IntroductionThere are varieties of methods that can be used to develop technical manuals. Some of the methods are dependent on the availability of data generated by much larger processes such as engineering, software development, or the reverse engineering of an existing system. Additionally, the specific industry also guides the technical manual development process, when data is generated, and when it is made available to the technical communicator.
InvitationWe would like to know about the different process models technical communicators apply to their documentation projects.
- How does the technical manual development cycle begin in your industry?
- Who owns the process?
- How is data collected and evaluated?
- How is data validated and verified?
- At what point is the technical communicator dependent on subject matter expertise or technical expertise?
- Who is on the development team, and what is their contribution to the development?
- Is the process effective, and if not, where do you see deficiencies?
- Is a process flow diagram available?
Software documentation development
Software companies that don't have their own technical communicators (http://www.techscribe.co.uk/techw/sme.htm) come to TechScribe for help with technical communication. TechScribe is a one-person documentation consultancy in the UK.
Potential clients have similar questions to those posed in this topic, so the first part of the development cycle is explained on http://www.techscribe.co.uk/techw/purchasing-process.htm.
The process is a collaboration between TechScribe and the client, but TechScribe 'owns' the process.
The client supplies source data (company brochures, web site, design notes, and so on). The software itself is another source of data (screen names and subject terminology). Usually, a big part of a project is clarifying unclear information, processes, and procedure. Every few days, I send the primary subject matter expert a Word document that contains questions. Generally, response times vary between a day and a few weeks. A big advantage of written answers is that an audit trail exists. See http://www.techscribe.co.uk/techw/gathering-information.htm.
A software application that is 100% intuitive needs no documentation. The subject matter experts are therefore essential to the success of the project. My job is to extract their knowledge and present it clearly.
The process works well, but I'm constantly improving it (I have not included all the details, because I don't want to give away too much to competitors.)
Mike Unwalla, TechScribe