If you have ever read a technical document and actually understood it, it means that the person who wrote it was a good technical writer. Technical writing usually is tasked with explaining high-level details in a clear and concise manner to an audience.
Technical writers daily face the challenge of converting information that is hard to understand for the ordinary person into a document that can be read by anyone. Various approaches are adopted in ensuring that this done. This write-up provides useful and actionable tips for technical writers and freelance content writer to use in improving their writing. You will be able to greatly enhance your delivery on technical documents if you follow the advice presented here.
Tip #1: Define your persona
The most successful technical writing is that which is directed towards a certain audience. You will need to clearly identify and define your audience right from the planning stage of the document writing. You also keep considering this at every stage of the writing process. You will need to know what to write, for instance, for a 50-year old ordinary worker in the company as well as the boss who has access to all the technology they desire.
It is only after you have identified your audience that you can define a persona. A persona refers to the specific identity you adopt when presenting the information in the technical department. The best way to go about it is to imagine the particular person you are writing for.
It will be quite easy if you know exactly who will be reading the document, like your supervisor or boss. Sometimes you have to create a fictional persona, for whom you assign a particular gender, age, education, and even hobbies. It would be better to write to a particular person, even though they are fictional instead of writing for a larger audience.
You can be able to focus the writing of your document if you are able to accurately define your audience. Don’t just keep wondering whether the particular words you’ve used are right for the audience you have in mind. Write the entire document and then edit it with the specific persona at the back of your mind. You will be able to tell whether the text is right this way.
Tip #2. Avoid scope creep
You will be a great technical writer is you are able to keep the objective of writing in mind at every single step. The scope and objective of writing should be clearly defined before you even begin writing.
As you plan the document and execute what you have planned, there’s a possibility for the content to increase. Perhaps you may come across additional information that you wish to include in the document. Or perhaps your colleagues may offer suggestions on how to frame particular information. The fundamental truth of technical writing is that information is hardly isolated. Every detail is somehow connected to another piece information and so on.
As much as some additional details may be helpful, too much of it can result in the creeping of the score. Creeping scores ultimately lead to the lowering of the value of your document to the reader. Technical writers should always make an effort to be as clear and concise as possible. If you get the feeling that the scope has started branching out, this would be a great time to go revisit your objectives. Reevaluate the content to determine if it fits into the broad objective of writing the document. If it does not, do not hesitate to cut it out. Alternatively, you can put such information in the appendices or simply create another document.
Tip #3. Make writing as easy as possible
If you always experience a difficulty in writing as a technical writer, it’s probable that it’s not the writing which is an issue here. It is through planning that makes writing quite easy. In fact, planning should take up about 50% of the time you spend on the entire document. You should be able to collect all the information and important details, carefully organize and categorize it. This gives you a compact form of your document. Subsequent writing then only serves the purpose of filling in missing parts to make the document a complete success.
When you get stuck on how best to phrase a particular information, always think of your readers and imagine how they would want that information expressed. If in doubt about whether to include a particular piece of detail, simply go back to your outline and ask yourself where exactly you can fit it to make complete sense. The planning process should be able to handle all the questions that arise when you are writing the document.
In case you experience difficulties during the writing stage, it would be better if you stopped and went back to your plan. You will be able to discover that the problem arises out of an unresolved issue in the plan. As soon as you have handled the plan, you can resume writing and the problem will have been dealt with completely.
Tip #4. Strive to be timeless when writing
Technical writing is not only supposed to provide information for the here and now but for the future as well.
A good number of technical writers only have today’s audience in mind when they are writing. Although this is good, it’s important to remember that such documents may need to be used in the future too. You could, for instance, be writing a manual for a software that may need to be updated in the future, or even an assessment report for a site that may find a new buyer several years after you have exited the scene.
Achieving this timeless effect is possible through the use of relevant dates and timelines. Avoid as much as possible the use of temporary and time-dependent information. But if you have to do it, ensure that you explain the reason why you have to. This ensures that your document makes complete sense and is relevant both for now and the future.
Tip #5. Use references
Good use of references is the hallmark of good technical writing. Attributions will enable readers to access the right information without necessarily having to make the document bulky. This makes it possible for those who really are in need of such information to easily find it, while at the same time allowing those not concerned to keep on reading without disruptions. Consider references as a great tool to help you present a document that is clear and straight to the point for your readers.
Tip #6. Make use of universal English
English is one of the languages that is spoken on a global scale. Documents that are done in English, therefore, find readership with a wider audience. Nevertheless, there are many readers that aren’t native speakers of English.
To accommodate such readers, it’s important that you make use of universal English. The literal and logical way in which the language is framed will make it easier for them to understand what you are communicating. Doing this fits in well with the general principles of technical writing, which are clarity and precision.
It may also be required of you to be aware of terms and phrases that may either be misconstrued or simply difficult to understand. This includes the use of idiomatic expressions or phrases that are only native to a specific location. Avoid such if you want your document to attract a global audience.
Tip #7. Don’t consider the number of words
Technical writing hardly considers the number of words as an indicator of the completeness of the document.
The chief objective for technical writers should be conciseness. It’s possible to convey the same concept in either 1000 or 5000 words. Regardless of the word count, the information being communicated to the reader should as clear as possible. Only consider the word count as a guideline for your writing, not a rule you have to obey. That’s why its bad practice to simply force words onto your document simply to meet the expectations of the word count.
Tip #8. Be willing to accept criticism
Technical writing is usually a repetitive process. You are only able to grow if you write content which is reviewed by others who then provide feedback. Treat reviews and criticisms as a way of improving yourself. Accept feedback from peers, experts, and your seniors in order to grow your skills. The mistakes you make are supposed to offer valuable lessons to learn.
Tip #9. Graphics are great illustration tools
Graphics can serve as great tools for illustrating your points. They are intended to help you pass across your message clearly, and not just be a decoration on paper. Always focus the graphics on the reader. This may mean getting rid of poorly done graphics because they may tend to distract the reader.
The above tips, if applied appropriately, are able to help you achieve the goals of technical writing. They serve to make your document readable and effective in communicating to the audience you are writing to.