How to Pack a Punch with Your Technical Writing

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Whether you're writing for white papers or service pages, technical writing could be copywriting’s old and boring equivalent. Unlike the more casual and easy approach of copywriting, technical writing presents more challenges when it comes to accuracy and detail. Additionally, with technical writing, your audience will expect to find copy that explains your process and the nitty-gritty of how your products (or services) work. Hence, it’s important for your finished product to be as clear, unambiguous, literal, and well-structured as it could be. 

Before you begin to write, imagine yourself talking to an audience of subject matter experts (SME) so that you can outline the structure of your article in such a way that they will find your details useful. Here are more helpful hints on how to pack a punch with your technical writing: 

Get to the pointas quickly as you can. While copywriting or other forms of creative writing are meant to entertain and persuade, technical writing demands a more straightforward approach, wherein your reader should be able to understand your topic as quickly as possible. Keep in mind that technical papers are often lengthy because they include too much information, so you need to write the leanest article you can. 

Simplify your language. Keep it simple by varying your sentences’ length and cutting out extra information that isn’t needed in the article. Remember though that your article may contain complicated ideas that you’ll need to explain in lengthy detail. In this case, explain specifics in a more direct way. Make your text snappy and concise by simplifying your grammar and vocabulary. You can also shorten sentences by cutting out as much punctuation as you can without affecting the readability of the sentence. The fewer the commas and the more periods, the better. 

Follow a task-based approach. Because you’re inevitably confronted with a lot of details, it’s best to break a topic into parts. Ask yourself, what does the reader want to perform? For example, if you’re writing about a washing machine, you describe the parts, the motor, and its sub-assemblies. If you're writing about software, you can divide the document by describing the interface, menus, and other features. 

Always remember that your audience is reading your document in order to accomplish something, so keep the logical order in mind. If you're writing a user manual for a washing machine, you can begin with how to start the machine, then follow it up with a guide on utilizing function buttons, and then how to stop the machine. For software, zero-in on how to install and launch the software, how to use it, save it, and exit the program when they’re done. 

Manipulate your layout. Use bullet points and lists to make the article easier for your reader to digest. If each of your items have a qualifier, it’s best to list them down. This will save your article from looking like a long piece of prose separated by semicolons. In addition, consistency maximizes the readability of the article. Keep headers, sub-headers, and sub-sub-headers within the same format—as well as font, size, type, and weight throughout your article. 

Always keep learning. Technical writers who work in the same roles for a long period of time may tend to become too comfortable with their styles. Learning and working on a variety of projects with different demands, platforms, languages, and audiences can help you stay relevant and fresh. 

Posted 28 September, 2015

Angela Gaddi

Freelance Writer

Angela writes about IT security, privacy, free speech, politics, social media, and the intersection of business and consumer tech. Has a special aptitude for privacy, cult literature, film noir.

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