While the result of technical writing is clear, succinct and simple, the process can be the opposite. The technical writer’s challenge is to transform complicated information into an accessible document. To meet this challenge, technical writers use different strategies.
*Create a Persona
The good technical writing is writing for your audience. The audience needs to be defined in the document planning process and then considered at each step of the writing process.
After identifying your audience, refine it further by creating a persona. Imagine the exact person who will be reading your document.
The persona will be obvious if you are writing for a known person, such as your department supervisor. For other documents, the persona can be fictional. Assign your reader a specific age, gender, educational background, career, a story for why they are reading the document, even a hobby. Instead of writing for a theoretical audience, write for a specific, albeit fictional, person.
**Beware of Scope Creep
Good technical writers keep in mind the document’s goal at each writing stage. The goal and scope should be clearly outlined in the initial document planning.
During the planning and even the writing process, document content can grow. Technical details are not isolated. They are built on previous developments, and you may want to include supplemental information or additional user instructions. Colleagues may suggest valuable background information or data.
Some extra details are useful. Too many details will cause the scope to creep.
As technical writing strives to be succinct, scope creep creates unnecessary work that ultimately produces a less valuable document for the reader. If you feel the scope needs to broaden, return to the goal. Evaluate if that content is really necessary. Cut it or if necessary, consider separation through appendices and even an additional document.
A technical document is your contribution to posterity. That’s right, you are passing on technical knowledge for readers now and in the future.
Most technical writers focus on today’s audience. While very important, these documents often serve future readers, too. A site assessment may not be read again for 30 years until the property comes up for sale. Software instructions act as the basis for the future manual of an updated version.
To write timelessly, always include dates and timelines where relevant. Avoid including time-dependent or temporary information. If you must, explain its current context for future readers. For example, a health and safety report references current legislation. The act is carefully identified so that it can be differentiated from future revised codes. Your document should be clear and comprehensible now and 20 years from now.
****Forget the Word Count
Some writers race to a word count, seeing it as the goal marker. In technical writing, word count is a poor judge of completion.
Technical writing should be concise. The same instructions can be conveyed in 500 words or 5000 words. The better instructions are the ones that are most effective for the reader, regardless of the word count.
Use word count as a general guide, not a rule. Never force words onto a page meet a word count. If you can write the same idea in fewer words, it’s better for the reader.
*****Use Graphics to Illustrate
Graphics can help illustrate your message. In technical writing, the goal of graphics is to help convey information not act as decoration. In our online technical writing course, we teach that graphics should be focused on the reader. Poorly designed graphics can confuse readers and do more harm than good.