The Technical Authoring Process

“The skill of technical authoring is the categorising and structuring of information for delivery to an end user. In a format that can be easily accessed and used, so it is quick to navigate to the required information.

For this to be successful, the quality of the information must be well written and appropriate to the level of the end user.”

technical author sitting at desk processing information

Typical Process

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The typical starting point for writing a user manual is to look at what information is already available. Commonly this is an existing manual, design drawings, schematics, audit reports, design notes and maintenance proceeds.

It is important to identify the end-user so the instructions can be written to the correct level. A skilled engineer will need a different level of detail to a member of the public.

The complexity of the subject will also be considered. Complex procedures will often require breaking down into smaller procedures, different writing methods may be necessary to help make the instruction clear.

Preparing source information involves splitting existing paragraphs of information in to distinct “packets” of information. An example of a poorly written paragraph is where there is a mix of different types of information, such as procedures interspersed within a description of a product, or installation mixed with maintenance instructions.

The writing or editing of packets into clear English is a key requirement for an end user to understand a concept easily and therefore carry out a task successfully.

Some projects require a specific type of categorisation. For example software applications describing the functions and use of the software may include category types such as:

  • Description
  • Procedure
  • Screenshot

Source information needs splitting and edited or written to these specific category types, so information within a packet contains information of one specific packet type.

An outline structure of the manual is created to help organise the available source information, and show where further information is required. Clients may have an existing style they wish to incorporate, or an example they wish to replicate, alternatively an in-house style can be created.

Once the source information is exhausted a draft of the manual can be generated. Authors will clearly identify within the draft document where they need further information such as more details of operation or maintenance tasks. At this point authors need the assistance of subject matter experts to provide their expert knowledge on specific tasks.

This is often in the form of a review and comment process of the draft manual. Additionally this could be a meeting, subject demonstration, photographs, or a site visit for the author to gather further information independently. In the case of software manuals authors are often given access to the software and can therefore generate more information at the draft stage reducing the information gaps.

Once information gaps have been filled and the manual content has been agreed, the manual can be correctly formatted, for consistency, navigation, page layout, grammar and style.

At this point the manual takes on a professional feel and sets it apart from a manual written by an unskilled hand.

All manuals we are asked to develop written by non-authoring staff suffer from a high level of inconsistency. This is something we can eliminate through use of our professional authoring tools and custom developed stylesheets which are unique to each customer.

The final stage is to output the manual in the desired format.

This can be a html format for online use. Or a PDF format which can be easily accessed through many devices. Our PDFs are structured for 2-sided print to save on resources whenever printed.

Printed hardcopies can be arranged where needed, from a simple non-colour booklet, a bound manual, to a card covered glossy brochure.