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What is a technical writer?

A technical writer is a professional title used for people who have as their most important tasks to plan, develop, organise, write, publish and maintain technical documentation and user manuals. More recently, the title information developer has been introduced, as this is more comprehensive for the versatile tasks carried out.

Technical documentation

The term technical documentation is used as a collective term for several document types that contain information about how a product is developed and how it should be manufactured, tested and maintained. Therefore, drawings, photographs, procedures, specifications and corresponding information are considered technical documents. The documents are published in several different formats adapted to the given purposes.

User manuals

Technical writers play an important role in manufacturing companies, especially those that make technical products for professional or general use. The product can be a shaver, a DVD recorder, or a truck; in any case, a user manual is required to explain how to use the product correctly, safely, and effectively.

User manual

The term user manual is used to describe a document prepared by the manufacturer to explain to the end user how to use a given product. A user manual can be published in several formats adapted to the reader's situation and needs. Software is often supplied with content-sensitive online help, where the user manual is published in an interactive format.

A user manual can be large, comprehensive, or quite small. The size depends on the complexity of the product. A shaver is easy to use, while a DVD recorder offers several advanced functions that require detailed explanations. The truck is physically larger, but there are certification requirements for the person driving it. Maintenance of a truck may also require the reader to have special education.

The design of instructions for use is described in several national and international standards. These standards place particular demands on content but also, to a certain extent, on organization and execution.

Online help

For most people who create and use computer programs, online help is an important function. Many manufacturers prefer to let the software developers write the help texts. In contrast, others believe that software developers should rather concentrate on software development and let a technical writer write the product's online help. With the right tool, the author's online help texts can form an effective context-sensitive help function and, at the same time, be automatically published to PDF in book format (so-called "parallel publishing"). In this way, the software manufacturer avoids that several people in the organization spend time writing about the same topics.

Technical manuals

Technical manuals normally include all necessary information on the product's installation, commissioning and maintenance.

Technical manual

The term technical manual describes a document prepared by the manufacturer to explain to technical personnel how to install, maintain and repair a given product. A technical manual can be published in several formats adapted to the reader's situation and needs.

For all technical manuals, the manufacturer must first define who will carry out these tasks, then prepare the manuals for this target group. When you buy a washing machine, you usually get a small booklet that explains how to put the device in place and which switches to press to wash your socks. However, you don't get a book that explains how to repair the washing machine if it breaks down. That manual only goes to the dealer and authorized repairers. In the same way, you only get a small booklet that explains how to use your car - the car's manufacturer assumes that you have a certificate - while the extensive documentation relating to repairs only goes to the dealer and car workshop.

As a technical writer at the manufacturer, you are the one who prepares all these manuals, albeit in close collaboration with product developers and other experts. Your task is first to collect the information and make it consistent and holistic. After this, in close cooperation with the product management, you must decide which information must be included in the manuals and then organize and prepare the necessary text and drawings.

Tools for technical writers

Technical writers normally use advanced tools for word processing, publishing, illustration and image processing. Standard tools for office support are not able to offer the required functionality. Typical tools are thus Adobe FrameMaker, BroadVision Quicksilver (formerly "Interleaf") and various XML editors. There are also several other specialized tools on the market.

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