The Process of Technical Writing

Technical writing has four steps: Planning, writing, delivery, and archiving. The planning and writing steps can overlap, but generally, they are performed in this order. The following is a breakdown of the technical writing process:

The Technical Writer gathers all information relevant to the project, including subject matter, document specifications, and audience analysis. The Technical Writer reviews existing corporate materials and may look at the competition's offerings. The Assignment Editor or Project Manager gives the writer clear expectations, a budget and deadlines. The Writer must know how the final product should differ from what is already available. The Writer prepares an outline of the project, usually as a table of contents (TOC), and estimates a period for delivery. If the corporation does not have a Production Department, then the Project Manager arranges a contract with an external printer, broadcaster, or CD press. The Circulation Manager and Webmaster determine when and how the finished document will be distributed. The Writer may consult the Quality Assurance Manager about reviewing the document's success and making any necessary version changes.

The writing phase includes research, interviews, site visits, creating graphics, preparing a glossary of technical terms, writing the content, indexing, listing references, obtaining permissions and registering copyright. The Writer checks with the Project Manager at regular intervals to confirm the document is on schedule and within budget. The SME (Subject Matter Expert) validates the technical information, or the document goes through another form of peer review. The Attorney and Risk Manager approve the content and add a legal disclaimer, if necessary. The Editor and Proofreader ensure the document has correct grammar, spelling, formatting, and follows the appropriate style guide. The Graphic Artist ensures the illustrations are suitable for the chosen media (e.g., by digitizing hard copy, designing a CD cover, etc.). The Writer may teach a pilot course to debug the document. The Printer and Web Designer take the galley copy and convert it to its finished format for delivery.

The final document is sent to the Production Department or to an external provider, where it is put into one or all of the following formats:

    1.CD-ROM, which requires burning, labeling, and packaging

    2.Print, which requires a press run and assembly

    3.Digital for integration into existing systems, as directed by the Systems Architect

The Circulation Manager and Webmaster schedule delivery. If the document contains minor errors, such as incorrect spelling or typos, then the Editor issues errata to users. If the document needs a last minute addition, then the Editor issues an addendum. If a section needs to be subtracted from the document, or if significant corrections are necessary, then the Editor issues a corrigendum. It increases the expense of the document if the Editor must issue any kind of update or correction. It may also damage the credibility of the publisher and create legal problems. Therefore, the Technical Writer works with the Editor and Programmers to ensure that the entire document is correct and current before it goes to press.

The Technical Writer gives an editable version of the document to the Librarian or Administrative Assistant for archiving. The document must be carefully coded and archived so it can be retrieved and updated later. If the document is a security risk, it may be password protected or access restricted by the appropriate authority. If the Technical Writer is a freelance contractor, who may be unavailable to update the documents later, then it is especially important that his or her successor can find and open the document easily. Every company has a different system for naming and filing documents; each project should be clearly labeled and editable by authorized persons only.

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