Best Tips to be an Expert in Technical writing
Who is an expert?
If your search has lead you to this page it’s obvious, you are already into Technical writing. So let`s cut to the chase and get to how you can become an expert in your field. So who is an expert exactly? Someone who has in-depth knowledge in his/her subject of interest. We will discuss some technical writing tips in this blog that will help become an Ace technical writer.
As a technical writer, you are responsible for creating technical documents. Technical writing is generally a profile employed by companies to create documents and materials for use by employees, consumers, and other businesses. It is nothing less than art to put a whole bunch of information into bite-size pieces that is specific and can be understood by a consumer/reader.
Let’s start with a few fundamental technical writing tips.
Use a natural planning method while writing.
When you are working on Technical writing, the goal is to create something that saves the reader time and effort.
Before you get started, try and ponder these 2 questions:
1. When the reader goes through the technical writing, what will they have gained? The answer should involve saved time and get to the specific information generated for the reader.
2. What makes your content different than the hundred other technical writing blogs out there solving similar problems?
Technical writing is all about writing easily readable content for the masses regarding a technical product or a service. Technical writers have to have the technical writing skill to translate complex technical information into useful and easy-to-understand language.
Some dope on the subject
Here are some examples of technical writing such as preparing instruction manuals to write complete user guides. In some cases, technical writing may include preparing research journals, writing documents, and other technical documentation.
The idea is to help the customer understand any technical aspects of the product or service without having to take a Phd in it.
In yet other cases, technical writing simply means that the writer needs to have specific knowledge of a certain subject. For example, Pharma companies may hire medical writers to write their content since they will have the required knowledge in the field.
Defining the Purpose of your technical writing, or having a structure n mind as to how you are going to break down a large piece of information is pretty much your primary angle to which you approach your technical writing. Minimizing the words and the right usage of it to map the product is what makes you a skilled technical writer.
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When you have done your research for the product and found your product map and how to translate it into words, you break the same down to categories or listing.
Some questions that are relevant at this point what is the purpose of writing this? Or what is the aim of writing this document. As always understanding the customer and writing for the customer is all one can be thinking of.
Lets call these, objectives and measurements
This helps the document to segregate the list of content.
What is my objective and what do I want the reader to learn? This objective is what will keep your technical writing focused.
Yet another technical writing tip is to brainstorm the possibilities.
Back to School is what I would say about this Technical writing tip. It’s all about mind mapping. Once you have decided on your approach do a mind map. It is the best tool by far to expand upon the idea. Note that in many cases you will find, after spending a few minutes mind mapping an idea, the best conclusion may also be to discard the idea.
Though I may prefer to use mind mapping this is just a personal choice. However you may also choose to do Index cards, or what ever works to organise you’re out put of thought. A very key technical writing tip here is to let all your thoughts out without filtering. There is no need to structure at this point. Just do a ‘brain dumping’ for lack of a better expression. Here are some apps you can check out if you’re using an IOS MindNode and Ithoughts.
Pictures have a way of giving clarity, it is said that a picture is worth a thousand words. As a technical writer, I think this is somewhat relevant. A part of the machinery that your mentioning in your user manual may be easily shown on an illustration, for example, what parts get attached to A or detached to A. Moreover illustrations help to break big chunks of dense text that can be difficult to digest. Here are some technical tips on the kind of illustrations you can use: tables | charts | diagrams, and screenshots to balance out the text.
That said, add them if they add value, not just to enhance your text. Remember, your customer will be hunting for a particular piece of information and images are attention grabbers that derail his or her search. An image must add value, if not its better there isn’t one.
It is important to explain your content – it makes a good introduction to conceptual and abstract aspects of the product. Then you add images and schemes, explain what is happening inside of the picture. If all of the above seems too much let’s break it down further.
If you’re just looking for few good technical writing tips, below are some tried and tested methods that will help you become better at your craft.
Albert Einstein said, “If you can’t explain it simply you don’t understand it enough” This is true when it comes to technical writing.
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1. Write for your Audience
All writing is meant for someone. In technical writing, this concept takes on a more literal sense, then let’s say, writing fiction. One must always keep in mind that you are responsible for communicating all ideas clearly and effectively to someone else in your writing. The audience, and what they need, can vary and you need to be aware of that. Moreover, every other technical writing tip given on this list will in some way come back to this one.
