8 Steps in Writing Technical Manuals

As technologies continue to develop, there is an increasing need for quality technical manuals.  Whether the product is a piece of software, hardware, mechanical device, or a technical reference on a particular subject, there is a need for your book writing skills.  Here are some guidelines and advice that can position you to be successful with your technical manual writing project.  A technical manual that is well written, properly formatted, and edited can be a selling point for the product.  For example, if your product is comparable to another, yet people comment on the poor quality of your technical manual, a consumer may choose the other product because the instructions are better.

Learn, in detail, about the item or subject matter with a hands-on approach.  Your experience using the piece of equipment, software, or involvement with the subject matter is valuable in technical manual book writing.  Use the item and identify problem areas so that you can provide a clear, yet concise, series of instructions.

Discover the skill level and technical proficiencies of your end user.  Understand your target audience.  If you are writing to the public who has no experience with the item, you will need to provide details that are easy and fun to follow.  If you are writing for advanced users, remember to refer them to other sources of information for the basic use of the item or subject.

Develop an outline for using the item from start to finish for a task, lesson, or purpose.  Your outline is a brief sketch of how you would use this item or explain the subject matter from start to finish.  For example, a technical manual on a calculator would start with explaining how to power the unit on before you would begin providing details associated with using memory or power function buttons.

Write the document with easy to read vocabulary.  Choose your vocabulary so that end users can easily read the technical manual and understand what is written.  Most often, when people need to use the manual, they seek a clear example of how to get past a particular issue with the product.

Have test users utilize the manual and give you feedback.  Find test users, people who will use the product, and let them evaluate the technical manual.  Ask these people to make notes or comments about where your manual was not clear.

Edit for content and format.  Book editing for proper grammar, clarity of presentation, flow of ideas and content, and ease of reading will help the end user find value with your technical manual.  The format, especially inclusion of a table of contents and page numbering, is critical for making this document user friendly.

Perform a secondary review with another focus or test group to determine if you have solved the problems found by the first group of test users.  After your edits are complete and the areas that were unclear have been improved, find a few new test users and give them the opportunity to use this technical manual.  Make certain you have addressed the problems discovered by the first user group.

Final Editing. Finally, edit and re-write sections that the second test group found to be problematic and then move forward with your final plan for book editing and formatting prior to publication.

Congratulations, you have successfully written and formatted your first technical manual.