We centred our investigations around the different tasks for technical documentation, focussing on the activities and requirements of professional writers and translators of technical manuals. Preliminary work involved the study of available commercial instruction sets. Then we interviewed and observed technical writers, translators and decision makers during their work. While this research focus is sufficiently narrow to address the fundamental issues in detail, it revealed information that certainly enhances and triggers the design and specification of computational tools for supporting the production process of technical documents (cf. (Ross93)), as well as evaluation methodologies. The results of the data and task analyses of our study led to the building of an information repository, which is considered a powerful knowledge base, for the knowledge that is necessary to support the documentation process and the generation of technical manuals for different readerships. It is integrated in an overall object-oriented architectural environment, the knowledge-based assistant system KBAS-TW, which will permit the technical writer to tailor knowledge to his personal needs.
The development of such a knowledge base for technical documentation relies on cooperation with the user. In our approach, the user, either being an experienced technical writer or a knowledge engineer, will be considered an expert. Both user and system will follow the same goal, i.e. the realisation of the knowledge base, but their tasks are complementary.
At the beginning, we suppose that various sources of information are available to the KBAS-TW and the user. Such chunks of information are all those documents which have already been written on a given object of the real world (old version of the manual which should be produced, technical specifications, technical sheets, market analysis reports, customer specifications, own notes, teaching sheets, etc.) by different persons who supply the technical writer with information (the customer, the developer, the marketing manager, etc.) during the life cycle of the object. At this first stage, the goal of the cooperation between the user and the KBAS-TW is to:
The end of this stage will not be the end of the cooperation. Indeed, objects of the real world evolve and the cooperation will be followed by the acquisition of new information from the user, who will then be the unique source of information.
Additionally, the system has to possess a model of the tasks to be undertaken by the user. Thus, there should be one component that controls all communication flows with the user, the information sources and the knowledge base. In this scenario, the user is supposed to consult only the knowledge base. In this way, we aim to ensure high quality of the work done during the cooperation with a minimum of communication overheads.
The development of the functional specifications of KBAS-TW has followed the typical path to building an expert system (cf. for example (Slage88) and (Gruber89)), namely to: