Intelligent content needs topics! present and future of technical documentation

Everyone is familiar with the classic technical documentation that comes in the form of a book or brochure for a product. But as in many other areas, however, there are some changes to be made. In the future, technical documentation will become technical information. And there is much more behind it than just another name.

Author: Harald Schenda

Surely you have already had this experience before: You bought a product, unpack it and now you want to know which functions are to be used and how. You automatically access the manual or the user's manual to figure out everything. However, you will soon find out that it does not take into account the different variants of the purchased product. This can usually be seen in formulations such as: "For product XY or similar...". If you now have a product variant that differs from the description, frustration is almost always guaranteed. But what are the characteristics of good documentation and what is important?

Technical documentation is inseparably linked to the product by laws and guidelines. Any error, defect or even incomplete documentation will justify a material defect in the product. In addition, the legislation requires that all documents that are attached to the product in written or digital form must comply with the product.


Each technical documentation contains several documents with different information about the product such as:

  - maintenance instructions
  - product information, e. g. as article data record
  - log books
  - perating instructions
  - risk evaluations
  - package leaflets
  - installation instructions

These are documents that have to be read and understood like a book. However, with the increasing use of digital devices such as notebooks, smartphones and tablet PCs, user behavior has changed significantly. Information is much more diverse today than it was 15 years ago. Therefore, users are primarily looking for information that fits their needs ("can solve their problem") and is self-contained.


Even the technical documentation is not unaffected by this development. Especially since there has always been doubt as to whether a user reads a manual completely. One approach to this need for information is the topic. A topic contains the exact information on a particular subject, which can be easily read by the user and which are self-contained.

However, the technical editorial offices are by no means in favour of providing exclusively digital information. The central controversy is availability. After all, information that cannot be obtained - for example, due to technical problems - is considered as not existing. That's why, for example, in every newly purchased car, a printed log book is still placed in the glove box despite topic-based help in the infotainment system.


As mentioned above, a topic is a self-contained unit of information that answers a user's question. Ideally, this is done in such a way that he is fully informed and does not have to follow any hyperlinks. This method has been known for many years from the online help of many PC programs.

The dilemma with the topic: It doesn't matter about economics. The top priority is to answer the one question of the user. Compared to the book form, this creates a number of redundancies. It is quite possible that more or less a lot of information has to be given as contextual information. This is particularly bad news for such manufacturers who want to be stingy when it comes to printing documentation with pages. It is important to know that, for example, vehicle log books are among the most widely circulated books.

By the way: If you use corresponding templates to print topics, the page size would be up to 80 percent larger than a book version. But a topic is not made for printing. Adding metadata to topics is rather perfect for mobile devices.


However, the current status of technical documentation in mechanical and plant engineering is generally different. More than 90 percent of all documents in this industry are available in a poorly structured, digital format. The associated data and text volumes can only be controlled by search engines, for example with the search engine technology of EMPOLIS.Ablagesystem.png

Search engine technology: EMPOLIS handles the huge amount of data and text of technical documentation in machine and plant engineering.

EMPOLIS search engine technology combines two technologies: search engines and semantic networks. The search engine technology indexes all the text material and, in a very simplified way, writes a library of keywords referencing documents and the corresponding text passages.The knowledge model, on the other hand, maps logical relationships and enables a faster finding of knowledge contexts. For example, it is possible to modulate that an industrial robot includes a tool, a cable-hose assembly and a docking station. This way, search results can be displayed in a semantic context. The search can be more precisely defined using facets.

“Technical information" is therefore much more than just a synonym for Technical documentation. EDAG PS offers the following services in this context:

  - classic editorial consulting
  - digital consulting
  - training and further education
  - textmining
  - knowledge management based on semantic models
  - analogue editorial services according to OEM specifications



Technical documentation is an important part of the entire product development process. But: Technical documentation is exposed to a rapid transformation process, moving away from paper documentation based on book philosophy to topic-based applications for mobile devices. Search engines for poorly structured, digitally available documents represent an intermediate phase. However, a high technological effort is required to quickly extract information and knowledge from different documents. If the landing spot of a search via search engine is a poorly structured document that needs to be scrolled back and forth, the search can also end in nirvana. As you can see, there is no way around topics in the mid- and long-term.

Are you interested in transforming paper into a mobile device? Would you like to take your technical editing division to a new level? Please contact me at I look forward to hearing from you.