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Service Guide Analysis Manuals: Maintenance Service Guides
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Technical Manuals Writing: Tips
Handbooks and manuals are the most common form of documentation in the business environment. Many now come in electronic forms, such as documentation stored on a corporate intranet, but in whatever form they appear, they are used to instruct and guide employees on technical procedures, corporate policies, and many other kinds of information that is not intuitively obvious or easy to remember. Without them, employees would lose a valuable reference source and businesses would suffer from a variety of problems, ranging from untrained workers to liability lawsuits. Some people make sharp distinctions between what is a manual and what is a handbook, but in practice there is substantial overlap. By convention, certain types of publications are more frequently called manuals, notably in technical documentation for software programs and for machine operation. However, these same sorts of publications may be termed users' guides, help guides, reference books, or something else altogether. Ambiguity in the nomenclature should not obscure the importance of good documentation or the need to target such documentation to a specific audience. All manuals and handbooks are not alike; authors and designers must consider why the reader will be using the publication; what their existing knowledge of the subject is: what subject-area conventions they are used to; and what physical surroundings the documentation will be used in. For example, if a manual is intended to be a quick, at-a-glance reference for factory workers, it probably should not be a bulky, text-heavy, hardcover book, unless an analysis of the users' work habits indicate that such a format would be convenient. More likely, a manual for this purpose should be short, graphical, possibly tabbed or color-coded for fast access, and provided in a physical format that is compatible with the way its users work. The same kinds of usability considerations apply to most types of manuals and handbooks.
So what are the tasks for a technical manual or guide? A standard technical manual or guide is one that is text-based with illustrations. It is usually delivered on paper, although it may also be an online document. Technical manuals are usually considered user, service and training manuals or guides. Marketing material may follow the same steps or tasks as a technical manual. The tasks required in producing a standard technical manual are typically: Research and interview to get information; Outline and organize technical material; Draw or obtain pictures and graphics; Transform technical material into common language; Edit written material; Deliver final product.
Details on tasks: What these tasks consist of is fairly straightforward. 1. Research and interview: The writer must get the necessary information on the subject matter. Some research may consist of hands-on work. For example, Harley-Davidson Motorcycle Company requires their technical writers to be able to disassemble and assembly their motorcycles. They also prefer their writers own and drive Harleys. Interview SME: Often the writer must interview the user to find out what is wanted or needed, as well as a subject matter expert (SME) to get detailed information. When writing software documents, that means interviewing or talking to programmers. For writing about hardware, the SME may be an engineer, technician or manager. The method to interview may be simply talking with the person and taking down notes, or it may involve tape recording the conversation. A list of questions is often handy to use. Example using video: Sometimes there are other ways to get information. For example, I once wrote a marine transmission service manual from a videotape of Japanese technicians disassembling and reassembling one of the company's transmissions. An American engineer explained the operation and gave the names of the parts on the videotape during the disassembly procedure. The explanation was then transcribed and edited. Screenshots were made from the video to include with the steps in the service manual.
2. Outline and organize: Once you have gathered your research material in the form of notes, transcriptions and documents, you can organize it. Since technical guides are usually very logically ordered, outlining the material is a good idea. In this way, you can modify the order of sections to suit the real need of the document. There are other ways to organize technical guides. One common method is to break sections of material into separate files, either in your word processor or desktop publishing application.
3. Draw or obtain pictures and graphics: A graphic artist or the technical writer may gather pictures and gather or draw illustrations and graphics for the document. In software user guides, screen shots are often captured and inserted in the document. For hardware, photographs may be taken and digitized. A photograph may be used as is or it may even be changed into a line drawing though the use of graphics software. In engineering environments, drawing may be obtained from engineering drawing and computer-aided design (CAD) software. Defense projects follow military specification for the drawing formats. One important thing is that you should have a good system for naming and filing your graphics files.
4. Transform into common language: Often the experts speak in terms that are not usable in a technical guide. You want to simplify the language and to define any acronyms used. It is better to have a document a little below the level of the reader's knowledge than above what they can understand. The use of illustrations and graphics helps to simplify the language and to enhance understanding. "A picture is worth a thousand words."
5. Edit written material: Another writer or/and editor, as well as other personnel should check over the material for content, as well as grammar and form. This is usually an iterative process, fine-tuning the document.
