Nearly every company in today’s world uses computers to do business; from manufacturing to stock trading, computers are everywhere. In many cases it will require some kind of manual so that the end user knows how to make the most of the application. Writing software documentation can be done by the programmer but often a technical author is employed to do the work.
Technical authors can bridge the gap between the techie world of the designers and programmers and the layman who is likely to use the application. Their job is to explain the workings of the program in such a way that someone who has never used the program before can easily find their way through the menus or user interface. It is a skill that many programmers lack as their approach to the application is often from the coder’s viewpoint rather than someone who needs to do a job with the finished product.
In the world of computer games, the game itself teaches the user as they go along, obviating the need for a manual. These self-teaching games show the gamer what to do as levels get progressively more difficult. Pop ups with tips and tricks and tutorials drive the player forward. This method however is not realistic when the software controls a power station.
A good technical author will look at the application from the viewpoint of “how do I do this” and write simple easy to understand instructions for performing each of the functions of the software. They normally follow certain standard formats for manuals which start with initiation and setup through each function to trouble shooting and problem solving. They will also write to the specification of the company so that the final manual is in their style.
The final audience for the book must be taken into consideration at all times. A very different style needs to be employed for technical readers who may need to use the manual to provide support than for non-techies who are perhaps just using the app for their job. The author has to keep the tone right for the target reader.
It is important that any book is laid out in a clear manner, is not over wordy and flows in a logical way. The format and size of a manual are determined by the app itself. A very complex application will obviously require a lot larger document to cover all its functionality than a simple app which might be explained in a page or two.
Regardless of the eventual format or size, a user needs to know some basics. These are the same whatever the application and include starting the app, using its functionality and trouble shooting in the event of problems. Whether the final manual is in print or online form, including menu diagrams and screen shots can be very helpful.
Writing software documentation can also be a collaboration between the programmer, the user and a specialist writer. In this way everyone should be happy with the finished document. The programmer knows that all the functionality is covered and the writer can convert tech-speak to words suitable for the intended audience. Good documentation should be easy to read while giving complete information on the product.
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