Types of Technical Documentation

Posted in TechComm on 3/3/20184 min read

Technical documentation

Have you ever created a resume for a job, prepared a presentation or written an email to your boss? Then you’ve already written technical documents.

Technical writing includes a wide range of documents. They include instructions, reviews, reports, newsletters, presentations, web pages, brochures, proposals, letters, fliers, graphics, memos, press releases, handbooks, specifications, style guides, agendas and so on. There are so many of them, that in order to understand the differences between them, we need to break them up into categories. In this article, we will make an attempt to do that.

General Classification

One of the main requirements for a technical document is its orientation for the intended audience. According to the target audience, technical documentation is divided into two main types:

Process Documents. These describe the development, testing, maintenance and improvement of systems. Process documents are used by managers, engineers, testers, and marketing professionals. These documents contain technical terms and industry-specific jargon. Examples of this type of documents include API, SDK and code documentation; internal development documentation, etc.

User Documents. This type of documentation provides customers with the information they need in order to use the product. User documents contain primarily instructional and explanatory materials. These documents use everyday terms instead of technical jargon so that they are clear, concise and helpful even to novice readers. Step-by-step walkthroughs, user guides, troubleshooting documentation may serve as examples.

Our Classification

There are so many different types of technical documents that it’s impossible to list all of them. However, we attempted to sort them out into several categories.

We‘ve come up with the following scheme:

Classification of Technical Documentation

What do you think of it? Did we miss something?

Advanced Examples of Technical Documentation

The number of classifications and lists of technical documents is endless. While creation of presentations or general reports requires no specific knowledge, some technical documents are rather complicated. Below we’ve listed some of most advanced and widespread, in our opinion, examples for you to learn a bit about them:

User Guide (Manual) is a technical communication document (as well as the rest of this list) intended to assist users of a particular system. Mainly focuses on tasks that can be done through the GUI. The language used is matched to the intended audience, with jargon kept to a minimum or explained thoroughly.

Release Notes are technical documents distributed with software products that contain bugfixes and added features. They are usually shared with end users, customers and clients of an organization.

API (Application Programming Interface) Documentation describes what services an API offers and how to use those services, aiming to cover everything a client would need to know for practical purposes. It is traditionally found in documentation files but can also be found in social media such as blogs, forums, and Q&A websites.

A man typing

SDK (Software Development Kit) Documentation is a complete set of APIs that allows you to perform almost any action you would need for creating applications as well as other tools for developing for the platform that it is for. All SDKs are/contain APIs but not all APIs are SDKs.

Market Requirements Document (MRD) is a technical document that expresses the customer's wants and needs for the product or service. It usually explains who the target audience is, what products are in competition with this one, why customers are likely to want this product.

User Requirements Document (URD) (User Requirements Specification) is a technical document that specifies what users expect the software to be able to do. The information documented in a URD is meant to spell out exactly what the software must do, and becomes part of the contractual agreement. A customer cannot demand features that are not in the URD, whilst the developer cannot claim the product ready if it misses an item of the URD.

Other examples of advanced technical documents may include Architecture and Engineering Documents (A&E Docs), help files, Standard Operation Procedure (SOP) manuals, installation guides, troubleshooting guides, system configuration guides, code documentation, how to’s, reference sheets, white papers, FAQs, Q&As, reference sheets, etc.

What do you think?

Have you ever dealt with any sort of technical documentation? What categories of technical documents would you pick out? What do you think of our classification? Tell us more in the comments below!

Good Luck with your technical documentation!
ClickHelp Team
Author, host and deliver documentation across platforms and devices


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