What is Technical Writing?
What is technical writing? Technical writing makes information easy to understand. Technical writers don’t even need to use the written word because they can use audio or visual mediums to convey their messages too. Finally, the best technical writers use a variety of tricks and wizardry to keep their audience engaged. Because who wants to read instructions akin in length to the entire works of War & Peace? A user guide that has no images and is unnecessarily long is most useful as a doorstop.
How can Technical Writing Help Businesses and Organizations?
Technical writing helps organizations in many ways; this includes creating technical documents, internal business documents, training materials, and sales and marketing content. The real value of using a technical writer is that they add professionalism and weight to your brand. This increases your businesses’ reputation and results in more sales. Imagine receiving instructions for a product you purchased, say a Blu-ray player. Now imagine that you are staring at the instructions to connect the player to your TV and found out that steps were missing or the language was broken. You would probably stare at the instructions, curse them, try to understand them, curse the company you bought the Blu-ray player from, and finally, tear the bloody manual in two. Heck! You may even return the Blu-ray player and swear to never do business with that Blu-ray manufacturer again.
Now let’s imagine that you have the same Blu-ray player but this time the instructions are clear and concise. There are troubleshooting instructions, a number to call if you are having problems, even a Web address to an instructional video that shows exactly how to connect your new Blu-ray player to your TV. You would probably tell anyone that you know who wants a Blu-ray player that your brand is the one to get. You may even buy a player or two for presents. Think of technical writers as customer advocates. They anticipate audiences’ needs and layout the information in an easy to absorb way. Clients that can easily use your products and services are more likely to do business with you again, and that is where the value lays in using a technical writer. No matter who your technical writer is, they should follow a specific process and show that process at the beginning of a project.
The Technical Writing Process
The Handbook of Technical Writing (Alred, Gerald J., Charles T. Brushaw, and Walter E. Oliu. New York: St.Martin’s Press, 2011) breaks down the writing process in general terms as follows:
- Writing/Content Creation
Like any project, solid preparation wins the day. When technical writing, you must first establish your purpose by precisely identifying what it is you want your audience to know or what you want them to be able to do. You also need to perform an audience assessment (here is a handy worksheet) to understand the demographic to whom you are writing. Finally, determine your scope of coverage. Providing only the information your audience requires helps to ensure the success of your project.
Writing about a subject requires a technical writer to fully understand it. This is known as the research stage. Leveraging the knowledge of SMEs (Subject Matter Experts) through interviews and queries provides a great deal of information. Writers supplement SME information through library, industry, and internet research. One of the best methods for getting information on a new product is through the engineering design binder. One of the best sources of information for marketing projects is a sales team.
Once the technical writer completes the research stage, they develop a method of organization that best provides the audience with the information they need. It is at this point the outline is created and passed around to various stakeholders for approval. In addition, different styles of documentation require different types of organization. Such as sequential organization, which is great for quick start guides, and chronological organization (great for history books).
Is the outline approved? If so, it’s time to create your content. The technical writer now populates the first draft with the information they’ve gathered. While doing so, they do not worry about grammar, punctuation, or language use. They just focus on getting the information down on the page. In addition, the technical writer uses the audience assessment and holds an image of the primary and secondary audiences in their mind. As a result, they write as though they were explaining the information in a clear, concise, coherent, and casual tone to the end user.
Revise, revise, revise! Revisions are the key to successful writing. With your audience in mind, make sure that all of your content makes sense and that it is useful. Cut any extra information or place it in the appendices. Check your spelling, your grammar, word use, syntax, for consistent narrative voice, for active voice… check everything.
Who Do Technical Writers Work With?
Technical writers work across all industries. As a result, they work with various engineering departments, sales and marketing departments, and IT departments. Furthermore, you will find them in universities, in government, and anywhere else requiring clear and concise writing.
Great Examples of Technical Writing
Technical writers make information easy to digest. Here are a few examples of great technical writing. It is noteworthy to point out the use of colour, images, simple language, and use of language.
- iPad User Guide – great example of an online guide
- Lego Instructions – great use of colour with little text, yet easy to follow
- Oilfield Equipment User Guide – combines description, operations, and maintenance in a single guide
If you need writing for your products or services, contact a technical writer. Great writing will make your business flourish. From writing training materials for you employees to creating end-user documents for your customers, hiring a technical writer is a great investment because it will save your organization time and money. Follow this link to check out some offerings of The Alberta Writer.
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