Technical writing requires both an in depth understanding of technical concepts, combined with an ability to transform highly jargon ridden instruction into clear, concise and easy to read copy. As the world of content production changes, there is a growing demand for skilled technical writing across a range of industries. You want your content to exude authority and expertise, but, you still want people to understand it. The fact is, when you learn to create engaging technical content, you are gaining a better understanding of your product or service.
From our years working with technical wizards, engineering doctorates and mining authorities, we’ve picked up some tips for getting your technical writing right.
Identify your purpose
This may seem obvious to some, but it is surprising how many times people start rambling before they bed down what it is they want to say. Because technical writing requires such sophisticated knowledge and expertise, knowing your purpose becomes crucial. Technical experts often get caught up in the detail, the functionality or the system itself and consequently lose sight of what this content is meant to achieve.
Why are you creating this document? Where is it going? What do you want this document to achieve? At every stage of the writing process, come back to these questions and ensure that your content continues to address your overall purpose.
You’re the expert – your audience may not be (understand their level of knowledge)
Whether you’ve been creating compelling copy for 20 years, or you’ve never put pen to paper with any confidence, your audience is your number one priority. When you understand your audience, you can effectively cater your writing to meet their needs and capability. This is especially true for technical writing. Your content will often be filled with complicated explanations and functionality breakdowns and by knowing your audience, you can aptly adapt the level of explanation your content requires.
There is no doubt that you are the expert in your field. You need to understand the level of technical knowledge your audience has to ensure you are neither too simplistic nor too complicated.
Strip away that jargon and ambiguity
We often extol the virtues of stripping away your jargon to create effective content. No matter what you are talking about, getting caught up in the industry lingo will only serve to limit the value of your content. If you work in a technical industry, chances are, you’ve spent the better part of your career building your technical vocabulary and learning to understand the hundreds of complicated phrases and definitions that are specific to your industry.
Your audience will likely not have done the same thing. Where possible, simplify your language, and even adopt Plain English. Even other experts in your field will appreciate the clarity of your content.
Use visual representations to complement your explanations. Tables, charts and graphs can be an impactful way to illustrate your point and show your audience more clearly. You are likely dealing with highly convoluted concepts or practicality and it can be very easy to lose your audience as a consequence. Don’t put your audience to sleep with paragraph upon paragraph of heavy text. Don’t just tell them, show them.
Give credit where credit is due
It is critical that any technical writing you publish in your industry is referenced properly. Know where you got your information, and back it up wherever possible. There are two main reasons for this.
The first is that many incredibly hardworking experts spent a lot of time researching, studying or creating compelling information, and just as you deserve the credit for your hard work, so do they. Acknowledge, reference and credit your sources in a valid and tangible way – don’t throw to a Wikipedia link because you can’t be bothered to find the publication details of their book.
The second is purely self-satisfying. When you reference your sources properly in technical, as with academic writing, you are illustrating your knowledge, expertise and credibility. You will build trust and loyalty with your audience.
Give your content context
Many technical writers spend so much time explaining their concepts that they forget to give any context. Particularly when dealing with something that is highly confusing or convoluted, give an example. Show your audience a practical illustration of your explanation and you will find they connect with your content on a deeper level.
Ask for help
The interesting thing about technical writing is the added value of consulting both technical experts and objective communicators. You’ll naturally consult with other experts to ensure the technical specs are accurate. It is equally important with content, to engage a non-technical reviewer, writer or editor. Their objective eye can help pull out the salient points, clarify the complexities and check your overall language.