Basic elements of technical writing
Technical writing is a specialized form of writing.
Its goal is to help readers use a technology or understand a process, product, or concept. These processes, products, or concepts are often complex, but they need to be expressed in a much simpler and easier-to-read way.
So within the technical writing genre, you will find: technical reports, installation and maintenance manuals, proposals, white papers, online help, process standards, instructions and work procedures.
While each discipline has its specific requirements, some basic elements are common. But before looking at them, the most important thing for a technical writer to consider is the audience.
- How familiar are readers with the topic and with the specialized terms and abbreviations you need to use?
- What is the best way to explain those terms or abbreviated forms: footnotes, endnotes, glossary, table of abbreviations, appendix, links?
- Do you need to accommodate secondary readers (for example, the manager or financier who will make the decision on the proposal) and how will you do it?
Now for those all-important elements:
- Clarity – The logical flow of the document will help readers to understand the content. It can be helpful to ask someone unfamiliar with the topic to review your writing before finalizing it. The use of titles, illustrations, graphics or tables can be helpful; Your goal is to make it as easy as possible for your readers to understand what you have written. Consider how the text is positioned on the page or screen, another clue to maximize clarity for your readers.
- Precision – The information and the interpretation of the data that it presents must be truthful. If not, your readers will question the credibility of the content. Take care to clearly differentiate between facts and opinions, and to accurately cite references to other works.
- Brevity – Strive to find a balance between the amount of information presented and the time required to read the document. Remember that you can use an appendix or link to provide background or background information. Consider using an illustration, table, or graph instead of words to explain a concept, but remember, if you use a “visual,” don’t give a lengthy explanation in writing.
- Sentence length – Generally, complex or unfamiliar concepts are best presented in shorter sentences. This will give readers time to digest small bits of information before moving on to the next one. While this can be difficult to achieve, try to aim for approximately 25 words per sentence. If you find that you have written a series of long sentences, look for ‘and’, ‘but’, ‘however’ and similar words where you can break the sentence.
- Paragraphs – The old one topic per paragraph rule is a useful guide. That doesn’t mean that you can have only one paragraph for each topic, but it does mean that having only one topic in each paragraph makes the writing clear and logical.
- Reader-centric – You are writing for your readers. Make it as easy as possible for them to understand your work.
Keep these basics and other principles in mind when performing your technical writing tasks.