What is "technical documentation"?
"Technical documentation" is the generic term for documentation with regard to a product. People mainly associate the term with the documents and information that are passed on to the public by the manufacturer:
tekom, the "German professional body for technical communication and information design" has a wider definition
The term 'technical documentation' refers to different documents with product-related data and information that are used and stored for different purposes. “Different purposes” mean: Product definition and specification, design, manufacturing, quality assurance, product liability, product presentation; description of features, functions and interfaces; intended, safe and correct use; service and repair of a technical product as well as its safe disposal.
This broader view, in which all documents that are generated during the product life cycle are viewed as part of the technical documentation is certainly justified. After all, the aim is to make available the technical know-how and product history for subsequent users of the information (be they engineers or operators, patent agents or public prosecutors specializing in product liability.
The focus for service providers in the field of technical documentation is, however, mainly on documents that are required after the production process — by sales people, system integrators, installation staff, operators, service technicians, waste disposal companies etc. The reasons are simple:
This combination of basic knowledge required, experience of fulfilling the requirements and of documentation-specific specialist knowledge, an "absolute must" combination if you consider the reasons for outsourcing stated above, is available from one particular profession: the technical writer / technical editor. These professionals are the mediators between the manufacturer/designer and the decision maker/user, either within the company or as service provider
By the way: At Transcom we often prefer the more general term " 'technical communication'" instead of 'technical documentation' because it presents the scope of our services in a more accurate way.
Instructions versus directions versus manual versus handbook versus …
Often, there is still confusion about whether something should be called operating instructions, user manual, user guide, user directions, operating manual etc. pp. The standards for technical editors and the law makers are also not consistent in their terminology. Let's try to sort it out from a linguistic point of view:
Of course, the operating instructions may be separated into its individual parts, i.e. one document for each — transport/storing, installation etc. Also, the separation may follow the different participant rolls (target groups: System integrator, user/operator, administrator, service technician etc. All these distinctions are centered on the content of the corresponding document. The question of the medium used to publish the document is not answered.
Technical documentation is not confined to a specific publication medium. It may be distributed on paper (as a bound book, in a ring binder, stapled brochure, lever-arch file, loose-leaf binder, etc.) as well as PDF file, online help, web pages or similar on CD or on the internet.
Because technical documentation today is often published on different media simultaneously (as manual enclosed with the product and as PDF file or set of web pages on the internet) it makes sense to select a description that does not specify the publication medium.
You find this text strange? Can you remember? — At school you occasionally got the task of writing an essay in which all words from a predefined list had to appear. The result? Well, you probably have not thought about it for a long time.
This page has been designed following the same principle; only that today the search engines and the searching surfers have given us the task: No matter which combination of hit words relevant for technical documentation is entered — the search engine should always list at least this page of our web presence. In turn, our other pages are more direct along the subject.