How To Master Technical Writing

Technical writing generally requires two types of knowledge: the demographic that your writing will be read by, and some understanding of the technical subject at hand.

  1. Understand your audience. You may be given a report of who the audience will be for the writing, or you may have to figure it out on your own. Either way, you must know the basic demographic of the readers, including how much technical knowledge they have of the subject at hand. An audience of new users for a piece of software will have to be written to much differently than a group of advanced programmers. The use of technical jargon will have to be adjusted accordingly. Put yourself in the reader's place and write as clearly as possible.
  2. Know your subject. If you are a regular technical writer, it may not be possible for you to know all about every subject that you write about. But you will have to know enough about it to be sure that you can communicate with accuracy.

  3. Use the present tense. Unless you have specifically been given instructions to use a different tense, technical writing should always be done in the present tense.

  4. Be objective. Technical writing should be done in an objective manner, with no conclusions drawn and no personal pronouns used.

  5. Write a table of contents. A table of contents is necessary in just about any form of technical writing and will help the readers to find the information they need most.

  6. Go through lists of steps. The steps that should be taken to accomplish the task, use the equipment, run the software, etc., should be written one by one.  Be sure to cover any questions that could arise about each and every step. The steps should be numbered in order and be accessible through the table of contents for quick reference.

  7. Use tools and tables. Lengthy technical writing often has knowledge that is built on itself--the principal information must be understood before the rest of it can be. It can sometimes help to include labeled pictures, graphs, and information tables to get across complex ideas that are difficult to describe in words or that will have to be referred to later on in the document.
  8. Use special notices. In addition to instructions, there will be instances where the use of special notices within the text will be helpful to the reader. The notices will be warnings, cautions of possibly dangerous situations, etc.  Special notices may include protective ideas such as recommending the use of safety goggles or a ventilated work space. There may also be notices concerning what to do in case a step has been done incorrectly, how to correct mistakes, etc.
  9. Test the document. It is often a good idea to test the document on someone close to the target demographic who can tell you whether there is information missing. If the document is for beginning users of the information, it should be easy to find someone in a similar position. If he is able to read the document without further questions about how to use the information, then the document is complete.


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