Part II: Best Technical Writing Tools—Technical Skills

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typingYou may be intrigued by the state-of-the-art electronic device you just bought—the technology, the innovation, the research and development. But have you taken into consideration what’s behind the documentation that came with the product? The writer, the tools, the training, the experience—these all are a part of the document you’re holding in your hand.

A well-written technical document is one where the reader gathers the necessary information in the least amount of time. The reader isn’t distracted by grammar mistakes and technical errors. The document flows seamlessly and accomplishes its purpose. However, when a document is poorly written, the reader takes notices. Time is wasted when the reader is looking for information that isn’t correctly indexed, or when the reader must decipher what the writer is attempting to communicate.

“When something can be read without effort, great effort has gone into its writing.” Enrique Jardiel Poncela

A successful technical writer must possess a variety of skills—both technical and personal. While you won’t need to be an expert in every skill area listed below, you should be familiar with each technical writing tool—especially its advantages and its limitations.

Word Publishing Tools for Printed Documents

When creating printed documents, such as user manuals, company profiles, and marketing materials, you need a word publishing program that allows you to enter, format, and arrange text quickly and easily. A few of the more popular publishing programs are

Online Help Authoring

Most commercial software programs are pre-loaded with online help that typically contains the same information as a printed user manual, but presents it in a completely different format. Online help contains hypertext links, which make it easy for the user to search for specific items. The online help isn’t meant to be read from beginning to end; rather, it’s designed for the user to quickly find specific pieces of information. Several help authoring tools are

Desktop Publishing

When you’re involved in the final printing of a document, it’s helpful if you’re familiar with desktop publishing software. This software allows you to create and revise documents—such as marketing materials, promotional items, or sales flyers—that’ll be printed commercially or locally in-house. You can view the layout and appearance of the pages exactly as they’ll be printed. A few of the leading desktop publishing programs are

Screen Capturing

No doubt you’ve heard this adage many times: “A picture is worth a thousand words”. This is especially true when teaching a user about a product without the advantage of a live teacher. Instead, the user manual or online help becomes the teacher, so including screen captures in the documentation can be extremely valuable. Three screen capture programs are

Image Editing

At times, you’ll need to edit an image file. You may need to erase an object from the image, change the color of the background, or even combine objects from two different image files. Image editing programs are becoming easier to use, and therefore, more popular among technical writing professionals. Several example programs are

Technical Graphics

Illustrations and diagrams are important in user manuals. A diagram showing how to assemble two pieces is infinitely more helpful than trying to write the instructions without any visuals. Whenever possible, include technical graphics in your documents. Two technical graphics programs are

Your purpose as a technical writer is to deliver essential information clearly and concisely. These technical tools can help you complete your project quickly and efficiently.