So you want to become a full-time writer in the tech-related business, engineering, or science community. To become one, you need to be skilled and know some technical writing tips.
Essentially, technical writing is the art of transforming high-level information into digestible content catered to a particular niche and audience in the form of an instruction manual, a guide, or a brochure.
This article will briefly explain what technical writing is and why it’s a vital skill worth mastering. I’ll also provide several tips for technical writing and qualities that make an excellent technical writer. For more insights in french, you can check our friends’ Destination Client blog and find some really great tips for writers, or just everyone interested in learning something new.
What is Technical Writing?
Technical writing is the practice of delivering technical information in a written format. It has a direct, professional, and neutral writing style, aiming to help people understand a certain subject.
In a business setting, technical writers work closely with the technical staff to develop a communication strategy to reach a mass audience. Their goal is to explain to the target market how a product or service works.
That said, technical writing is essential in various job industries.
12 Tips To Improve Your Technical Writing Skills
Now that you know how beneficial it is, here are a couple of technical writing tips on how to sharpen your skills.
1. Understand the Goal
The very first thing you need to do is identify the intent of the document. Ask for meticulous details about the subject from your client or employer. Having a face-to-face conversation with them will help you understand the project entirely and deliver the right information to the audience.
Forgetting the piece’s intent may happen as you go about writing it. An easy way to remember it is to write it down at the top of the page or keep a memo close to your workplace. Doing so will help you stay on topic throughout the writing process.
2. Know Your Audience
Remember that you are writing for the average audience. Therefore, you should always assume your readers have limited technical knowledge regarding the topic.
This is particularly important as you’ll most likely have to cater to different audiences. For example, an engineering operator will have different abilities and needs than a safety officer or people at the management level.
To fulfill this need, you can assume that all of your audiences have a certain level of understanding before entering the field. Identifying their level of understanding of the said field will help you determine whether you should include the basic details in the copy.
3. Have a Clear Structure
Narrowing down the information you want to include won’t do you any good unless you have a clear structure. It ensures your writing is easy to understand and skimmable.
The writing should have a straightforward path of development and smooth transitions between paragraphs and sections. It should also follow one idea in a logical order to ensure excellent readability.
4. Prepare Then Write
You should familiarize yourself with the topic to explain the complex concepts and ideas in straightforward terms. Do extensive research through the web, ask technical experts who master the subject, and read others’ published works with relevant topics.
It’s a good practice to outline your project before you start writing. This ensures the content you are writing flows logically. Have a skeleton of the structure first, then fill in the major and supporting details. Doing so will help you avoid having mistakes or a lousy flow of information in the latter part of writing.
5. Use Plain Language
Plain writing is a simple form of communication that your audience can understand when they hear or see it.
This writing style saves time as the readers can quickly skim the content without missing any vital information, whether it is an instruction or an explanation.
Here’s how to practice plain writing:
- Place important information at the beginning of a section.
- Have a clear sentence structure.
- Avoid using passive voice.
6. Reduce Ambiguous Language
Ambiguous writing refers to when a word or a phrase represents various ideas instead of a singular meaning.
You should avoid using writing style when writing a technical document as it will confuse the reader when interpreting the content. For example, the word high can refer to elevation or a position of an organization structure.
That said, it’s better to stick to using plain language. If your target audience speaks English as their mother tongue, you can use Global English instead. Here’s one among many guides that explain how to use Global English properly.
7. Explain First Then Elaborate Your Points
When writing a technical document, try to make it right-tailed by putting the subject and verb at the beginning of the sentence. By presenting the big picture of the content first, the reader can process the information much easier.
Once you have delivered the main points, you can then add the supporting details to paint the context and elaborate on the main idea.
8. Use Active Voice
An essential part of the technical writing process is highlighting what or who is doing something. To avoid confusion, I recommend using active voice all the time.
Let’s say the subject of the sentence is the reader. Instead of saying, “The helmet should be worn by the reader,” use an active voice and say, “The reader should wear a safety helmet.”
