What is Technical Documentation?
A complete technical documentation is a set of documents that describe in detail the technical features and functions of a product, as well as its development, application and maintenance process. Technical documentation accompanies the creation and use of a technical product during its life cycle. The quality of the product being developed, the number and criticality of possible defects, and the cost of correcting them depend significantly on the quality of the documentation.
Documentation begins with the definition, agreement and approval of the requirements for the future tangible (physical) or intangible (software) product. Depending on the type of product - a stand-alone product ordered by a customer or a mass-produced product for sale on the market - the requirements for the design and content of the technical documentation, as well as for the agreement and approval process, vary.
However, there are some basic technical documents that should be present in every project. Sometimes even professional developers underestimate the role and importance of technical documentation for software and treat it as something minor and unimportant. This misunderstanding can have a negative impact not only on the product quality, but also on the success of the whole project.
Especially when creating complex products, which primarily includes software, it is the technical requirements that determine how the product will function and interact with its environment, for example, with other software components and with the user.
Depending on the type of software product (desktop program, mobile app, or web application), the requirements specification may include specifications with requirements for software development and design, service and system integration work, and automation and optimization of technical processes. The key points disclosed in the requirements documentation are the general information about the product (purpose, application, business and marketing goals), product features, functional requirements, safety and quality requirements, and the constraints and specifics of product development and operation.
Principles of Technical Documentation
The content, wording and mode of expression of technical documentation are largely determined by for whom and for what it is being prepared. The agreement of the individual points and requirements must go hand in hand with the preparation of the specification. The basic principles on which the specification is based include two-way communication with the investor or the customer, comprehensibility, clarity and intelligibility of the requirements and solutions, and completeness and structuring of the documentation. Even a non-technical person reading the documentation should understand the concept and key elements of the future solution. This avoids situations where requirements are ambiguous and can be misunderstood by developers.
Types of Documentation
Technical documentation is necessary and relevant for all types of products, including medical devices, software, engineered products, and technologies. All technical documentation is divided into two main types: Procedural and design documentation. Technological documentation describes the entire cycle, consisting of the stages, phases and steps of product development, from initial design and technical specification to implementation. Design documentation contains a description of the specific use, maintenance, repair and disposal of a technical product. This includes diagrams, schematics, drawings, and operation, maintenance, and repair manuals.
The documentation package includes not only engineering material, but also many other types of documents. These include manuals, instructions, and information for users; a description of the interaction with the external environment and other products and components; and specifications, test procedures, maintenance, and repair capabilities.
Preparation of the Technical Documentation
This should be done by qualified professionals who are familiar with current norms and standards, as well as regulatory requirements documents. Technical document writers must be familiar with the specifics of the development, implementation or manufacturing process, implementation, operation and maintenance of the product. As tech writers, they must be able to express all relevant information in clear and concise language.
Documentation must meet certain quality requirements. It should be structured and complete (including screenshots, illustrations, videos), consistent (in a single, unified style), consistent with other company documents, informative and understandable, relevant and useful to the target audience.
Properly designed, developed and written technical documentation reflects all stages of production, describes the specifics of production, use and maintenance, and allows the entire process to be controlled and, if necessary, both the process and the product itself to be improved, defects to be eliminated and quality to be increased. This extends the life cycle and increases reliability and safety, reduces the risk of misuse, and provides developers with comprehensive documented information about the product and potential partners and users with the necessary technical information.
Design and product requirements should be documented and agreed upon before product development begins. The remaining documents are usually created as the project progresses, in parallel with other project phases. Modern IT projects are usually carried out using the agile methodology, and the documentation work is done in parallel with the development process. Before a particular phase begins, the documentation required for its implementation should be ready.
Technical documentation is created by a technical writer who writes almost all types of materials, including user and technical manuals, functional descriptions and marketing texts.
Writing and using technical documentation is an integral process in every industrial company and software development company. Properly prepared technical documentation is a guarantee of successful production and marketing of products. Therefore, it is better to entrust the writing of technical documentation to professionals who themselves have experience in the development of products of this type and can create a whole package of technical documentation taking into account the specifics of the product, existing requirements, norms and standards.
There are projects where it is important to have complete documentation before starting work. This applies to safety and mission critical solutions with increased quality requirements. This will take more time, but lets avoid financial and reputational risks. The cost of preparing technical documentation is determined by the type of project and depends on such factors as the number of documents, the degree of technological complexity of the product and the criticality of its use, the bulk or single-order nature, the need for registration and approval by other organizations or partners.
High-quality technical documentation should be clearly structured, produced in a consistent format, and be understandable and informative for both professionals and users. The most important characteristic of technical documentation is its relevance to the needs and requirements of the target audience. The creation of technical documentation is the responsibility of a technical writer. He or she must not only write and edit the relevant texts, but also create graphics, videos and presentations, collect product information, translate the documentation into foreign languages and be able to analyze and evaluate the product.
The type, scope and content of technical and technological documentation depend on the type of project, the purpose and specificity of the product in question, as well as the experience and competence of the authors. The creation of documentation is one of the most important stages in the product development process. Documentation is needed for all types of technical products and projects in their life cycle. Insufficient attention to the quality of documentation, its content and design can have a critical impact on product development and quality, as well as on successful product use and project success.