What you should keep in mind when you are writing a technical manual.
No matter what product it concerns, the goal is almost always the same. Namely: to give the user instructions on how a technical product can be used safely and properly. Technical writers want to make the user’s life as easy as possible and let him or her work safely. A good manual is an invitation and a guide: Here is your product, have fun with it, get to work with it, we will help you to get started safely.
Protection of the manufacturer
But that is not all. A technical manual serves another purpose as well. This purpose is not only directly connected to user convenience, but it is also very important to the developer of the product. A manual also ensures that the transfer of technological knowledge protects the producer from claims. The producer can be held liable for defects years after a product has been marketed. This could concern a demonstrable flaw in the product. But a faulty manual, or just the lack of a warning in it, may also give rise to a damage claim. With all its consequences. For that reason, among others, a manual for a technical product must comply with strict European directives that have been established especially for this purpose.
Use comprehensible language when you are writing a technical manual
A good, proper manual is therefore of great importance. It should not only contain correct information about the product and its use, but also on what to do with it after its lifetime. On top of that, this information should be easy to read as well. Clearly written, in comprehensible language.
This raises an important question: What is comprehensible language? Opinions are divided on this, which is only natural. For a judge and a lawyer, the penal code is quite comprehensible. A doctor is unlikely to find difficulty in reading a scientific article full of medical terms. A tram driver will be able to drive a new type of tram based on a specific technical manual.
Therefore, it is better to ask this important question again, but in a more specific way: What is comprehensible language, and for whom is that so?
Reading and writing a technical manual
To answer this question properly, we have to look closer at target groups. According to the dictionary, the definition of a target group is: ‘Those you have in mind for a certain activity’.
Another definition, formulated by one of the technical writers at Foxiz: Technical communication is the science and the art of being able to accurately, correctly and effectively communicate factual information to specific target groups for specific purposes.’ Not everybody needs to understand our technical manual, but it is important that the person for whom the manual is written can get on with it.
Who is my target group?
Technical writers focus on users of technical equipment or devices. In one company these users could be:
- Employees of a technical department;
- Process operators on a production line;
- Product managers;
- Quality officers;
The users can also be consumers, without any experience, preliminary training, or technical know-how.
Each and every one of these users has its own basic knowledge, its own experience, and its own education. What is easy for one person, could be too difficult or complex for another.
If we want our manual to inform the user properly and correctly, we must:
- Determine our target group;
- Gain knowledge on this group.
Users differ in age, educational level, reading and writing level, gender, etcetera, etcetera. That is why they have to be approached in different ways. Only when this happens correctly, the information will reach its goal.
Before we start writing, we must get to know the target group. And while writing we continue to be aware of the characteristics of the target group.
Target group: consumer
A simple example: We are writing a manual for consumer electronics. Many consumers do not like reading a manual. They find it either too difficult or too boring. By getting to know the target group in advance, you can prevent the manual being tossed in a cupboard or drawer right away. Do not use complicated words or jargon. Match the style of writing and the language to the educational level of the target group, but also to their age. Young people generally are ‘quicker’ in understanding and trying devices than older people.
Target group: the process operator
Another example: We are writing a manual for the operation of a machine for process operators. For this target group, a little jargon is not out of place. These people are used to it, they get what you are talking about and recognize themselves in the text and the images. That last part is important as well.
If the user of our manual works on the work floor, it could very well be that he or she is not interested in long descriptions. Keep things short and concise, so that your target group can work with the manual easily and efficiently.
What makes a well written technical manual?
A good technical manual is:
- Formulated in accordance with NEN guidelines;
- Written in language level B1. This is the language level that eighty percent of the population understands;
- Easy to understand;
- Clear and simple in structure;
- Short and to the point. The aim is to let the user absorb the information with as little effort as possible;
- Balanced. Visual and textual content should support each other.
A good technical writer is a valuable addition to the work of the user: the one you are writing for. To translate technology, no matter how complex, into understandable and human instructions: That is what it is all about for a technical writer. And that is what the target group benefits from.
Want to know more about writing a technical manual?
Do you want to know more about the profession of technical writer? Foxiz can help. Not for nothing our motto is ‘Foxiz makes technology understandable’.
The Foxiz Academy offers various training courses for the (beginning) technical writer. On our website you can find all information about this.
The Foxiz team consists of project managers, technical writers, technical illustrators, and translators who like to go the extra mile. We produce documentation for safe and correct operation, for maintenance tasks and for assembly and installation. We can help with all your questions and will gladly take care of your technical documentation and translations.