One of the daily tasks for technical editors is assembling various kinds of information on a product – they write manuals. There are different types of manuals: operating instructions, user manuals, installation manuals, online help and many more.
Altogether, along with the compliance with normative and legal demands by the producers, the intelligibility and comprehensibility of manuals and the online help are an ideal instrument for customer retention. Often, the manual is the first thing the customer looks at, either when searching for a suitable product. The quality of the manual is closely related to the judgment on the product.
The norm DIN EN 82079 specifies fundamentals for the creation of manuals and is a helpful support for the writing process. The Machinery Directive 2006/42/EG focuses on manuals for machines. We have compiled the most important information for you. The norm provides an instruction including the integral issues for writing manuals, as well as an appendix with a description of the planning and creation processes. It is both a guideline for the content and a procedure model for the creation. The following sections are particularly interesting for writing manuals or an online help.
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The technical documentation in machinery and plant engineering describes the entire life cycle of the product. The manuals cover all aspects and follow the Machinery Directive 2006/42/EG, which is valid for both internal and external technical documentation. External documentation refers to all manuals the producer delivers to the customer.
Operation manuals which are relevant for the safety and the health protection of the users shall always be accessible as a printed manual. This is required, because not every user can read the operating manual published electronically at any time. In recent years, however, it has become more and more common to deliver a printed manual, but provide an additional online edition. That way, producers can easily update their manuals.
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The manuals are an integral part of the machine. They contain every necessary information and all instructions for the safe use of the product. This is why they are translated into the official language of the respective country.
A vital motivation for a well-written and intelligible manual is ensuring the safety of the users. In that respect you can read in many directives that the text intelligibility and the target group orientation are getting an increasing significance: The operating manual shall accommodate the level of general knowledge and acumen which can be expected from the operators.
For warning and safety information which shall protect the users from danger, the editors have to be able to access a proper risk evaluation.
The manual for a software application is usually delivered with the software product as an online help. This entails the biggest difference to a manual for machinery: An online help offers much more possibilities than a printed manual. Still, modern content management systems enable editors to publish in different output formats, so that the documentation can be created by single source processes.
Naturally, there are not only differences, but also numerous common features of the online help for software documentation and printed software manuals. There are good reasons why the online help has replaced manuals in software documentation, but it has retained some of the books’ structural elements. The structural order of a hierarchical table of contents with main chapters and subchapters, as well as an index can be found both in manuals and in an online help.