Note: Unless I hear otherwise I will assume you understand the readings from Technical Communication Strategies for Today. Therefore, lectures on readings from the book will tend to be short, focusing on specifics I want to highlight. Just because I don’t address something doesn’t mean that it isn’t important. If you have any questions or need further elaboration on anything about the readings, including material not covered in the lectures, please ask.
Ch. 6: Technical Descriptions and Specifications / Ch. 7: Instructions and Documentation
In chapters 6 and 7, Johnson-Sheehan introduces the genres of technical descriptions and documentation, both of which can be divided into sub-genres, some of which share the same name. To make things even more confusing, all forms of technical descriptions and documentation serve the purpose of providing documentation of something. While recognizing that these terms can be fluid, let us take a look at the distinction Johnson-Sheenhan makes between technical description and documentation.
Technical descriptions provide explanations of what objects, places, or processes are. They can include technical descriptions of products, patents (the detailed description of an invention), specifications (a description of the requirements that sets a standard for a product or service), field notes, observations, and technical definitions.
Documentation offers descriptions of how something should be done. Documentation includes instructions, specifications (a detailed and precise description of how something should be assembled or how a process should be completed — again, the goal is to describe the standard), and procedures and protocols.
What Something Is vs. How Something Is Done
Again, the difference between technical descriptions and documentation is that technical descriptions describe what something is and documentation describes how something is done.
In both cases, whether it is specification as technical description or specification as documentation, the key feature of specifications is that they exist to describe a standard.