content marketing, copywriting, digital copywriting, technical writing, writing tips

Writing tips – how to master technical writing

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.

Table it

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.

copywriting, editing, proofreading, sub-editing, typos, writing tips

Don’t let silly mistakes spell the end of your credibility

We’ve all been there. You’ve spent hours working on the perfect pitch or article and in a proud state of exhaustion, you publish without a second thought. Only then do you, and all your colleagues and followers, realise that you’ve made some key mistakes. Mistakes you could have easily fixed. Mistakes that just chip away at your credibility as a knowledgeable resource in your field. Mistakes I can help you avoid.

I have created a basic checklist that should help you avoid some of the common mistakes. Use it wisely.

There vs They’re vs Their

It is so easy to mix these up.

There has a number of meanings. It can be an adverb, a pronoun and adjective or a noun. It generally refers to a place, but not always. For example

My cup is over there.

Is there anybody out there?

My cup there is empty.

We’re going over there.

Their is a possessive adjective. This means it is indicating that you own something. For example

You can borrow their ball to play soccer on Thursday.

They’re is a contraction. This means it is a shorter way of writing they are. For example

They’re coming over for dinner after the game.

If you would like a more detailed explanation, read this article on E Learn English Language, which explains it all in more detail.

Loose vs Lose

This is an incredibly common mistake, which can fundamentally change the meaning of your sentence.

Lose is a verb to describe the loss of something. For example

I lose my keys if I don’t leave them in the same place.

Loose is an adjective to describe the opposite of tight. For example

When I lose weight my trousers become loose.

Desert vs Dessert

Mixing these two up could be the difference between a delicious chocolate mud cake and eating sand.
Desert has two meanings and two pronunciations. The first is a noun describing a dry, baron land. The second is a verb to describe abandoning someone or something. For example

I thought I found an oasis in the desert, but it was just a mirage. 

A loving mother does not generally desert her child.

Dessert has just the one meaning. It is the noun to describe the tasty treat you have, or shouldn’t have, at the end of a meal. For example

My husband forgot to share his chocolate dessert with me because it was too delicious.

You’re vs your

Your is a possessive adjective. This means it shows that you own something. For example

Did you bring your book to class?

You’re is a contraction. This means it is a shorter way of writing you are. For example

If you’re going to go for a walk in the rain, I suggest you bring an umbrella.

Everyone’s favourite pedant Ross Geller explained it his way when breaking up with Rachel.

The dreaded apostrophe

The apostrophe is a mean and complicated beast. Knowing where to put it can have even the most engaging writers stumped. There are many ways to use and misuse the apostrophe and Scribendi have written a really comprehensive article on the proper use of apostrophes. One of the most common mistakes people make is in relation to plurals. Plurals that are not possessive do NOT require an apostrophe. For example

I play football on Thursdays.

Don’t let your computer do all the work

By all means use tools such as spell check and grammarly. Please don’t let that be your last line of defence. The great thing about these tools is that they will often pick up on major mistakes or incomplete sentences, but they will never be able to pick up your intent. You need to read over your work to make sure you haven’t altered your intent with a well-spelt typo.

Is your spell check on the right region? It’s easy to forget that even though we are speaking the same language, sometimes our spelling is specific to our country.

Read it aloud. If it doesn’t sound right when you speak the words, chances are, it’s wrong. Reading it aloud will give you a realistic feel for the rhythm and feel.

Finally – NEVER PROOF YOUR OWN WORK.

Even experienced editors and proof-readers follow this rule. When you are personally invested in the content it is so much harder to pick up the small mistakes. Always ask a colleague or friend to give your work a once over, just to make sure.