Document Genres

Technical Communicators Produce Four General Categories of Documents

Technical communicators produce documents in a variety of media, including online, print, video, and audio, for use on devices such as computers and mobile devices. The four general categories of documents include:

  • Documents that explain products, services, and policies. Technical communicators do so through materials such as help, technical support websites, user’s guides, service guides, references and policies and procedures.
  • Documents that share “basic” scientific and technical information. Technical communicators do so through materials such as  technical reports, scientific articles, conference presentations, and book-length projects.
  • Documents that train users to develop skills. Technical communicators do so through materials such as online tutorials, job aids (quick references), and materials for use in face-to-face classrooms and virtual classrooms.
  • Documents that market products and services. Technical communicators do so through materials such as proposals, marketing websites, white papers, catalogs, brochures, and newsletters.

Partly to increase efficiency and partly to reduce the likelihood of errors, technical communicators often produce materials once and use them in a variety of media or for several purposes. Creating one set of materials that can be published in several media is called single-sourcing. Producing materials that can be assembled with a variety of other materials is called reusable content.

In addition, technical communicators produce these documents to serve a variety of types of users, from scientists and engineers in specialty areas to end users of products, and from executives to the general public.

An example: a technical communicator creating help

For more details on documents that train users to develop skills, read Tom Johnson’s post Formalizing my help strategy, where he describes the types of materials that he produces, the perspectives he draws on, the processes he follows and the tools and techniques that he uses.

Visual Communications

Technical communicators also communicate visually with or without words through illustrations, diagrams, charts, “swim lane” business process flowcharts, screen shots, photos, slide shows, videos, and the like.

Technical communication tools include:

  • Vector drawing software such as Adobe Illustrator
  • Photo editing software such as Adobe Photoshop
  • Spreadsheet and charting software such as Microsoft Excel
  • Presentation software such as Microsoft PowerPoint
  • Database visualization software such as Microsoft Access
  • Diagramming software such as SmartDraw and Microsoft Visio
  • Screen capture software such as TechSmith SnagIt
  • Demonstration video software such as TechSmith Camtasia and Adobe Captivate
  • Video editing and animation software

There are related standards for Business Process Modeling Notation, Six Sigma, and more, which may vary depending on the industry you serve.

Credit: TereLyn Hepple provided the list of visual software tools