Technical writing involves research, creating visuals, text, and needs to target the user's level of understanding. Address user understanding with clear, concise, and coherent communication. Documents you create represent an image of the products of a company. Poor writing will affect the user's understanding of the usefulness of the products and the reputation of the company. So what can you do to make your writing more effective? Here are 10 tips that will help you improve your communication skills.
- Define your audience. It is very important to know your target audience. Who are you writing for? What does your reader need to know? For example, if you are writing a procedure manual, you need to create a logical sequence of steps; then you can fill in all details. When you start elaborating on the details, make sure it is in the order that is applicable to the product and your reader’s understanding.
In addition, you may have different readers to address with a simple document-operators must know how to work with the equipment, job safety officers must know if the equipment matches their industry and company regulations, managers of various departments must know some details that are relevant to their field. You can either skip or include basic details according to the level of knowledge of these people.
- Know the subject or product you write about. It is a vital factor that you need to be very familiar with your topic to be able to explain complicated concepts in very simple terms. As Einstein said,” If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough. ”You need to have an adequate level of knowledge about the topic, if you have doubts, do your research, take notes, and consult experts. Keep doing it until you can explain everything to a six-year-old.
- Structure your document. Structure is a key element that helps readers find specific information easily. People read documents in different ways. Some people read only the information they look for and others read the entire document through. In order to fit the needs of these readers, you should create a list of tasks to guide people to solve their problems. Make sure to give your text a meaningful flow. One idea should follow another in a logical sequence. When you divide your text into sections, add some transition between them, this will improve the readability of the content of your document.
- Use layout. Layout can be very helpful in a technical document. Without it, your document will be difficult to navigate. Layout is also a function which is to make your text more understandable and easily scannable. Bulleted and numbered lists, headers, page breakers, bold keywords, and italicized examples will highlight the important points of focus and make your messages clearer. It is a map for your readers to guide them through the document.
- Use visual elements. A picture is worth a thousand words. Illustration is a proper way to break big chunks of dense text that can be boring and difficult to digest. Use various illustrations, such as tables, charts, diagrams, and screenshots to balance the text. Your readers will be hunting for a particular piece of information and images are attention grabbers that derails this search. Images should be placed near the text which explains it. Tables should create visual hierarchy, compare the data and help your readers interpret findings.
- Use examples. Examples keep your writing tied to reality and this is crucial since technical writing deals with practical things. They are the evidence to prove theories in your document. For instance, if you write a manual about operating a machine, you need to list things that might lead to malfunctions, explain situations in which such things may happen, what are signs of malfunction, how should control panels or indicators look like when everything is done properly.
- Improve searchability.
Two major things that will significantly improve the searchability of information your readers will look for are the table of contents and glossary. Table of contents is the master list of tasks. Users should be able to scan through it quickly and easily to find the information they need. Don’t make a table of contents too technical and ramified, otherwise, you make it too overwhelming for your readers and it will lose its purpose, which is providing a roadmap.
Creating a glossary can also be very helpful. Readers often search for special keywords and terms that may not be in the table of contents. This is an effective way to tie words and phrases your readers might expect with the precise technical terms you have actually used.
- Build human connection. Your text is a bridge between technology and users. Always remember that people will read your text, so you should make style more interactive. Writing in second person will humanize and make your document easier to read and process. Also, use present tense and active voice whenever it is possible to keep things simple. Keep your information accessible and consistent throughout the entire document.
- Edit and test.
Every document needs to be edited several times. It does not only include spellcheck and grammar, but also includes inconsistencies, redundancies, and gaps. You can step away from your document for a day or two, then come back again. This way will help you spot those problems easily.
After you finish editing the document, you should ask others to test it. Ideally, a QA specialist that tests your document against the live system.
- Get feedback.
One is never too good to learn and improve. One thing you can do to identify areas needing improvement is to ask for feedback from your colleagues and clients. Do they find your document helpful? Does your text answer their questions? Is there anything they don’t like? If you receive negative feedback, don’t be discouraged. It is an opportunity to work on and improve your writing ability.
Remember, always keep a notebook of your mistakes and things you have learned and never stop perfecting your skills.