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stands for information, and Read Me First! A Style Guide for the Computer Industry provides everything you always wanted to know about documenting computer products, from writing about web sites to legal guidelines, from writing for an international audience to developing a documentation department.

How This Book Is Organized

Read Me First! is organized as described in the following paragraphs.

Chapter 1, “Mechanics of Writing,” reviews basic punctuation rules and guidelines, plus other general writing rules and conventions. This chapter also notes exceptions to these rules, guidelines, and conventions.

Chapter 2, “Constructing Text,” provides guidelines for tables, cross-references, headings, lists, and other text elements.

Chapter 3, “Writing Style,” provides guidelines for writing in a style that facilitates effective communication.

Chapter 4, “Online Writing Style,” provides guidelines for writing documentation that is intended primarily for online presentation. Some of these guidelines also apply to online help and web pages.

Chapter 5, “Constructing Links,” provides guidelines for using links effectively in online documents.

Chapter 6, “Writing Tasks, Procedures, and Steps,” provides guidelines for writing tasks, procedures, and steps in a procedure.

Chapter 7, “Writing for an International Audience,” provides guidelines for writing material that is easily understood by readers whose first language is not English and that can be easily translated into other languages.

Chapter 8, “Legal Guidelines,” provides guidelines for the proper use of copyrights, trademarks, and proprietary information.

Chapter 9, “Types of Technical Documents,” describes the various parts that make up a manual and lists the order in which they appear. This chapter also describes typical types of computer documentation.

Chapter 10, “Working With an Editor,” explains how writers and editors work together to produce high-quality documents.

Chapter 11, “Working With Illustrations,” describes illustration formats, styles, and types. This chapter also provides guidelines for writing callouts, arranging callouts, using leader lines, and writing captions.

Chapter 12, “Writing About Graphical User Interfaces,” explains how to document graphical user interfaces (GUIs). This chapter also provides specific guidelines for writing about web pages and referencing URLs.

Chapter 13, “Glossary Guidelines,” explains how to create a glossary for a technical manual.

Chapter 14, “Indexing,” explains how to prepare an index for a technical manual. This chapter covers issues such as selecting topics to index, style rules for creating an index, and editing the index.

Appendix A, “Developing a Publications Department,” provides information about issues related to a documentation department, including topics such as scheduling, roles and responsibilities, technical review, and printing and production.

Appendix B, “Checklists and Forms,” contains sample checklists and forms that you can use at various stages of documentation development, including art tracking, print authorization, and a technical review cover letter.

Appendix C, “Correct Usage of Terms,” provides alternatives for terms that you should not use in technical documentation, and terms that you should avoid. This appendix also provides some guidance related to commonly confused words and terms.

Appendix D, “Recommended Reading,” presents a list of books, divided by subject headings, that you might want to consult for additional information.

Changes for This Revision

Since the last revision of Read Me First!, the globalization of technical products has increased, and online delivery has become a fast-growing means of delivery for technical documentation. Read Me First! has been extensively revised in response to these changes. The highlights of this revision are as follows:

  • A more logical organization of chapters

  • Addition of a chapter on online writing style

  • Addition of a chapter on constructing links

  • Addition of a chapter on writing tasks, procedures, and steps

  • Extensive revisions to the chapters that discuss the following topics:

    • Writing for an international audience

    • Legal guidelines

    • Working with illustrations

    • Writing about graphical user interfaces

  • Incorporation of guidelines for easing the translation of documents


Read Me First! A Style Guide for the Computer Industry is based substantially on the Sun Microsystems Editorial Style Guide.

The people who worked on the fourth edition of the Sun Microsystems Editorial Style Guide include Julie Bettis, Maura Burke, Paul Davies, Melanie Doulton, Jeffrey Gardiner, Janice Gelb, Mary Martyak, Jean McVey, Ron Morton, Steve Posusta, PJ Schemenaur, Alysson Troffer, and Linda Wiesner. Janice Gelb was the Project Lead for Read Me First!.

Special thanks go to the members of the Sun Microsystems Editorial Forum, who served as primary reviewers and architects of all versions of the Sun Microsystems Editorial Style Guide. Bruce Bartlett was instrumental in developing the basis for the chapter on indexing. Thanks also to Andrea Marra, who had the original concept and was the driving force behind the original book. Finally, thanks to Steve Cogorno for invaluable production assistance.

Note — An earlier version of Chapter 7, “Writing for an International Audience,” appeared in the Sun Microsystems Editorial Style Guide and subsequently in Solaris International Developer’s Guide by Bill Tuthill (New Jersey: SunSoft Press/Prentice Hall, 1993).

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