Is it time to improve your technical writing skills? The talent can be used for a variety of different purposes, including writing employee handbooks, procedures for work and safety, equipment manuals, and more. However, learning to write well does tend to be a bit more difficult than many people realize. If you want to brush up your own technical writing skills, remember these six tips:
Tip #1: Always Keep Your Audience In Mind
Whether you’re writing fiction or technical writing, keeping your audience in mind is a must. If you skip or ignore this step, you will likely end up with a manual that doesn’t function the way you intended for its specific user. You should be conscious of your audience’s tasks, needs, skill levels, and expectations. It’s also a good idea to keep stylistic demands in mind while writing and editing the entire piece.
For example, if you’re writing an introductory booklet for a work procedure that is supposed to be for new hires or interns, you may want to avoid any industry jargon. Instead, you’ll want to explain the basic terms and processes and provide them with the information they need to succeed. Jumping straight to complex topics and procedures may make the document useless for them. If you are writing for someone more experienced, you can skip the basics, use jargon (within reason and based on the industry), and include more complex ideas.
Tip #2: Start With an Outline
Technical writing, unlike fiction or even nonfiction, has to go in a very specific order. You need to explain step 1 and everything associated with step 1 before moving on to step 2.
Start by outlining every idea the piece is supposed to convey. For procedures and manuals, an outline should include each step and any potential definitions or explanations you’ll need to add. For employee handbooks, you can write out headlines for all the information you want to cover and then organize them in the best way for cohesiveness and clarity.
By crafting the outline first, you can avoid a technical document that is difficult to follow. You don’t want to force your readers to skip to page 20 to understand page 2.
Not sure how to outline? A skeleton is a great way to organize your ideas. This will help you clearly see where something may not line up and allow you to easily reorganize your work before you actually get to writing. You can also use this skeleton as a basis for your table of contents if the finished document is long!
Tip #3: Understand the Content
This tip is also true with any type of writing! Understanding the content will make it so much easier for you to explain to your audience. Not every piece of technical writing will require you to be an expert in the field, but you will be required to explain complex concepts in simple terms that anyone reading can understand. Do you understand the subject enough to do that?
Research, notes, and consultations with actual experts will help ensure you have a document that serves its purpose.
Tip #4: Include Illustrations
Technical documents can benefit by using illustrations. These can include pictures, diagrams, screenshots, charts, and tables. In any type of document, graphics can break up large chunks of text, making the piece easier to read.
However, you don’t want to use random images just to break up text. Instead, the visuals should be adding value while working to make the written material clearer and be associated with the text they’re placed near.
In an employee handbook, you could add screenshots to show how to log into the company portal. In branded materials, you may want to add a design that goes along with a mission statement. For procedures and manuals, your images can show parts of a machine or piece of equipment, explanations on how to repair or maintain the equipment, or tables and charts with valuable data or trends needed for their work.
Tip #5: Focus on Simplicity and Clarity
You might want to get flashy or creative with your writing, but a technical document is not the place for it. These documents are designed to explain ideas, procedures, and safety precautions in clear and concise ways. If you try to add prose or elegant writing to the piece, your message may not come across clearly. Humor is absolutely okay in some settings (and sometimes encouraged), but it should never take away from what the document is trying to describe.
Your technical writing should always focus on getting straight to the point. All questions need to be answered in a technical document. If you’re struggling, try writing a paragraph as you would speak about the subject and then go through and remove any descriptive or subjective words. Some descriptions are necessary. For example, the size or color of an object may be needed to find the right piece when doing maintenance work. But, there is usually a more concise way to write your content, and deleting unnecessary descriptive language makes the key points of your document easier to find.
Tip #6: Format
You have the document topic and the proposed images ready to go. Now you have to think about formatting. You don’t want to just throw your content onto the page at random. Instead, you want to think about margins, lists, bullet points, placement of images, and the table of contents. These steps may seem unnecessary – after all, you have all the information there – but formatting will make the difference in how easy your document is to use. Writing clearly is essential, but you also want to make the writing and relevant materials easy to find. You don’t want to require your audience to go hunting and spend 20 minutes trying to locate the details they need.
Technical writing is different when compared to other forms of writing, and some writers struggle with writing simple, straightforward documents. However, these six tips will help ensure you’re getting the ideas and facts across to your readers without complexity or confusion.
Are you having a hard time writing a concise procedure or manual that explains how to use a piece of equipment? Or are your employees constantly bringing up your employee training documents with questions? It may be time to work with a company that has the experience writing and designing these types of materials. Contact us today!
And if you don’t want us to write it for you, then check out the Technical Writing Courses we offer.