No matter what industry they work in, every technical writer’s goal is the same – to transform complicated information into a clear, concise, and accessible document. Here are a few tried and true methods that should make that goal a little easier to reach.
Before we roll out the tips and tricks, it’s helpful to lay out a basic definition of what technical writing is and isn’t. At its most basic, it’s the practice of creating instructional or informational documents for users, including user manuals for everything from consumer appliances to manufacturing and medical technology. In some contexts, documents like whitepapers, knowledge bases, and online help articles are also considered technical writing.
Unlike most other forms of writing, the goal of technical writing is precision and utility. A user needs to be able to skim an instructional document quickly to find a solution, looking for specific words or phrases that will point them in the right direction. Good technical writing is organized with that idea in mind, and here are some helpful hints that should help make producing it a whole lot easier.
Build a persona
The key to quality technical writing is writing for your audience, and that audience needs to be defined in the document planning process and then considered at every step of the writing process. That’s why it’s often helpful to imagine the exact person who will be reading your document. Give your reader a specific age, gender, educational background, and a reason why they are reading the document. The more accurately you can imagine your reader, the more accessible your writing will be for them.
Pick the right style
Your style is closely related to your audience – what you are writing determines who you are writing to, and vice versa. Every style has different conventions, and those conventions exist to help you reach your audience as effectively as possible. Find good examples of the style you are working in and emulate their best qualities in your own writing.
Understand your content
This may sound obvious, but you need to understand what you are writing about better than your audience does. This doesn’t mean that you need to be a certified expert, but you do need to know your subject well enough to clearly explain it to someone else and be ready for any questions they might have. Do your research, take your time, and if you’re not an expert, talk to someone who is.
Keep your language simple and global
Write in the most direct fashion you can and get your message across clearly, leaving as little ambiguity as possible. Don’t go over your reader’s head, don’t use unnecessarily complicated language, and always get straight to the point. In addition, use a controlled language like Simplified Technical English (STE) to accommodate all your potential readers. STE is logical and literal, which makes it more easily understood and gives it a strong overlap with the technical writing principles of precision and clarity.
Don’t shy away from graphics
A picture is worth a thousand words, and an illustration can go a long way toward helping you get your point across. Like everything else in life, however, moderation is important. Don’t cut corners in your writing in exchange for more visuals, and always remember that a messy or confusing graphic will do more harm than good.
The Argos difference
We go to great lengths to make sure our technical writers have the skills and experience to provide error-free technical documents that get to the point and avoid confusing jargon. In addition, our global network makes it easy to find writers for your project who have the location, industry background, and experience needed, plus the ability to create documentation from scratch on any platform and output that documentation in any format and any medium.