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Types of Documentation Needed by Companies

by Ron Kurtus (revised 3 May 2003)

Every business—large or small—needs documentation to operate effectively. Requirements for extensive internal documentation are spelled out in the ISO 9000 series of international standards.

The major classifications of needed documents include marketing, user guides, administrative material and published works. Technical communicators are needed to write each of these types of documents.

Questions you may have include:

This lesson will answer those questions.



Marketing material

Companies need written material to provide customers with information about the company and their products and/or services. The purpose is to make the public aware of what is available, as well as to help to sell the products. This material includes:

Marketing material has usually been done in slick publications, but recently promotional material and catalogs have been distributed via CD-ROM. Most companies now use their Web sites as marketing brochures.

Marketing specialists and advertising copywriters have traditionally done marketing writing. Recently, professional technical documentation specialists are writing online marketing documents.

User guides and manuals

Companies that make products or software need to have manuals and user guides available that will explain how to properly use the product. These documents are intended for both external customers and for use internally.

Typical guides and manuals include:

Many companies are putting their guides and manuals online. Many commercial software companies have abandoned hard-copy manuals in favor of online help files packaged with the software.

Quick reference guides

Quick reference guides provide ready reference to essential features during the use of hardware or software. They may include graphical devices and other job aides.

Software user guides

Software user guides provide instructions for using a software product. Since there has been a tendency to put these manuals online, third-party publishers have been selling such books to satisfy consumer need.

Software reference guides

Software reference guides provide accessible reference information on the features and functions of a software product.

Hardware/Software combination guides

Hardware/Software combination guides provide instructions for using a hardware product and modifying or programming its firmware/software. Examples include manuals for computer printers, fax machines, modems and such.

Hardware user guides

Hardware user guides provide instructions for using a hardware product. "Hardware" means any electronic or mechanical device, including computers, lawnmowers and stereo equipment.

Hardware installation, reference and repair guides

Hardware installation, reference and repair guides provide accessible reference information on the features and functions of a hardware product. They also explain how to install, modify, maintain or repair a piece of hardware.

Administrative material

Most companies need documents to cover various administrative requirements. Such material includes:

The movement is to put much of this material online, on the Web, or on an internal intranet.

Organization manuals

Organization manuals provide guidance to employees or customers of an organization. They include policies and procedures manuals, style and identity guides and benefits guides.

Some companies are putting online versions of organization manuals on their intranet. Such documentation requires an expert in HTML.

Training materials

Training materials are publications developed for use in a training or classroom environment by either the trainer or student participant; may include manuals, tutorials, workbooks, and instructor guides.

Computer-based training (CBT), Web-based training (WBT) and eLearning are cost-effective methods of training over using training manuals and trainers. Most companies tend to outsource the development of eLearning, as opposed to doing it in-house.

Annual reports

Annual reports summarize the activities or financial position of a corporation, governmental agency, or nonprofit community organization.

Miscellaneous material for publication

Occasionally, companies want or need other type of writing intended for publication done for them. These include:

Magazine or trade journal articles

A company may want articles published in magazines. This material would include news and information about an organization, technology, industry, or scientific field. It may be intended for an internal or external audience, a special interest audience or the general public.

Newsletters

Some companies distribute newsletters giving information about company happenings. Newsletters may be intended for an internal or external audience.

Technical reports

Companies may want reports written on scientific or technical efforts. They are usually aimed at the professional community or a contracting agency.

Speeches

Top company officials may need speeches written for special occasions or presentations. Some technical writers specialize in this field.

Summary

There is a wide range of documentation that companies need for effectively running their businesses. Documentation is also needed to create new business by providing information to potential customers. Besides the traditional paper-based documents, online documentation is becoming important to successful companies.


Provide what others want and need


Resources and references

Ron Kurtus' Credentials

Websites

Society for Technical Communication

Technical Writing Resources

Books

Top-rated books on Technical Writing


Questions and comments

Do you have any questions, comments, or opinions on this subject? If so, send an email with your feedback. I will try to get back to you as soon as possible.


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