Knowledge Management and Technical Writing

by Gurpreet Singh


Knowledge Management is defined as the group of activities aimed at creating, capturing, distributing, and managing the tacit and implicit knowledge existing within an organization. Explicit knowledge can be transcribed and easily transferred from one person to another. For example, the process of making a cup of tea is a classic example of explicit knowledge. On the other hand, inexplicit or tacit knowledge is difficult to transfer as it cannot be transcribed or verbalised easily. For example, the process of making a piece of art, such as the smiling face of Mona Lisa, can be defined as tacit knowledge. Knowledge Management encompasses the management of both tacit and explicit knowledge at an individual, team, and organizational level.

Technical Writing is defined as a group of activities which relates to designing, creating, and maintaining technical documentation [Wikipedia]. Technical Writing is a subset of Technical Communication and involves creation of help files, user manuals, and installation guides.

Similarities between Knowledge Management and Technical Writing

  • Technical Writers use Help Authoring Tools (HATs) such as Word, FrameMaker, RoboHelp, Flare etc. to develop technical documentation. On the other hand, Knowledge Management professionals use Content Management Systems (CMS) such as Wiki, Sharepoint, Drupal, Joomla etc. to manage knowledge in an organization.
  • Tools used by Technical Writers are mostly desktop publishing tools that can be installed on a standalone computer. However, since CMS work with the entire organization, they have a software package that needs to be installed on a server rather than a standalone desktop.
  • The definition of Knowledge Management and Technical Writing as a recognized discipline is very vague and depends highly on the context. Several industries employ technical writers and knowledge management and the expectation, designation, and work environment differs from industry to industry.
  • Technical Writer create content in the form of Help Manuals, User’s Guides, FAQ, Knowledge Base entries, and Installation Manuals. Knowledge Management focus on providing infrastructure, processes, and community of Practices (COP) that allows creation, capturing and retrieval of knowledge. Technical Writing and Knowledge Management complement each other requirements.

My perspective on Knowledge Management as a Technical Writer

I always get surprised when I look back at my career as a technical writer and look at the documents I’ve published. The reason is that some, if not all, of the documents I’ve written can be classified as Knowledge Management deliverables. I believe this would be the case for most technical writers as the disciplines of knowledge management and technical writing are closely tied together.

When you create a knowledge base entry, or a manual for new software as a technical writer, you are transforming knowledge form tacit to explicit form and then storing that knowledge in written form. When you generate webhelp output of a user’s guide and publish it on internet, then you are creating and managing the infrastructure for sharing knowledge. In other words, the activities performed by technical writers are very similar to the tasks completed by a knowledge management professional.