The Gospel of Technical Writing
Technical writing is as much of an art as a science. A good technical writer can take a complex idea and turn it into content that is accessible to a wider audience. Clients who hire technical writers want to find someone who can create manuals, guides, white papers and other technical documents that give information in plain language so anyone can understand and follow it.
It does not take much to set you apart as an expert technical writer. Reaching that point requires following a few simple guidelines:
1. Explain everything
Never assume your target audience is composed of subject matter experts. Technical writing is all about problem solving and troubleshooting. A technical writer needs to include all pertinent steps and details whether they are explaining how to operate a table saw or analyzing the upgrades in a new LED television. Their purpose is to become a compass for their readers, guiding them by hand rather than simply pointing at the destination and then leaving them to reach it alone.
2. Provide accurate information
Technical writing needs to be factual down to the smallest details. Instructing a reader to use the wrong tool in a floor repair guide, for example, can cause damage to flooring or a serious injury to the person following the guide. Always ensure that the information you include in a technical documents can be backed up by facts and research.
3. Understand your purpose
Knowing why you are writing will give direction on how you approach each technical writing project. You need to have a clear goal with technical content. What purpose does it need to accomplish? Are you showing your reader how to build or repair an object? Are you showing them how to install and use new software? Center your writing on meeting that specific purpose and only include visual or written details applicable to that purpose.
4. Understand your audience
A writer’s focus should never stray from serving the needs of their audience. That is a cardinal rule of all forms of writing. It is especially important with technical writing. Your audience is using your writing to accomplish a specific task. Use a task-based approach to help them accomplish a specific goal. If you are writing a step-by-step guide on how to operate a lawn mower, for example, the document should be focused toward that end. A reader should know how to start and stop a mower and mow their grass after reading your document. They should also know how to make simple repairs and do basic maintenance.
5. Eliminate the noise
Nothing clutters your writing faster than including a bunch of useless facts or redundant information. Organize the main points of your document in a concise and clear manner. Emphasize only the most important ideas or details. Resist the temptation to get sidetracked on tangents or include too much information. Every sentence and word should tie into the central purpose of educating your reader on the technical topic in question.
John C is a freelance writer available on WriterAccess, a marketplace where clients and expert writers connect for assignments.