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What I Learned Writing Technical Manuals for Military Clients

I never really intende to make a living writing technical manuals. I started my technical writing career somewhat by accident. But I was fortunate to get started working on military manuals. The very first job I had as a technical writer introduced me to the structure and organization required by DoD manuals.

My first assignment revolved around consumable materials. In military-speak this refers to things like lubricants, gaskets, solvents, sealants, and even things like cotton balls and rags that are required to maintain equipment. All of these items have a document somewhere that details all the specifications that the item must meet go be used by enlisted personnel in the maintenance of their equipment.

Likewise, when wriring technical manuals, you must make certain that you meet very structured and clearly defined requirements. The granddaddy of specifications is MIL-STD-38784. The formal title is Standard Practice For Manuals, Technical: General Style And Format Requirements. It’s 140 page epic that defines everything about how a DoD technical manual should be organized and formatted. Just the table of contents is over 6 pages long.

It can be intimidating, but it’s a great indoctrination into how a technical manual should be structured. Obviously it’s not applicable to every project, but it does provide a great roadmap for creating an operator’s manual, a repair manual, a maintenance manual, or any other equipment manual.

Photo of Army Refueling Equipment
U.S. Army Refueling Equipment

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