Technical publications are produced to assist operators and maintainers of all types of equipment from simple day to day household items to more complex or unusual equipment. They are generally produced in one of two forms; traditional paper based technical publications or as an interactive electronic publication.
Paper based technical publications
Paper publications are well known and have been with us for many years. They can range in complexity from a simple manual that comes with your vacuum cleaner to a suite of publications to operate and maintain a jet aircraft. In each case they will contain information of how to operate the equipment, how to utilise all of its functions and ancillary equipment, how to maintain it by removing failed parts or how to ensure optimum performance by carrying out regular cleaning and maintenance activities and may even contain a list of spare items to allow you to order them from the manufacturer.
Interactive electronic publications
Interactive electronic publications are generally produced for more complex equipment. However, they can be as simple as a pdf version of a paper based document. This type of document can have links embedded in it to allow the user to view an image that is referenced in the text or link to a part number contained in a spares catalogue. More complex publications are produced using Data Modules, these are packages of information that are written and placed into pigeon holes. These packages can then be electronically coupled together to produce a detailed description or a series of maintenance procedures. Illustrations or parts lists can also be stored in this manner and displayed on request.
The object of this method is to create the information once and use if many times. This method saves on the duplication of information and also ensures consistence of data provided. The down side is the cost in both the production and the equipment required to view the end product.
Writing good, usable technical publications is not rocket science, unless of course you happen to be writing about a rocket, think what you would wish to see in a publication and what has annoyed you about others. The guidelines above should enable the production of documents that both accurate and user friendly.
Look out for our next article, which we hope to publish next week, where we will be addressing some useful factors on what makes a good technical publication.