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Put Up Yer Dukes! “Documents” & “Documentation” square off!

May 29, 2017

As promised in a prior post some time back, in which we showcased a breakdown of “user-friendly” versus “usability” — I should say I “sorta” promised….inadvertently then, but intentionally now — we bring our other word pairing into the boxing ring to square off.

Fight! Fight! Fight!

Let’s just say they’re squaring off after an “exchange of words.” Ahem. Ya! Super funny! Thank you for the courtesy laugh with the golf clap.

Oddly enough, outside the fringes of technical writer geekdom, discussions of “documents” vs. “documentation” (along with their ways and means) bubble to the surface more often than one may imagine. Over time, I found when having conversations with clients, it actually served everyone involved (myself included) to be mindful about addressing the two in their own individual contexts.

So, try not to hurt yourself as we parcel through this….

Documents….are pieces of written, printed, or electronic content providing information, evidence, or serving an official record. So, I would argue that the definition here is rather specific.

Documentation….involves the process of classifying, sequencing or annotating such content. This content may involve texts, graphic information such as photographs or diagrams, and any related notes. Yes, it can also be applied in the same way as the earlier definition, however it has a much wider application, and as such I try to use it in the context of what I’ve called out in the beginning of this paragraph.

While it may seem like splitting hairs in the world of definitions (which it is — who are we kidding), I find differentiating the two carries meaningful freight when trying to articulate the breadth of documentation processes, in addition to referencing individual documents that are part of those processes. Without getting deep in the weeds on discriminating among noun or verb usage for this and that, as a technical writer I see it as my job to convey communications to and for clients clearly and effectively. Therefore, for purposes of setting the table on the application of these two definitions, that is how my usage plays out and works for what I do. You might call it bending rules, or even creating my own — but for purposes of my work, client discussions and the like — that’s where I fall in usage with these two words.

Please feel free to weigh in and share your perspectives on the usage of “documents” vs. “documentation,” and the joy they bring to your world. My advanced apologies for any headaches as a result of this post….but now you know, and if you’re still reading you obviously got sucked into the vortex of this critical debate.

Are you as relieved as I am?!?

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One Comment
  1. June 1, 2017 8:07 am

    You are correct – these terms often are used interchangeably, although they’re very different. Excellent post!


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