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Technical Writing – Why Should a Technical Writer Know How to Ask For the Right Kind of Spec Sheet?

A “spec sheet,” short for a Specifications Document, are the blueprints that determine what a product or a service should look like, how it should operate or function, what features should it have and what benefits it should deliver to the end users, how much it should cost, etc.

If a company does not have any spec sheets for a new product, it does not have a new product. Period. These “sheets” are as important as “maps” for the captain of a ship or airplane.

Most of the time these sheets are written by engineers, project and product managers, marketing and sales managers, business analysts, etc. But sometimes senior technical writers are also asked to write one. And usually technical writers are either asked to improve an existing spec sheet or write another document (like a User Manual) based on an existing spec sheet. So in both cases it is important that a technical writer should know what a spec sheet is and have a realistic understanding and expectation of its contents.

It is only on the basis of such an understanding that a technical writer can carry on a meaningful communication with the rest of the project team. If, for example, a technical writer is writing the troubleshooting section of a user manual, it would be helpful if he or she asked to see the “testing specs” in order to understand if that particular troubleshooting item has been tested or not; and if tested, what the results were and how the bug was fixed. Then the writer can refer to the “bug list” or “test track” and find out how a particular troubleshooting item was resolved and reflect that in the manual.

But imagine a situation in which a technical writer does not know the difference between a “testing” and a “marketing” spec sheet, and even perhaps their difference from a “scope statement.” If in such a situation the writer asks to see the “marketing specs” or the “scope document” as a reference material for the troubleshooting chapter, there may be questions about his or her competency. That’s why it is important that as a technical writer you know your way around these various spec sheets and know when to consult or ask for one.