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© Ugur Akinci
An excellent and affordable entry-level Online Course: Technical Writing 101
Consistency of a technical documentation is what creates that subliminal sense of trust and confidence in the end-users.
Someone once quipped: “it ain’t technical documentation if it ain’t boring.” This of course is not true since I always found technical documents very interesting indeed. I’m the sort of geekish person who can marvel at a well-designed user’s manual for hours and appreciate its beauty and all the effort and thinking that went into its production. I imagine how happy people would be when they use that manual and solve their problems and that, believe it or not, makes me happy as well. That’s the main reason why I’m in this business.
However, the above quip also reflects the truth that a technical document must be “boringly consistent” in order to be taken seriously. Deviation from standardized expression is a highly-rewarded skill in artistic creative writing. But in technical writing it is a sure sign that the writer cannot be trusted, even when the content is correct.
Just ask yourself: would you trust an airplane maintenance manual that has missing page numbers; chapter headings printed in different fonts and sizes; or differently formatted figure captions for consecutively printed figures (like “Figure 2-14″ on one page, but “IMAGE 15″ on next)? I didn’t think so…
Consistency and trust in technical documentation starts with a document TEMPLATE.
A template is the scaffold that supports your document while you are building it. A template is a must to instill confidence and trust in end users … (Public domain photo courtesy of Wikipedia Commons)
It is harder to shift between different page templates if you are using MS Word as your main text editing program, and much easier if you are using Framemaker or (for some design consideration) InDesign since the last two are built on the “Master Pages” concept. But a page template in any format is what you definitely must have.
When you have a template, you have consistent margins, sidebars, headers and footers, for starters. You have consistent page numbering and column, and page gutter(s) if you have more than one column.
If your text and layout editor allows you to create Master Pages, I’d recommend you to create a document template starting off with the following 5 types of pages (assuming you are writing a book):
1) Front Cover. 2) First Page. 3) Right Page. 4) Left Page. 5) Back Cover.
And it wouldn’t hurt at all of you design templates (Master Pages) for the following types of special pages as well:
6) Front Matter. 7) TOC. 8] List of Tables and Figures. 9) Index.
Have a multi-Master-Page template first before structuring your information. It’s a must. “Don’t leave home without it,” as one credit card commercial used to say.