Communication is essential to the operations and success of any organization; documentation is one of the primary tools in preserving and communicating technical information. Technical documentation is used to educate personnel, record processes and policies, and report the results of audits and assessments. This technical writing 101 will examine best practices of writing technical documentation and the ways it can benefit your organization’s cybersecurity.
What is technical writing?
Technical writing describes the act of writing detailed information on a specific, often specialized topic. In the context of cybersecurity, this usually refers to the type of documents that are critical to supporting the security initiatives of an organization. It’s used to record and disseminate information across many industries and has multiple applications just within the security context.
Below, we’ll cover some examples of the types of technical documentation that may be used within an organization, then dive more deeply into what effective technical writing requires.
Manuals are usually the first things that come to mind when people think of technical documentation. These include things like:
- Product manuals
- User guides
- Knowledge bases
- Repair guides
This sort of documentation provides detailed, often instructional information to help personnel and other users complete tasks related to their responsibilities.
Processes and Policies
Technical documentation is also used to explain the processes and policies that govern the workings of an organization. Examples of use cases include:
- Internal processes and procedures – This can include documents on onboarding and offboarding procedures, project management methodology, disaster response and recovery guidelines, and descriptions of the responsibilities associated with roles throughout the organization.
- Policies – These are the internal rules and regulations defined within the organization, including codes of conduct, remote work policies, security guidelines, and safety practices.
- Compliance requirements – This details the specific processes and policies that must be followed to ensure conformance with external compliance regulations such as the Payment Card Industry (PCI) standards, Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) rules, and other standards.
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Planning and Reports
Technical writing is also essential during the planning phases of assessments, audits, and other projects and activities within the organization.
- Project plans – Clear, comprehensive planning is crucial to the success of projects and other initiatives. Depending on the complexity or nature of the project, specialized or technical details may need to be included in detail. Once a project has been completed, the initial plan can be used to evaluate the processes followed throughout the project and the results.
- Activity and performance reports – A technical writer may generate reports on the results of specific projects, organizational performance, and any other data that may need to be presented to stakeholders within the organization.
- Audits and assessments – Documentation is a critical aspect of security assessments and internal audits. Final documentation of these processes will include any planning documentation, documentation of the processes themselves, reports, follow-ups, and any additional notes and information needed to provide thorough details, results, accountability, and actionable steps.
What Are the Characteristics of Well-Written Technical Documentation?
Regardless of the type of documentation, professional and technical writing is meant to convey information in a way that supports the reader’s ability to use it as intended. Follow these guidelines to write effective technical documentation for any organizational needs.
Write for the Intended Audience
Consider who will be referring to the technical documentation and use the appropriate language and amount of detail. When writing a guide for users who may not have technical proficiency, be sure to use plain language. Even when writing for a technically-proficient audience, explaining things simply, clarifying meanings, and defining technical terms will improve the readability and longevity of the document.
Be Clear and Concise
Go into as much detail as is necessary to ensure the technical document serves its purpose but avoids providing excessive or unnecessary information. If non-essential information does need to be documented for compliance or other reasons, consider including it as supplementary content, like an appendix, so that it’s available but doesn’t distract from the core content of the document.
Do thorough research
Technical documentation should reflect expertise on the subject matter it presents. Do thorough research, even when writing on a familiar topic, and be sure to fact-check information and document references.
Write in stages
Rather than trying to write technical documentation from start to finish without any framework, approach the process in stages. After doing planning and research, create an outline to organize the content. Create a rough draft and then go back to refine it. This will provide the opportunity to identify gaps and reorganize things where needed.
Include Multimedia Aids if Needed
Depending on the purpose of the document, including graphics, charts, or other multimedia to support the information being presented may be useful. Less is more, so ensure any images and other media being included serve a purpose and will be useful to the reader.
Keep Accessibility in Mind
Don’t create barriers that may prevent some people from having equal access to technical documentation. Provide the documentation in an accessible format–and multiple formats if necessary–and follow the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines for creating accessible content.
Keep word choice in mind here, as well. Consider the appropriate reading level for the intended audience and use suitable language.
Use a Consistent Style and Format
Follow the established style guide to ensure spelling, grammar, writing style, and document formatting remain consistent. If a style guide doesn’t already exist, take the time to create one.
Establishing and utilizing a defined document design in technical writing will make it easier to recognize and navigate different types of technical documents throughout the organization.
Review and Revise
Reviewing your work is essential, but having someone else review it is even better. Get feedback from others and use it to revise and improve upon new and existing technical documentation.
Revisit and review documents regularly to identify anything that needs to be updated over time.
What Are the Benefits of Writing Technical Documentation?
Insufficient documentation is a common problem faced by many organizations. Well-written technical documentation offers immediate benefits that persist into the future.
- Increased productivity – Well-written user guides, training materials, and other reference materials provide personnel with the information they need to complete tasks per organizational policies.
- Accountability – Reports on reviews, audits, and other activities help hold everyone accountable for things they’re responsible for and help identify policy violations and deficiencies in existing procedures and controls.
- Better compliance – Thorough documentation will help ensure the organization remains compliant with any standards it is required to conform to by creating a record of evaluations, issues, and steps taken to correct them.
- Incident preparedness – Well-defined plans for threat response, disaster recovery, and other challenges the organization may face will ensure everyone knows what to do in the case that something does happen.
Write Technical Documentation to Communicate Across Your Organization
Writing technical documentation requires time, knowledge, and skill, but it provides enough benefits that it’s worth the investment. Well-written technical documentation will preserve and communicate critical information throughout an organization, supporting productivity, encouraging accountability, and enforcing compliance.
Technical writing requires subject matter expertise, writing skills, and the ability to learn and disseminate new, often complex information. Even a skilled, experienced technical writer or team may need support in covering all the documentation needs through an organization.
RSI Security will help with technical writing and proofreading services provided by experts who are ready to collaborate with your team. Contact RSI Security today to get guidance on how to write technical documentation that will contribute to the long-term success of your organization.