To use the classic Pynchon example, if you are an expert on rocket science and aeronautics, and you’re writing to other scientists about the advanced technical details of a new rocket, it is probably safe to say that there is a high level of prior knowledge, meaning you can avoid the basic concepts and use complex jargon. However, if you are the same scientist writing a field manual for soldiers who will actually be firing these rockets, you may need to explain all of the basic concepts and avoid complex jargon. You also need to determine what is necessary to be included and what can be skipped over. In other words in technical writing, you’ll want to include only what your reader needs to know.
2. Choose your style to suit your audience.
Closely related to the audience is the style with which you will approach your writing. What you are writing determines largely to whom you are writing, and vice versa. Every style comes with different conventions and forms, which you should understand and embrace in order to be able to write effectively. These conventions exist for a reason, which is to enable you to better reach your target audience. The stylistic demands and needs of a technical report differ widely from those of a user manual. The best way for you to know these demands is to read as much as you can. Find strong examples of the style you are working on and emulate their essential effective qualities.
3. Know your content
This is a given, you need to understand what you are writing about better than the audience for which you are writing. This does not mean you need to be a rocket scientist, but you need to know the ins and outs well enough that you can clearly explain the rocket to someone else and anticipate any questions that might arise regarding it. Do your extensive research, take time, take notes, do your mind mapping and if you are not an expert, consult someone who is, ask questions till you have no stone to turn.
4. Have your Outline, then Execute
This is one the ten commandments to success, “failure to plan is planning to fail.” Before you dig your heels in and start writing, outline the project. This a very crucial part in your technical writing stage, this gives you the opportunity to make sure that the document you are producing is laid out in a logical way and passes all functionalities. Work on developing the skeleton structure to have a clear picture of your project. Then work on filling in the skeleton. Make sure it all logically follows into the plan. You’ll save a lot of work by learning early in the process whether or not your plan is likely to work or not. After you have a plan in place executing it is just a natural progression.
5. Define Your Project plan.
The major part of planning and outlining your project is the task of defining the project itself. All of the above points should come into play. What are you writing about? What is the ultimate goal of this draft? Who is the audience you are writing for? What are the style requirements? Are you creating a step-by-step instruction, an assembly manual, or a form letter? Take the time to sit down and define your project, then organize and compartmentalize you’re writing process to serve that definition.
6. Keep it simple
There is a time and a place for elegant and dense prose; technical writing is definitely not that place. Do not write about your project with twists and turns. Write in the most direct possible way you can to get your message across clearly, leaving as little ambiguity or no ambiguity as possible. Remember, you’re not writing a novel. There should be no plot twist or surprise ending to your writing. There is no room for error. Don’t go over and above your reader’s head. Don’t use unnecessarily complicated language and vocabulary. Get straight to the point.
7. Create a Clear Structure
It’s not just about what you say but how you present it. You’re writing needs a clear and clean structure. Don’t just dump in a bunch of data and tables, and expect your reader to make sense of it. Think about your order of presentation, step by step. Keeping in mind the reader. As a technical writer this is what will set you apart. The clarity with which you approach your project. What needs to be explained and in what order you do that. How this information needs to be sequenced and paced. What needs more attention and explanation, and what can do with less of it. Your writing should present a clear path like a map of development, smoothly transitioning from one point to the next without any major jumps or hiccups, and it should clearly emphasize the most crucial points.
8. Your Layout
The key to your structure is the layout. The layout isn’t about being pretty but defining. It almost sounds like all the above technical writing tips loop into each other. It’s all bout about being clear and understandable.(though one should never underestimate the value of laying it out pretty) The skilled and seasoned technical writers understand how to utilize layout techniques to make their message clear. You want to lead your reader’s eye to your intended point of focus. Here are some useful techniques, such as bulleted |numbered lists| bold keywords, and page breaks, which can be used to draw attention to and emphasize key points. People remember best what sticks out like a sore thumb for lack of a better expression. I love the example of the purple cow. You will never forget one. That is how your layout should be.
9. Explain with Examples
Be adequately theoretical in your writing. Be sure to use examples that clarify and describe what you are discussing, and also present the topic in terms of a realistic scenario. These are especially useful when the information you have presented implies potential troubleshooting that might arise. For example, let’s say, you are writing a user manual for a commercial lawn mower, don’t just say that an overly tight blade belt can lead to malfunction. Provide an example of what a tightened blade should look and feel like, and what signs of malfunction look like or sound like. Better yet, combine your written example with an image.
