Interest is at an all-time high for the instructions and use of the new international standard IEC 82079-1. Workshops are full, demand for the comments by the tekom (European Association for Technical Communication) to the standard is high – and with good reason, as it contains a number of internationally discussed rules one can refer to when creating instructions – across sectors! Whether it be a mechanical tool, medical device, consumer product, it does not matter at first. Even “services” are included in the product range of the standard; so a true “horizontal” standard. This means that in the future, other standards regarding the aspect of “instruction” should reference IEC 82079-1.
The highlights of the standard compared to the preceding standard IEC 62079 of 2001 are:
- Detailed regulations for safety instructions and safety messages
- Nuanced recommendations for font size between 6 point and 16 point depending on the medium, text element and reading conditions
- An appendix on the empirical methods of checking instructions
- Definite demand for target group analysis, risk assessment and translation of the user manual to the national language
- First requirements to instructions in the form of electronic media
There can however not yet be talk of a standard which completely satisfies the needs of technical documentation. Structure and comprehensibility of the standard are in parts only mediocre and a lot of content is missing.
A review report by the IEC and ISO with the following important aspects for improvement is already available as a basis for continuing to work on the next revision of the standard which is to be published in 2016, according to current planning (a rather ambitious date which might not quite be kept):
- The structure of the standard needs to be revised and improved. In the standard, there is, for example, a chapter named “Principles” which so far not only talks about principles but also about numerous detailed requirements while the following chapters contain additional principles. Thus far these structural deficiencies make reading the standard difficult. The comments on the standard EN 82079-1 by the tekom e.V. offer a helpful introduction to the topic.
- Structures for typical “information types” are to be developed. Those include, for example, troubleshooting, step-by-step instructions, a maintenance plan, safety message or assembly group description which are also known as structure elements from ST4.
- Structural, conceptual and didactic conditions for new media and mobile documentation need to be contained in the revision.
- The quality assurance process needs to be depicted more systematically. Comprehensible quality criteria for instructions also form part of it.
- Generally the “process of the preparation of instructions for use” is to be depicted in more detail. The current informative appendix D is only in its infancy and needs to be further developed.
- In doing so, the responsibilities and rights for persons involved in the process of information development should be defined more clearly.
- The documentation of systems with a respective proportion of supplier documentation needs to be taken into account. This issue has not been treated adequately from a ‘standard’ point of view and has to be discussed on an international level. “Integration” of third party documentation is not only an important issue for manufacturers of machines and plants: buildings, RVs and trailers, cars (with special instructions for the “entertainment system”) or electric appliances with power adapters, but it is important for every other sector as well. The challenges become clear later when the question of who is going to translate comes up.
The date for the first international meeting of the “Joint Working Group” JWG 16 (IEC TC 3 and ISO TC 10/SC 1) took place in Tokyo at the end of October. (TC signifies “technical committee”, SC “subcommittee”.) After a sluggish pace regarding standards in the years since 2001, international standardization in the sector of instructions is proceeding faster now with essential contributions from Germany.
By the way: The German translation of the standard as DIN EN 82079-1 is only available in print – which is especially odd for a standard on technical documentation. It is worthwhile taking a look at the webshop of Austrian Standards. Above all, parts of the translation are not very good. Those who want to be sure should refer to the original.