The most important person is the reader

The very first thing to do when starting documentation is to determine who the readers will be, and in what circumstances they will use the documentation.

From this the technical author determines, in consultation with the client or other interested parties:

♦ What information is to be provided
♦ What type of documentation is required (it could be one document or more than one)
♦ What media are to be used
♦ What level of technical detail is required
♦ What is the style and language to be used
♦ How the documents are to be organised for ease of use
♦ How changes to the documents are to be controlled, to avoid multiple versions in circulation
♦ Who is to receive handover of the documentation after it is finished

Documentation should be planned around the reader’s needs. Manuals, for example, are generally best organised to reflect the tasks that the user must carry out. Other forms of organisation (for example, by menu option) are very useful in appendices or as additional reference manuals, but are usually not suitable for the main user guide.

Remember that user documentation represents your product or service to the user. Many people wish to see it before deciding on a major purchase.

Also, think of your technical author as representing your users to you. The technical author will have a good idea of what the users will expect of your product and how they will react to its user interface. So, involve the technical author fully in design, debugging and user interface testing.

What does a Technical Author need?.....

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