All companies across industries needs technical documentation. It doesn’t matter if it’s consumer-focused such as instructions on how to put together a dresser, or to your internal staff on the best practices for filing invoices – every standardized process needs proper documentation. Technical documents shows the user a lay of the product or process, explains what lies ahead, and teaches them how to navigate each step or challenge – all leading the user to the desired result.
To fully explore the range of different technical documentation types, we’re going over 12 of the most common types of technical documents to guide your users around your product, explain your process to internal staff, and even improve your sales and marketing results.
12 Common Types of Technical Documents in 2021
- Product Manuals
- Repair Manuals
- User Guides
- API Documentation
- SDK Documentation
- Project Plans
- Business Standards
- Test Schedules
- Market Requirements Documentation
- White Papers
- Case Studies
- RFPs & Proposals
Before we go into each of these, let’s take a look at the two major categories of technical documentation and how they differ from each other.
Types of Technical Documentation
All types of technical documentation fall into three main categories: product documentation, process documentation, and sales and marketing documents.
1. Product Documentation
Product documentation encompasses in-depth guides, manuals, and information that show users how a product should work or how to use a product.
When most people say “technical documentation,” they are talking about product documentation. Product documents typically cover instructions and tutorials to help end-users accomplish a task. They include guides, illustrations, and reference sheets that cover:
- Information on the requirements or system specifications users need to run the product efficiently
- Installation and usage instructions
- Frequently asked questions (FAQs) or knowledge base
2. Process Documentation
Process documentation, on the other hand, is a document that shows an internal team what they need to know to properly execute a task. It covers information that helps create consistency and accountability within your organization, including:
- Plans, schedules, and notes that establish standards and patterns for different processes
- Reports and metrics that track project, staff, and resource performance
- Internal wiki
3. Sales and Marketing Documentation
Sales and marketing documentation presents information to help your organization establish its niche in the market and provides sales enablement content to win more customers. A few examples of these types of technical documents include:
- Market requirement and business plan documents that helps set the groundwork for a company
- White papers and case studies to show potential customers the real-life application of your product or service.
- RFPs and proposals that help attract and secure business partners and new contracts.
5 Types of Product-Based Technical Document
There are five major types of product technical documents; product manuals, user guides, repair manuals, API documentation, and SDK documentation.
1. Product Manuals
A product manual explains the parts of a product, where you can find each part, and what each part is used for. It essentially details everything a user needs to know about how a product functions.
Although product manuals are most common with physical products — most of them contain product part diagrams and illustrations — they can be created for any kind of product.
Here’s a page from the product manual of networking solution provider Cisco:
There are three basic steps needed to create most product manuals:
- Decide what the manual is going to cover.
- Create appropriate illustrations for the sections that need them.
- Write clear explanations of each step in the process.
You may decide to create and deliver your product manual as an interactive experience that combines UI patterns like walkthroughs, pop-ups, explainer videos, and beacons to encourage learning in the flow of work.
2. Repair Manuals
Repair manuals are technical documents that explain the correct way to fix a damaged product. Customers need them to navigate hardware problems or a combination of issues.
When people deal with these kinds of situations, it’s helpful to have clear, concise information available that helps them through repairs quickly and efficiently, so they can get back to the work they love. To create an efficient repair manual, you need to anticipate every kind of product damage customers may face, then explain how to navigate it.
3. User Guides
User guides are documents that explain how a product works to users. They are handy during onboarding (especially interactive user guides) as they help users get their desired results as quickly as possible. User guides explain complex features using simple language and demonstrations so that the beginner can easily understand them.
Source: Fat-Free Framework
You’ll need to understand what users want to achieve in order to create a user guide that helps them achieve it and tailor your language to your audience. For example, if developers are reading your guide, it might make sense to include code samples. But a non-technical audience will need guidance they can understand.
4. API Documentation
API documentation explains how developers can integrate other products with your product using an API (application programming interface).
