How to Improve Your Technical Writing

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Today, we’re going to talk about one of my favorite subjects: technical writing. In any occupational setting, there is often a great deal of complicated information that will need to be conveyed from one party to another. This information can be anything from the proper procedures for operating heavy machinery to QA reports on a new product. The job of a technical writer is to take this highly technical information and rewrite it into a form that can be understood by a diverse audience of differing levels of education, experience, and knowledge concerning the subject. An excellent example is an instruction manual, which explains the basic features and functions of a product in a way that can be understood by just about anyone.

Technical writing isn’t particularly sexy or glamorous as far as a writing career goes, but it is highly underrated and learning the basics can add useful tools to any writer’s repertoire. There are basically two things to keep in mind as far as technical writing is concerned: professionalism and precision.

As far as professionalism goes, the thing to remember is that most technical writing projects will come with a specific set of directions, expectations, and project goals. A good technical writer operates strictly within these boundaries to deliver the expected product. This doesn’t mean that there is no room for creative thought, projects will often demand that technical writers come up with creative solutions, but creativity in technical writing takes a backseat to delivering the demanded product. Any attempts to second-guess things like format, tone, and the organization of information is a good way to lose your job.

The other thing to remember when it comes to technical writing is the importance of precision. Most forms of writing are very flexible when it comes to matters of style, but good technical writing is simple and unambiguous. For example:

The maroon button, a button which can be found in the control panel of the Death-O-Matic 5000, acts as the emergency shutoff.

This sentence is fine in generally, even if it’s a bit overwritten, but it is a terrible piece of technical writing.

The red button in the Death-o-Matic 5000’s control panel is the emergency shutoff.

This isn’t perfect, but it’s simple, direct, and contains all the information provided in the original sentence. These three qualities are the basic goals of technical writing and a good technical writer is always thinking about how to balance these three goals within the boundaries of the expected product.

Even if you have no interest in being a technical writer, the fundamentals of technical writing can be excellent practice for improving your craft. Technical writing teaches a writer how to deliver the maximum amount of information in a simple and easily understood form and how to operate within strictly defined boundaries, both excellent skills for any writer.

I hope you enjoyed this look into the basics of technical writing. Next time, we’ll continue our look at technical writing with some specific examples and techniques that you can practice to master these fundamentals.

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