Technical writers at the start of their careers often find themselves confused as to what constitutes technical writing in the first place. There are many different applications for the new author and they may often find that not all of those are truly “technical”. So for the new professional here’s a quick list of some common documents they may be asked to create and what they are for.
Unless you work for the CIA this doesn’t usually mean a report about a person and their life and habits. A background report is normally a brief (1 or 2 page) study into the application of a specific aspect of technology (for example the use of photovoltaic cells in solar energy transfer). Usually these reports are generated for a specific (and paying) audience and are singular in their application rather than generic.
More commonly known as user guides or manuals, these are the staple product of many a technical author and self-explanatory. They are the “how to do x, y and z” of a product or service.
These studies examine whether undertaking a specific project or task is possible and/or advisable within a specific business environment.
This report is usually a comparison of 2 or more alternative actions that a business might choose to pursue, with a concrete recommendation of which avenue is deemed to be best at that moment.
Here the technical author will examine the outcome of a particular project and make a determination as to the benefits and return on investment. Often called assessment reports, they are a key part of the project life cycle and can inform future projects and investments.
These are usually scientific in nature and outline the results from a range of tasks such as lab experiments or market surveys. The focus of these reports is not just the outcome but also the methodology under which the results were created.
Functional Specification Documents
This document is normally associated with a new product and in particular software. You are trying to capture the full functionality of the offering, in as much detail as possible. Functional specifications are often dense and a poor test of a writer’s skill as they tend to deliver wordy descriptions which encapsulate all requirements.
A proposal is a suggestion for a project, and can run into thousands of pages for highly complex work. The author’s job is to create a platform on which the proposal can be evaluated and will usually need to conform to industry and organisational guidelines.