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Technical Manuals Don’t Have To Be Dull

Aug 30, 2022  •  8 Minute Read
Stack of books in shelf collecting dust

By Peter Strahm, CPS Technician

People commonly think of technical manuals as boring booklets that get tucked away in a file drawer, never again to see the light of day. They’re notoriously uninteresting and hard to read.

Corporate Project Services knows there is always room to do better, so we work hard to continually improve our technical manuals and keep every new publication fresh and engaging.

If you think about it, “technical manual” is a poor description because its purpose is to explain highly technical subject matter in ways that can be understood universally. You know, without requiring the reader to rely on a “glossary of jargon” to decipher. They are road maps for using manufacturing equipment and processes and solving challenges users may encounter.

But beyond the usefulness of what’s inside, we know we have to draw readers in before they even get to the critical content. That requires capturing their attention from the get-go and presenting them with a document that engages rather than overwhelms.

CPS commits to evolving our approach in technical document creation—it’s our responsibility to entice the reader for the benefit of both parties. The risks of not making materials engaging to read are that safety protocols could be missed, or that equipment could be installed incorrectly or not maintained properly. Clients won’t fully realize the benefits of their equipment or maximize capacity and productivity levels without a good guidebook.

With so many different stimuli competing for people’s attention nowadays, how do we entice readers with technical writing? When it comes to the content of our manuals, you can be sure every “i” will be dotted and every “t” will be crossed. That’s a given, because we take time to embed ourselves in the processes we’re explaining, and we scrutinize every detail.

But, there are some fundamental aspects of our quality standards that help boost the appeal from the moment the client opens the document. Here are some of the ways CPS stives to make technical manuals more engaging:

Logical Flow
Start with a functional table of contents.

First impressions are everything, and we know clients cannot afford to waste time hunting for information. That’s why the very first element clients should see when they open the manual is a table of contents that is logical and descriptive—it’s one of the most important parts of the publication. Especially if you’re trying to address an issue that’s disrupting the process, time is of the essence and you need to be able to find answers quickly to avoid or minimize downtime. A well-structured table of contents guides the user to resolution (and does so in a non-frustrating manner).


Make manuals visually attractive and user-friendly.

Layout and design are important in technical documentation. Content that is well-organized and broken up with informative headings is much easier to digest. Building in a lot of white space instead of cramming the page with words makes it easier for the eyes and brain to process. Quality illustrations, when paired with informative text, ensure the reader gains a full understanding of the equipment—how it works, how to get the most benefit from it, and how to troubleshoot issues. Everyone learns differently, so having a combination of words and images helps reinforce points or steps.

Professional Appearance
Create publications that are polished and professional.

CPS aims to achieve a high level of professionalism with our content and visuals. We utilize 3D model illustrations that provide more detailed information than static equipment photos and are far better learning tools for equipment and processes. We also write with clear and accurate wording and pay careful attention to elements like spelling and grammar—which are fundamental to any professional document. Glossing over such details results in an unpolished and unprofessional finished product.

Easily Accessible
Provide convenient access to documentation.

CPS team members are not typically onsite during the assembly process for Wenger equipment. We are always just a phone call away, of course, but we design our manuals to be a comprehensive guidebook for the end user—whether that’s a contractor assembling the equipment or the client operating it throughout the stages of its life cycle.

Manuals are only useful if they’re handy when you need them, so we seek ways to make sure they’re always at clients’ fingertips. We will soon be providing all of our technical documentation via a portal where clients can log in to access manuals in PDF format and either download and print or view them on a computer or mobile device.

Incorporate originality and ingenuity to make technical documents enjoyable to use.

Technical writing and creativity are two terms that may not seem inherently congruent, but the truth is there is plenty of room for creativity in technical materials. We are continually studying the field so we can innovate and incorporate best practices into everything we do, and technical manuals are no exception. That applies to the rhetoric and adaptation of the documentation and considering out-of-the-box methods for their development.

Blending Function and Appeal

I like to imagine our clients sitting in a quiet corner with a cup of coffee, studying the technical manuals we create and hanging on every word. That might be far-fetched, but it doesn’t mean technical writing has to be boring.

One of my favorite examples of creativity in an operations manual is a United States Army maintenance handbook published in 1979 that was set up like a comic book with witty illustrations. While I can’t speak to the effectiveness of extreme examples like this, you can’t argue with the fact it’s a unique way to engage while also communicating important information. Will you someday see Wenger equipment manuals presented with cartoon imagery? Or will we use humor to communicate safety precautions? Maybe not, but we are open to exploring more imaginative approaches than full black-and-white pages of text.

I grew up on a farm and I’ve worked in manufacturing for many years, so I’ve seen my share of operations manuals. And yes, I’ve tossed many a manual aside to collect dust and never be referenced again because I didn’t find value in using them. That’s probably why I’m determined to create documents that are worth reading and assist clients in meeting their goals.

It’s not just about taking pride in the materials we generate—it’s about safety, quality, and customer service. We want to change the way our clients perceive technical documents and we want to be known for having the most useful and engaging technical publications in the industry. And our hope is that better quality manuals equate to an even better client experience.

If you have questions for CPS or want to learn more about how our consulting services and resources can help you reach your goals, please reach out to our team.

Corporate Project Services, a division of Wenger Manufacturing, is a dynamic group of planning specialists backed by Wenger’s more than 80 years of process system supply to the industry. Our knowledge base and breadth of experience in extrusion processing and facilities construction is unsurpassed – and our commitment to excellence is recognized around the world.

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