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8.3. Five Steps for Technical Writing

(Adapted from Creating technical documentation in five easy steps and Magic waterfalls under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0.)
Technical writing is more of a scientific process than an artistic one, which is good news. You can learn how to do it with a little practice, and there are methods you can follow. The method in this book is one that is common to good software projects, whether FOSS or not. It is a waterfall method and applies from large to small efforts, sets of books down to a five paragraph section on a wiki.:
  1. Planning -- who is the audience? What are the book's goals?
  2. Content -- what are the chapters about? Where will you get the information?
  3. Writing -- first draft, review, second draft ...
  4. Internationalisation/Localisation -- will the book be translated? Into what languages?
  5. Review -- what worked? What didn't? How will the book be maintained?
It's called a waterfall model because if you start at the top, the results of the first step are used to move into the second step, just like water flowing down a series of steps into a pool.
You are at a point in your projects where you need to be producing some documentation. For a budding engineer this process can be a little daunting. What is the best way to tackle it? The answer is fairly simple -- start at the top of the waterfall, and let the current take you. By answering a few questions in the information plan, you can start creating a content specification. Using the chapter headings and source information you developed in the content spec, you can write the document. Once it's written, you can publish it, once it's published you can review it, and then you're ready to start again at the top with the next project.
Anyone with a scientific or engineering mind can create technical documentation, they might not enjoy it, but they are more than capable of creating it.