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Published on October 25th, 2006 | by Rahel Bailie


Technical communication genres I’ve known and loved

Previously, I talked about film genres, but what are some technical communication genres? Perhaps the best-known genre in the documentation world is the technical manual. If I think back to my days of creating hardware guides, the genre consisted of front matter, an introduction, and then sections on setting up, configuring, operating, and troubleshooting the equipment, and ending with a glossary and index. Within each section, each intro has a bulleted list of points to be discussed within that section, and each bullet point becomes a subsection. Each subsection has an introduction and a bulleted list of procedures, and each bullet point becomes a procedure. This genre is mature and well understood; there is likely to be little change to this formulaic writing because in its predictability lies its success.

The other popular genre is online help. The genre consists of an overview topic with links to concept topics, task topics, and reference topics, with each topic having its unique structure. For example, the task topic consists of a heading, a contextual introduction, a procedure, and links to related topics. Well-written online help is becoming more common as the genre matures and writers gain a better understanding of the elements within the genre.

Next time: How understanding genre helps us understand structured content

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About the Author

Rahel Anne Bailie is a synthesizer of content strategy, requirements analysis, information architecture, and content management to increase the ROI of content. She has consulted for clients in a range of industries, and on several continents, whose aim is to better leverage their content as business assets. Founder of Intentional Design, she is now the Chief Knowledge Officer of London-based Scroll. She is a Fellow of the Society for Technical Communication, she has worked in the content business for over two decades. She is co-author of Content Strategy: Connecting the dots between business, brand, and benefits, and co-editor of The Language of Content Strategy, and is working on her third content strategy book,

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