Introducing Technical Writing

Technical writing is a field of professional writing on technical subjects. It is quite different from fiction or journalism. Fiction includes poetry, short stories, plays and novels. The goal of expressive writing is to express one’s feelings through description and narration. However, if we want to read about rocket science or brain surgery, we need a technical writer to tell us exactly what they mean.

Technical writing ‘aims to get work done, to change people by changing the way they do things’ (Killingsworth and Gilbertson) Writing which helps in completing the work is a key part in all professions. Technical writing is a good field with a lot of growth and income potential.

Importance of Technical Writing

The most critical skill required in today’s business environment is the ability to communicate, both verbally and in writing, and technical writing is a major component of work environment. Through technical correspondence, companies maintain

  • Customer-client relations
  • Completion of works as per schedule
  • Regular maintenance of machineries
  • Total quality management

The 3 C’s of good technical writing are

  • Clear
  • Concise
  • Complete

Clear, concise and complete writing helps the reader to grasp the meaning quickly.

Technical writing costs time & money

It has been found that on an average, employees spend 20% of their time writing memos, letters or reports. 20% is a base figure. Corporate supervisors not only spend their time writing, but they also spend additional time reviewing and revising the writing composed by their subordinates. If you write a clear directive, then a lot of time can be saved.

Technical writing is audience centered. Technical writing is always audience centered. When you write a memo for example, you expect an action. Similarly, when you write instructions, you know that readers will follow the steps. The writer’s goal is to satisfy the audience’s need. Their needs include anything that they must know or do to carry out a practical activity.

Let us say that you are an engineer writing a monthly status report. Your report always goes to the same person, your immediate supervisor. With this ongoing activity in mind, you know the purpose of your report is to document. You also know that your audience is highly technical. Given your purpose and your audience’s level of understanding, you write a report.

Technical writing deals with specific situations

Technical writing engages a specific audience that has specific needs. The customer who must assemble the computer will receive instructions that explain how to do it. The writer’s goal is to satisfy the audience’s need. Technical writing enables readers to perform their tasks smoothly.

Technical writing is interactive. As the reader reads the words in the document, they also apply it to what they know or believe by past experiences. Hence it is very important that what you write must be understood correctly. It is also important that what you write should not be misunderstood. The reader interacts using the past experiences. With their personal meaning, the reader may take a different course of action from the one the writer may have meant.

This interactive sense of writing and reading means that the document is like a blueprint from which the reader recreates the message. The reader relates to certain words and presentation techniques from a framework of expectations and experiences and makes a new message.

Communication does not occur until the reader recreates the message. Technical writing is an extension of your interpersonal communication skills. When you write a memo, letter, or report, you are not just conveying technical information. You are revealing something about yourself to readers.

If you write well, you are telling your audience that you can think logically and communicate your thoughts clearly. If, on the other hand, you write poorly, you give your readers a completely different picture of yourself as a technical writer. You reveal that you can neither think clearly nor communicate your thoughts effectively.

Technical writing is an extension of your interpersonal communication skills at work, and co-workers will judge your competence based on the effectiveness of your correspondence. A postgraduate in English joined technical writing classes and when asked for the reason he explained that his superiors in his organization are extremely dissatisfied with his reports and he has to improve his clarity and preciseness.

Technical writing is presentational. Technical writing involves attractive layout for easy reading and comprehension. Presentational strategies help readers to grasp messages quickly.

  • Use the top-down strategy (tell them what you will say, then say it)
  • Use headings (like headlines in newspapers)
  • Use chunks (short paragraphs)
  • Use a plain, objective style so that readers can easily grasp details.

Top-down Strategy for Technical Writing

Top-down strategy means that you decide what you want to tell them and say it. Top-down means putting the main idea first. This establishes the context. When the reader finishes the first paragraph, they have a clear expectation of what will happen in the rest of the message. When this expectation is established, the reader can grasp the writer’s point quickly.

Use Headings

Headings are words or phrases that name the contents under the heading. Headings are top-down devices. As a result, the readers always have a “map” of the message. They know where they are and where they are going.

Use Chunks

A chunk is any block of text. The basic idea is to use a series of short blocks rather than one long block. Readers find shorter chunks easier to grasp.

Use Visual Aids

Visual aids—graphs, tables, and drawings—can be used regularly to improve the visual appeal and engage the attention of readers. Visual aid reinforces the message in the text. Writers commonly use visual aids to present collections of numerical data (tables), trends in data (graphs, pie-charts)

Technical Writing is Responsible

Readers act after reading your document, your document should be trustworthy. Readers are stakeholders in your presentation. As readers rely on you to be their guide, you must mention points of caution, if any. For example, if your machinery has a very sharp part, which is normally covered, you must caution the user to take extra care, in case cover is removed for cleaning etc.

Use simple and objective language Technical writers typically use simple language and terminology that audience understands. Because the objective of technical writer is to inform, instruct or persuade a reader about a specific practical matter, technical writers use words and sentence structures that focus the reader’s attention on the relevant facts.