To create useful API documentation, consider the business value (i.e., what benefits will clients get when they use your product) as well as the technical requirements (i.e., how the client needs to be able to consume your API in order for it to function properly). You’ll need to include the functions, classes, arguments, and return types of your API in your API doc.
5. SDK (Software Development Kit) Documentation
SDKs are helper documents or libraries that describe the tools used to develop apps for a specific platform or product. Developers use SDK documentation to guide them when they create apps for a specific product/platform.
To create your product’s SDK doc, you’ll need to compile a library of tools, compilers, debuggers, code samples, APIs, etc.
3 Types of Process-Based Technical Documents
Process technical documents show your team what they need to know to execute specific tasks. Here are the types of process technical docs you’re most likely to encounter:
1. Project Plans
Project plans are docs that define a project’s goals and objectives and a map to help you get there. They describe every step you and your team need to take in order to complete a task or deliver a product. They help you stay focused on your overall goals and also put key dates in place, so you can track progress toward them.
Source: Project Plan 365
Project managers create project plans at the beginning of projects, whether that’s switching to new accounting software or creating a new computer program.
2. Business Standards
Business standards are documents that define the rules, guidelines, and benchmarks your business should always meet in particular areas (e.g., customer service benchmarks, quality benchmarks, operations). They are used during employee onboarding and as references when need be.
To create your company’s business standards, define your company values, explain how staff should respond to situations in ways that reflect your values, and set your organization’s benchmarks.
3. Test Schedules
Test schedules explain the steps, tasks, dates, and responsibilities involved in software testing. They are used to anticipate and assign resources: the equipment and engineers needed to run a test. Test schedules help to minimize the risk involved with software development because you are able to catch issues earlier with constant testing. They help to prevent accidents — or at least minimize the time those accidents can take place.
To create a test schedule, first create a test plan that describes how tests are reviewed, tracked, and approved. Then list dates like release and beta entry dates.
4 Types of Sales and Marketing Technical Documents
Sales and marketing technical docs present information that helps you win more customers, whether by pitching them or just providing enough value to have them reach out to you. Here are four types of sales and marketing technical documents.
1. Market Requirements Documents
Market requirements documents (MRD) are documents that outline your potential customer base, their needs, and your competitors.
To create an MRD, collect info on customer problems and the reasons for the problems. You’ll collect data like the market problem, market opportunity, customer demographics, use cases, among others.
Source: Shoot the Curl Marketing
2. White Papers
White papers are in-depth reports or guides about specific topics. They are used to convince readers of your expertise and subtly suggest that your product is the best product to solve their problem.
To create an effective white paper, keep it focused on delivering value — original data and expert analysis — rather than selling your product. Even without making a direct sales pitch, white papers are useful for your marketing because they build brand trust.
3. Case Studies
Case studies are an excellent way to prove your value to potential customers since they show how your product helped a specific customer achieve their desired results.
You’ll typically need to interview a current or past customer to create a case study. The interview should include questions that help you get hard numbers to prove that your company delivered results. You’ll also document the customer’s unique story of how they struggled before your product and the change your product brought.
4. RFPs and Proposals
A request for proposal (RFPs) is a document that announces a project and solicits bids for it, while proposals are documents that persuade customers or investors to buy a product/service. Companies use both to attract their ideal business partners, whether that’s vendors, investors, or customers. You’ll need to mention key points like the project overview, company background, project scope, and goals in both documents.
Like a museum guide pointing out the highlights of an exhibition, technical documents can create a delightful experience for your users and team. But, done poorly, technical documents can also create a nightmare. Imagine showing up for your museum visit only to find that your guide cannot speak a word of English — the only language you understand. That’s how readers feel when they’re confronted with long boring walls of technical text.
Whatfix helps you deliver technical documents in a way that encourages interaction and use. With Whatfix, create on-screen guides, pop-up prompts, tooltips, chatbots, in-app knowledge bases, and more — that teach users how to use your product. Your goal should be to create all the technical documents you need to effectively promote your product and to make those documents easy and fun to read. Learn how Whatfix can help create the interactive product and process walkthroughs you need now!
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