10. Useful Visuals
Visuals and illustrations can be wonderful tools when used correctly, and a major point of confusion when done otherwise. Clearly marked illustrations that show statistical trends or provide examples of how to perform a given task, when balanced with skilled technical writing, can make for extremely useful documents. Some things are just better explained with a visual example. Be careful, however, not to rely too heavily on these images. Don’t sacrifice clarity or cut corners in your technical writing in exchange for more visuals. Its good to keep in mind how people understand, some do well with just visuals others can just feel too with clear instruction. Moreover, if it is complicated visual, it will cause more trouble than good.
11. Establish an appropriate tone of Voice
A big part of technical writing is establishing an appropriate tone of voice. Most often you will aim to write from a neutral third-person perspective, although sometimes you may write from a slightly subjective first-person perspective to put your point across effectively. Regardless, technical writing is expected to be authoritative. The writer is the expert on the subject being presented. Be formal, as well as objective as possible, but avoid sounding like an AI. Again, be aware of your audience and the style in which you are writing this is where your true expertise lies. Different audiences and styles demand different voices, to find your own voice that can cater to your audience will come with experience.
12. Avoid Time-Sensitive Claims
Most technical writing needs to be updated from time to time as and when and upgrade is available. Write your manual or draft to facilitate as little need for update as possible. Where ever applicable, avoid making time-sensitive claims, or delineating information that will become inaccurate as soon as a certain date comes to pass.
This is somewhat determined by style. If you are writing an annual report, or seasonal publication, or a quarterly report, then almost all of the claims you make will be time-sensitive, this is a given.
On the other hand, if you were writing a general reference article, you can and should avoid making any sorts of claims. For example, if I said that we are waiting to see what happens to the technical writing profession in 2028due to the danger of people being replaced by robots, that statement will be outdated as soon as 2028 comes around. This would create an unnecessary need for updating. Keep your writing timeless as possible.
13. Credit you Source cites
Where you get your information and its credibility will support your writing much whether it comes from a series of scientific studies or publishing. Maybe you rely on statistics published by a federal agency. If you are drawing from an article, or a book hyperlink them. Strong writing always incorporates reputable outside sources and accurately cites them. Don’t borrow important information from somewhere else and forget to cite it. That’s plagiarism, and can be held on grounds for legal action. Learn how to cite and do so where it is appropriate.
14. Revise edits and edit your Revises
This applies to all forms of writing whether you are writing a book or technical writing, there is no exception. Nothing is perfect the first time around so you need to revise, and then you need to revise it again. It`s like the painting you need to step away from a draft for a little bit and return to it with a critical eye. When you’re too close you may not be able to see the whole picture. What can be made clearer, and what can be explained and what can be omitted?
Make sure yourr writing serves its purpose in all aspects, and that it shows consistency throughout. When in doubt, don`t just resort to a second opinion, then a third, and if needed then a fourth. Also, don’t underestimate the value of reading out loud. This can do wonders for exposing and fixing unclear messages.
15. Stay ahead in your craft. Study!
Maybe you’re a seasoned veteran in technical writing, or maybe you just fell into it or it fell into you. Regardless, you nor anyone is never too good to learn a little more and grow as a writer. Reading about writing, and studying the craft is what can keep you sharp.
Here are some resources and TOP READS you can look up to sharpen your technical writing skills.
- Technical Writing Course in Bangalore
- Technical Writing Course in Chennai
- Content Writing Courses Online
- Content Writing Course in Bangalore
- Content Writing Courses in Delhi NCR
- Content Writing Courses in Navi Mumbai
Plainly speaking, these are not just technical writing tips, but these are your 15 commandments if you ask me. Keep it simple that even someone stupid can get it. Technical writing is truly an art, and you can create your masterpiece by continuously working on the flow and plan.
I do recognize that this process may seem a bit of an overkill at first glance, but consider that once you turn this process into a habit and begin to automate, the time spent implementing your workflow, in time will pay BIG dividends eventually.
Whatever workflow you have chosen to implement, take the time to document it always. Bonus points if you share that process with me and others.🙂
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