The range of writing a technical writer performs varies widely. Much is dependent on the technical specialty of the writer and of the needs of the company. You may find yourself a part of one large project, or overseeing dozens of smaller projects. You might write manuals, articles, proposals, white papers, product descriptions or any of a hundred other types of documents. Common documents types include:
Instructional guides come in a wide variety of types such as: user manuals, user guides, handbooks, how-to guides, set-up guides and quick start guides. Instructional manuals can be as short as a single page or longer than a thousand pages. The purpose of an instructional guide is to teach a user how to perform a task or a set of tasks. A single project can generate several instructional manuals. For example, a new relational database program may come with quick-start sheet, a user’s manual, an administrator’s guide and a programmer’s handbook. All of these are very different documents, but they all come under the heading of instructional guide.
Informational material also covers a wide number of documents such as reference books, datasheets, application notes, FAQs (Frequently asked questions), white papers and process analysis. The purpose of these documents is to provide information more than instruction. The previously mentioned relational database program might include a reference book that lists the database commands and what they are used for. It may also include a datasheet that lists the application size, available platforms, limitations and known conflicts/issues.
Businesses communications are not necessarily technical communications, but a large segment of technical writing is deeply involved with business communications. These communications take the form of proposals, service level agreements (SLAs) and standard operating procedures (SOPs). For example, a business may want to use an outside vendor to provide call center services for their new product. The first document they would create is a request for proposals (RFP) that describes what services they need and invites other companies (vendors) to submit a proposal. Prospective vendors will then submit proposals. These proposals are both a sales tool and a technical document that provides details about how the vendor intends to provide the service. Once a vendor has been chosen, they must contractually agree to the provision and division of services. This agreement is an SLA. It describes what each company is responsible for providing and maintaining.
SOPs are much like instructional guides because they define how to perform a task, but in business they are generally more restrictive. That is because an SOP may be binding. In other words, if an employee fails to follow an SOP they may be fired or reprimanded. If a company fails to follow an SOP they may lose a contract and be liable for damages.