Did you notice something when you bought your new techy gadget? You open the brand new box and with it comes a hard copy manual. You find it very useful because you are excited with your purchase and want to know how to use your new tablet or electronic device. After the first use of that paper manual, you file it away and it rarely gets used and you can't find it either.
But when you get stuck again, you simply click on Help and read the electronic manual inside the device or go to the manufacturer's website to read the manual. But wait, there is more. The website provides PDF documents, video clips or the help documents are interactive, dynamic and full of embedded images and hyperlinks to take you to many other sources of information.
Recently I won a Technical Writing contract. My job was to write a new manual for a home alarm system. The old analogue system uses the conventional keypad that you press to enter your code to set the alarm. But now the same system uses a new user interface which is a tablet. The tablet software is more sophisticated, visual and user friendly. Anyone who uses a smartphone can use the alarm tablet to configure and set the alarm and do so much more.
My challenge was to create a document that enables the user to quickly learn how to use the alarm system. Basically to make it idiot-proof and in plain and simple English.
So I devised a cunning plan as I was also new to this alarm system. I wrote down every step I took to learn the various functions and features available in the system. I made a few mistakes along the way and set off the alarm or it did not do what I wanted. I tried again and again until I got it working. I then amended my document.
I took a screenshot at each step and then wrote down the Step-by-Step instructions. I then tested the document against the system a few more times. It worked!
Then I spellchecked, formatted and proof-read the entire document. A third party also reviewed the document and the sponsor gave me the thumbs up. I got paid.
I know that the end-users all around the world will be using my user manual to operate their home alarm system. There is no HELP button on it to call me for any further help.
I have suggested to my sponsor how this could be enhanced further by using interactive authoring and publishing tools such as Captivate 8.
The basic principle still is: You learn first, then show and tell others in their language and they will learn and remember long after you are gone.
Is this how you would write a Technical Document? Any better ideas or tools?
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