I was looking through some classic (i.e., old) examples of technical writing and noticed how the format of application programming interface (API) reference topics hasn’t really changed since these examples were published in 1988 and 1992.
Is this because there’s been no innovation in technical writing during the intervening 30-ish years or, perhaps, we’ve found something that works, so why change? Taking that a step further, if what worked 30 years ago still works, is there any more room for innovation in tech writing?
Here are a couple of examples that I found in my library of software documentation. (It’s a library of printed documentation so there’s not much in there from the 21st century.)
MS-DOS Encyclopedia (1988)
The first example of classic documentation is from the Microsoft MS-DOS Encyclopedia (Ray Duncan, Microsoft Press, 1988), a 1,570-page collection of everything you’d need to know about programming for MS-DOS (v3.2) in 1988.
It starts with how MS-DOS was originally developed, continues with conceptual overviews of the different operating system functions, how to create common applications and extensions to the operating system, and various reference topics, such as the interrupt example I included here. It’s a one-stop reference manual that would prepare any MS-DOS programmer or device-driver developer for successful coding experiences.
This 33-year-old encyclopedia presents information in a format that you can still see used today.
- Conceptual content
- How-to articles of common tasks
- Reference topics on various aspects of the product
- Cross references as make sense
The content in the example reference pages that I included also follows a format that is still seen today:Continue reading “Is there any more room for innovation in tech writing?”