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Writing A Software Technical Reference Manual (part 1)
Writing code is easy. Explaining it is a whole new ball game.

| Under The Microscope |

As the name suggests, the Software Technical Reference Manual (STRM) is concerned solely with the technical aspects of a software application - how the application is structured, how each component works and how to install and configure it. The idea is to give the customer independence in installation, maintenance, administration and further development of the application.

From the developer's point of view, the STRM is a blueprint of the application that allows him/her to continue development from the last release. The STRM provides developers with the knowledge needed to hit the ground running when extending or adding on to an application, providing them with the level of detail needed to quickly and rapidly make leveraged changes to an application's code tree.

The audience, therefore, is technically knowledgeable in both cases - either the customer's MIS department or developers who want to enhance, improve or modify the application.

Given the content and the audience, this document is usually a development team deliverable...unless you have a technical writer in the team with a very sound technical background. A very big advantage of this, especially as compared to support documentation like user manuals and help files, is that the time spent on information collection is negligible; almost all of it is already captured in the planning stages of the software, in the software requirements document and the software design document (read more about these at ).

With these two documents in hand and, given the fact that the person writing the STRM would have been an integral part of the development process already, actually producing this document becomes a matter of:

1. Defining the scope of the manual

2. Setting the conventions

3. Developing the table of contents

4. Production

5. Review

In this article, I'll be focusing on the first two steps, with a list of things you should keep in mind when formulating the structure and style of your manual.

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