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Technical Writers’ Companion

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Distinguish information types

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Users don’t read manuals and help texts for fun. They need specific information and want to get this information quickly:

Beginners need basic information and want to understand how the product works in general, but they don’t want to be bothered with any details for experts.

Users who are already working with the product want simple step-by-step instructions that help them get their job done as quickly as possible. They don’t want to be bothered with basic information for beginners. If they need details, they want to get just these details and not encounter a vast choice of information.

Advanced users don’t need step-by-step instructions anymore. They often just want to look up a specific parameter or setting.

Clearly distinguishing information types is your key to giving users just the information they need in a specific situation.

Make the used information types clearly distinguishable by using headings that are typical for each specific information type (see Find meaningful headings). As an option, in online help you can also use different icons in the table of contents, or you can use different colors or topic layouts.

There are three standard information types:

“Concept”

“Task”

“Reference”

In addition to these standard types, you can also define your own information types depending on your particular product and document.

 

Tip:
If it’s not obvious which information type to use, this usually indicates a structural problem. You’re probably trying to stuff information into one topic that should be split up. Consider splitting the topic into several topics and finding better topic titles.

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