© 2010 Ugur Akinci
Creating Technical Manuals: A Step-By-Step Approach to Writing User-Friendly Instructions by Gerald Cohen and Donald H. Cunningham was printed back in 1984. So like most pre-Internet era technical books, it’s outdated in terms of visual content. Its page layout suggestions, for example, shows how rapidly the technical communication field has developed within the last 26 years given the fact that most technical documents are not even printed anymore! Advice that was meaningful for the “Age of the Book” is obsolete by default in this age of digital output and single-sourcing.
Having said that, I still think this is a book all technical communicators should read since it excels in so many other ways.
First off, this is an intelligible, smart book written with two writers who really know what they’re talking about. Their advice comes direct from the “trenches” of a many “documentation wars,” one can tell. The hard-earned wisdom shines through every page — except when a layout suggestion is made or an outdated-image is presented (and I can say that only with the unfair advantage of hindsight).
The singular achievement of this book is the presentation of PLAN SHEETS with the kind of relentless logic and clarity that I’ve never seen anywhere else. The authors envision a technical manual as a process of laying out a series of Plan Sheets and then, by using such sheets as a scaffold, build the manual one step at a time. The numerous tables and illustrations they provide eliminate all ambiguity from the process.
A second achievement of this volume is the merciless campaign it wages against (what the authors call) TME, or, “Technical Manual English” defined as “a strange language full of acronyms and buzzwords invented by persons insensitive to the idiom of our language.” As someone who’s been waging his own unending battles against euphemisms and gobbledygook for two decades, I can’t help but celebrate both authors in that worthwhile cause. Our world needs clarity thinking and clear writing more so than ever. This book certainly advances that precious cause.
The book’s overall thrust is to force us to clarify our thinking about what a product is, what it does, what are its features and benefits, and how can we best express the answers to such crucial questions without leaving our readers more confused than before. In that task, the authors succeed and excel by any measure. Highly recommended.