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The Mayfield Handbook of Technical & Scientific Writing
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Section 2.8.2

Documentation (Manuals)

The formal description of a mechanical system or a technical process is known as its documentation. Documentation takes the form of technical and user manuals that accompany various technological objects, materials, and processes. Electronic hardware, computers, chemicals, automobiles all are accompanied by descriptive documentation in the form of manuals.

Two kinds of documentation are required when products are sold: technical documentation and user documentation.

Manuals should be prepared with the object of making the information quickly available to the expert or general reader. Keep the audience foremost in mind. In manuals, ease of finding and reading information is a priority. Hence manuals should contain these components:

Easy-to-use locating elements, such as tables of contents, indexes, and page headers

Useful big-picture and close-up diagrams that make it easy for the reader to become familiar with the technology

Effective warnings against personal harm and cautions against harm to the equipment

Page designs that lay the material out effectively, with effective labeling, chunking, and white spaces

Clear manual arrangements into sections and chapters organized around important tasks

Simple, economical style, pared down to just what is needed

Consistent, well-designed terminology that keeps the reader focused on the task

Effective packages, with binders and covers designed for the working space in which the manual will be used

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