9 Technical Writing Tips to Improve Your Skill
Even if you’re in a tech-oriented field, writing is still an important part of the job. The time will probably come when you need to write technical documentation — whether it’s a site analysis, instruction manual, or something similar.
Whether you’re a seasoned writer or still trying to figure out what your writing strengths are, there’s always room for improvement. Read on for nine technical writing tips that will help you improve technical writing skills.
1. Include Your Personality
When most people think of technical writing, they automatically think that means that their style has to be academic and distant. Actually, the opposite is true.
Good technical writing has an element of personality to it that helps people want to keep reading what you’ve written. That doesn’t mean that you have to make it super conversational, but you’re also not writing an AP paper.
You want to sound both human and professional, not like a machine just spitting out words.
2. Don’t Assume Your Reader Knows Everything
This is a common problem in technical writing. The writer assumes that because the reader has come across their document, they automatically have some background knowledge on the topic.
That might be true, but you should never make assumptions. You can lose readers if they get too confused or feel like the document wasn’t written for them.
For example, someone from Community Computer Services probably knows the basics of malware removal. The same can’t be said for someone at home trying to pull up advice on how to get rid of a virus.
You want to make sure that both people in the scenario above can follow your writing and solve whatever problems they have.
If what you’re writing has a specific audience — like a team within your company — then you can feel free to assume certain knowledge. If not, though, it’s best to include background information or instructions when necessary.
3. Less Is More
When you think of technical writing, do you imagine a boring, neverending document? If so, does what you’ve imagined sound like something you want to read?
You shouldn’t have to use a lot of words to get your point across. Instead, you should aim to explain yourself in the fewest number of words possible. Being concise will both help your writing and make it easier for a reader to understand.
4. Keep It Simple
The U.S. Navy coined a term in 1960 to describe their ideal design principle. Their acronym, KISS, stands for Keep It Simple, Stupid.
You can also apply that principle to the design of whatever you’re writing. Use language that’s clear and to the point, instead of feeling like you have to use a lot of jargon or four syllable words.
If there’s a simpler way to make your point, use it.
This has the added bonus of helping people understand your document who might not be native English speakers.
5. Be Task Oriented
How else can you make sure that your writing is understandable and easy to follow?
One way to do this is by focusing your writing on the tasks that the reader has to accomplish. This is especially important if you’re creating technical instructions.
It helps if you’ve already done a task analysis before you started writing. That way, you know exactly what you need to explain and can create an outline based on your previous work.
You want to avoid thinking of things as you write since that can create instructions that are too confusing or wordy.
6. Use Multimedia
Don’t be afraid to use multimedia in your writing. There’s a reason for the saying “a picture is worth a thousand words.”
Use photos to illustrate your point, especially if that helps the reader to understand a concept that would have taken you awhile to explain through text. You can even use things like GIFs or videos if you really want to take it up a notch.
Incorporate the media that makes sense for what you’re writing. Unless you were specifically told to create a text-only document, there’s no reason not to.
7. Format Your Writing
Just like your technical writing doesn’t have to be text-only, it also shouldn’t be huge blocks of text. Formatting your writing makes it easier to read.
Instead of writing large paragraphs, start a new paragraph every two to three sentences. The additional white space makes it easier for people to read, especially on a computer or phone screen.
You can use line breaks, bolding, and bullet points to draw the readers’ eyes to where you want them to go.
8. Use References
Not everything has to be explained right in the document that you’re working with. Sometimes, you can use attributions or references instead to point people in the right direction.
This is a great tip if you’re writing for a general audience and aren’t sure how much information they already have. Including references to other documents will make sure that people who need extra information are able to find it.
If a different reader already knows the basics, however, they can keep reading without missing a beat.
9. Keep Your Goals In Mind
Finally, our last tip for great technical writing is to always keep your goals in mind.
Sometimes, as you’re writing, you realize there was a lot more that you could include. As you try to incorporate all of that information, suddenly a 1000 word document becomes 2000.
Knowing your goals ahead of time helps you to focus only on the most important information. Some extra details are great, but too many will make your document hard to get through.
If you really think you should the information is important, use tip number eight above and include some references instead.
Find More Technical Writing Tips
With these nine technical writing tips, both beginners and experts can improve their technical writing. No matter what your task is, you’ll be able to communicate clearly and concisely.