links to resources.

5. Be concise and clear. Ease of use is extremely important when it comes to technical documentation. Stick to one concept at a time, use casual language and structure your information around clear headings and bullet points.

6. Use visuals. In many situations, a strong visual cue such as a graphic, video or screenshot will convey information much more efficiently than a long paragraph.

7. Give examples. Technical writers can make great use of real-world use cases to explain more difficult concepts to users, especially in initial set-up and “how-to” guides.

8. Test your documentation. This step is absolutely vital in your documentation process. Test groups should include technical and non-technical users in a variety of real-life situations.

Write better technical documentation with a CCMS

A Component Content Management System (CCMS) is a relational database that automatically breaks down your technical documents into reusable components, like building blocks.

An all-in-one CCMS, such as the authoring management platform Author-it, is highly searchable and robust thanks to the granularity of these components, which makes it easy to manage large volumes of content without losing control of your documentation. Author-it’s built-in features are specifically crafted to increase the efficiency of the technical writing and management process, from workflow to editing, reviewing and localization . Author-it’s robust publication features provide top of the line options and controls that set it apart from its competitors.

Got questions? Contact Author-it’s team of experts to learn more about Author-it’s world-class technical writing features and request a demo.

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