6. Deliver final product: Delivery of the document is the accomplishment of your goal. Celebrate that delivery. Illustrations are important components of documents and handbooks. Illustrations in many forms can be used, ranging from simple hand-drawn charts and graphs to three-dimensional computer-generated designs. They can be produced by engineers, graphics artists, freelance artists, or secretaries working with computer graphics software packages. Illustrations can be changed at any stage of the production process, especially when computers are used to create them. For printed manuals, the project manager must determine the document's physical format. This includes three main areas: layout, presentation, and size, material, binding and cover. As with other aspects of manual production, these features should be directed by audience needs and the purpose of the document. Layout and presentation include the page format, typography, and, if necessary, colors. Color is visually stimulating and increasingly affordable, and it may also serve audience needs. For instance, various sections of the manual may be color coded to enable speedy retrieval of information. In some cases, it may also be helpful to include complex illustrations in color. Size is another key consideration. For product documents, one basic requirement is that the manual must fit within the product packaging. Size may also be related to usability issues. Choosing the material is relatively straightforward, although some manuals will have special material requirements. Most manuals are printed on uncoated medium or lightweight paper. Some, however, may be produced on glossy magazine-style pages or on thicker cardstock for special purposes. For example, a short, flip-tab reference guide for a specialized software package may employ rigid, laminated pages to maximize ease of use and durability. The cover and binding also impact longevity and ease of use. The typical product manual has a thick, coated paper cover and what is known as perfect binding. Perfect binding uses a flexible glue on the manual's spine to hold the pages together; this is used on many commercial softcover publications. Pages in longer manuals or ones that require special longevity may also be stitched together before binding glue is applied. For manuals that should lie flat while open, such as software tutorials in which the user reads from the manual while working at the computer, a mechanical binding, such as plastic comb/spiral binding, is best. Do note that our company involve only in writing and do not have binding services for manuals.
Before starting to write, you’ll need to decide on the type of manual. Each type has a different purpose and different objectives. To decide which to write, you’ll need to look globally at your organization or program to see what documentation already exists, how your manual will fit in, and what purpose it will serve. Will your readers use the document to learn how to operate a new piece of equipment? If so, perhaps you should write a tutorial. Or, if they already know how to operate it, but only need something to refer back to occasionally, perhaps you should write a reference manual. You may need to write one manual, or perhaps a series of manuals as given below:
Documentation Hierarchy: Most organization manuals fit within a documentation hierarchy with legislation and organization-wide policy manuals at the top, and procedure and technical documents at the bottom. Manuals at the top of the hierarchy set parameters that lower-level manuals must comply with. It’s useful to sketch the hierarchy for your organization’s manuals so that everyone understands the role of the new document and how it will fit in. Make sure that everyone agrees on which type you’re writing.
Policy manuals – document the rules governing an organization. Policies can be set out at the board, organization, department, work group, or other levels. They can be short and general, or long and detailed. Most organizations have, or would benefit from, an organization-wide policy manual. It’s usually the highest manual in the document hierarchy, since other manuals, such as department procedure manuals, typically must comply with those policies. In smaller organizations, policies and procedures are often found in the same manual. Policy manuals are usually organized by business function or department.
Procedure manuals – document how things are done, such as processing an invoice, and often serve to implement policies. Step-by-step procedures and flow diagrams are frequently used. The reader is usually assumed to be familiar with the topic, but has not performed the procedure often enough to have memorized it. Procedure manuals are usually organized by work task, with procedures grouped according to business function or by department.
Standards manuals – set standards for products, services, or other work activities. They are common in engineering, manufacturing, and construction where they are used to specify materials or manufacturing standards. But standards are also found in procedure manuals to set out how frequently, how fast, or how accurately things will be done. For example, they may state that “all invoices will be paid within 30 days.” Standards manuals can be organized in various ways, such as by material type, system, or job task.
Guidebooks – give readers more latitude than policy and procedure manuals. They contain guidelines for dealing with different situations. Guidelines are usually non-mandatory suggestions rather than strict rules or clearly defined procedures. Sometimes they simply establish the bounds within which employees may act at their own discretion. Guidebooks are usually organized by work task, business function, or department.
User manuals – contain instructions for installing and using software or hardware and should be organized around user tasks. They don’t describe the software in the detailed way that a reference manual might—they describe how the software is used, usually with lots of step-by-step procedures. The user manual is the primary manual for all users, but particularly for novices.
Reference manuals – usually provide detailed information on hardware or software organized for quick reference. They may also include other types of information, such as code lists or lists of names and contact information. For software, they often systematically describe each field, in each dialogue box, in each menu. Unlike user guides, they are not organized around user tasks, but may be alphabetized by keyword or sequenced according to the spatial arrangement of the software interface. Readers are assumed to be familiar with the software but need quick information on some aspect of the system. This is not the kind of manual to give to a novice.