Using an active voice brings several benefits in technical writing:
- Eliminates unnecessary words, making your articles more efficient and concise.
- Emphasizing the actor rather than the action makes for a clear tone.
- Creates a sense of immediacy.
If you’re confused about writing in an active voice, plenty of online vocabulary and writing tools like Grammarly can guide and ease the work for you.
9. Reduce Dangling Modifiers
A dangling modifier is a common grammatical mistake where a modifier appears in a sentence without including the targeted word. It often occurs when the writer uses a passive voice, another reason you shouldn’t use it.
For example, “Having arrived at the location, there was nothing on sight.” The first phrase should modify a person who arrived at the location. However, since it mentioned no one, the sentence ends up sounding ambiguous.
The correct version would be, “Having arrived at the location, John found that there was nothing on sight.”
10. Avoid Bloat
One of the most common misconceptions about writing is that complicated and long words make an excellent copy. The fact is, adding unnecessary fluff and using long phrases will affect the copy’s readability negatively, making the information difficult to process.
Here are some tips to avoid bloat when writing:
- Delete any wordy phrases ‒ many phrases can be shortened into one to two words. For example, “due to the fact” and “in the event that” can be replaced with “because” and “if,” respectively.
- Combine shorter sentences– you can do so to sentences that convey the same message. For example, the sentence “He is eating food. The food he is eating is chicken with rice.” can be combined into “He is eating chicken with rice.”
- Use active voice – as mentioned previously, the passive voice tends to produce longer and complex sentences.
- Don’t repeat ideas – if there’s a sentence that adds no new meaning or value to the previous one, consider deleting it.
Once you’re done writing, take a step back and see whether the text flows well and have any grammar mistakes or typos, and ensure that it still conveys a clear meaning. This is a vital process you need to do as an author, regardless of what you’re writing.
However, it’s best not to start proofreading after finishing the document immediately. Instead, take a few minutes or even hours to get away from it. When you return, you’ll have a fresh mind and a critical eye.
Here are a couple of tips to make sure you get optimal results:
- Proofread aloud once – lowering the reading speed and saying it verbally makes it easier to hear awkward phrasing and detect typos.
- Know your typical mistakes – spotting mistakes will be easier if you know what you’re looking for.
- Use a spell and grammar checker tool – doing so can help detect grammar mistakes that you may miss during the manual proofreading process.
12. Seek Feedback
If a grammar checker helps you omit spelling mistakes, getting inputs from other people ensures the text conveys the right information. Knowing others’ opinions when reading your work will also help you identify any missing information and whether it’s readable for the target audience.
Since this is part of the proofreading process, you should consider all criticism, even the negative ones. After all, it’s all part of the learning process.
Qualities of Good Technical Writing
Now that you know how to improve your technical writing skills, here are the six technical writing tips that you can hone:
- Solid writing skills – a good technical writer should have a great understanding of information architecture and typography.
- Content clarity – you should be able to create engaging, logically structured, and easily readable content.
- Be good at single-sourcing – it allows you to create multiple documents using the same source time-efficiently.
- Excellent communication skills – a technical writer will need to interact with different types of clients. Thus, you must be able to adjust your communication style with whomever you work with.
- Eagerness to learn – since this writing career requires a lot of research, you have to be open-minded and willing to learn new things as you write.
- Experience – the more writing you do, the more knowledge you’ll acquire. Writers with years of experience will have a long list of clients to prove their credibility in the field.
This article has presented 12 tips in technical writing to improve your writing skills. Let’s recap them:
- Understand the goal
- Know your audience
- Have a clear structure
- Prepare then write
- Use plain writing
- Reduce ambiguous language
- Explain first, then elaborate your points
- Use active voice
- Reduce dangling modifiers
- Avoid bloat
- Seek feedback
I’ve also given several qualities and skills in technical writing you can hone to be a better writer. All that’s left now is for you to implement these tips for your writing.
Keep in mind that technical writing is essential in many fields, so always do in-depth research in whatever area your client requires before you start writing.