At the risk of sounding pedantic, I thought up a scheme for categorizing technical documentation. Why would I do this? The answer is that I wanted to describe the current state of a product’s documentation in more precise terms.
I picked three categories:
- Primary. The manuals, guides, and help pages created by the product’s developer.
- Secondary. Books published about the product such as those published by O’Reilly.
- Tertiary. Guides, howtos, and technical notes published on the Internet by the community.
A popular product such as git or RedHat Linux is strong in all three. Open source products often have minimal primary documentation but instead rely on tertiary documentation. I just recently had experience with a product with no secondary or tertiary documentation at all. That was rough! The tertiary documents help supplement and clarify the first two kinds and hence play a key role.
I will use this scheme in subsequent posts when I write again about documentation, as I certainly will.