Training manuals – are designed to teach readers something new. They may be self-paced (readers do the tutorials at their own rate) or they may be designed for use with a training course. They seldom try to teach everything, but just try to provide a basic foundation upon which readers can build. Training manuals usually start with basic skills and progress to more advanced skills as readers gain experience and confidence. Once the software or procedures are learned, the user or reference manual is typically used.
Operator manuals – provide detailed instructions for operating instruments or equipment and may include installation and troubleshooting instructions. If it’s complex equipment, separate installation and maintenance manuals may be produced. The reader is often an engineer or a technician. Similar to software user guides, operator manuals are usually organized around work tasks.
Field guides – are designed for use away from a desk, often outdoors. They are commonly used to help identify plants or animals, or to describe field tests. Field guides are often small enough to fit into a pocket, and are sometimes printed on waterproof paper. They are often organized alphabetically by keyword for quick reference, or by work task (such as a sampling procedure).
Service manuals – are used by service technicians or engineers to perform routine maintenance or to troubleshoot and fix problems or breakdowns. Service manuals often describe the theory of how the equipment works and operating principles, and instructions on how to disassemble and reassemble components. They are often organized by system, such as “electrical system,” or by component.
Combination Manuals: Often two or more types of manuals are combined: policy and procedure, standards and guidelines, operations and service, user and reference. There is nothing wrong with combining different types of information into a single manual if it serves the purpose and intended audience of the manual. For example, many organization manuals combine policies, procedures, standards, and guidelines. If it’s important that the intended reader have ready access to these different types of information, then consider combining them. These manuals are sometimes called employee handbooks or simply policy and procedure manuals, reflecting the mixture of information types. Another consideration is that when they are using a manual, most people are simply looking for the information needed to get their jobs done. Typically they don’t care what type of information it is (such as policy, procedure, standard, or guideline), nor can they easily distinguish between the types. It’s also difficult for the manual writer to distinguish between the information types. For example, if the president and the director of finance must review and sign off on legal contracts, is it a policy or is it part of the procedure? Similar problems will plague the writer who tries to separate information by type. In some circumstances, however, it is appropriate to separate the types of information. For example, you may provide a manual containing only policy to the Board of Directors or to senior management since this is the level of information they will be interested in, while providing a manual containing both policies and procedures to staff.
The main types of office manuals are given below: 1. Policy Manual: It contains basic policies of the company. It describes the overall limitations within which managerial actions can take place. A policy manual lays down the decision, resolutions and pronouncements of the Board of Directors regarding the policies of the company. The main objective of policy manual is to inform all decision makers regarding their limits in the matter. This does not allow anyone to cross his limits and also provides guidelines. 2. Organizational Manual: The organizational manual contains the organizational structure, duties, rights and powers of the officials, the liabilities of each one and mutual relationships between the two of the officials, departments etc. and their interrelationship. 3. Administrative Practice Manual: This manual consists of administrative structure, systems, procedures, methods of work of each department in the organization. This also spells out the duties, rights and responsibilities of the departments concerned. This also gives the preformed records returns etc. to be prepared from time to time. 4. Departmental Practice Manual: It contains detailed information about the organization, policies and procedures of one department. Inter-departmental relationships are also shown with the help of charts and diagrams. Each department has its own manual. 5. Multipurpose Manual: This type of manual helps the management to explain the personnel policies, rules and regulations to all employees. And this type of manual helps in eliminating misunderstanding and frictions between the management and employees.
Purpose of Office Manuals: Three purposes of office manuals are: to make instructions definite, to find answers in connection with procedures and to improve administrative control. For the successful controlling of office, there must be complete and up-to-date office manuals which inform the employees what they have to do, when and how. An office manual contains general information, general office rules and regulations, safety instructions, organizational policies, job description, office facilities, executive relationship, standard practices and general instructions etc.
Who writes a particular document depends on the size of the corporation, the expertise of the employees, and the purpose of the manual. There are specialists who are employed full-time or on a contract basis to produce manuals. Many of them fall under the broad headings of technical writers. Our technical writers specialize in producing scientific or industry-specific information in readable form for lay persons. "Scientific" in this case can mean anything from data processing language to engineering terms to astrophysics. Often, scientists rely on technical writers to translate the special terminology they use in their fields of expertise into understandable terms for non-scientists or product users. The purpose of technical writing is to reduce to understandable terms language that might be hard for the average person to comprehend. For example, data processing technical writers produce a wide range of manuals. They might produce user manuals for computer users and systems manuals for programmers and analysts. Our technical writers in scientific fields also produce research proposals for professors and consultants or a procedural manual for a geological team to follow. Our expert writers offer high quality services which you can find nowhere else. So why wait? Read further to hire us.
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