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Basic Principles of Technical Writing

Every now and then, we need revisit the basic principles of technical writing. Since we started in 1997, the basic principles of technical writing have stayed the same, even as the modes of communication change.

Purpose and Audience

Before beginning any new writing project, a technical writer has to analyze the purpose for the document and identify its intended audience. The writer needs to ask:

  • Who will read the documentation?
  • What are their biases?
  • What responsibilities do I have when communicating information to the audience?

Style Guide

Technical writers often use a company style guide, if available, to ensure their documentation has a structured pattern. A style guide provides guidelines for how a document looks, the language it uses, and how ideas are arranged. This organization gives continuity to a document or series of documents, so the audience can easily comprehend the information. For example, a technical writer may document a process chronologically, as dictated in the style guide. Without that structure, the reader would be confused and unable to follow the process. Style guides make writing more consistent and readable.

Writing Style

Technical writers change their writing style depending on the audience and the situation they are writing about. If they are writing technical documentation, then the style should be formal, devoid of the emotion you get with creative writing. If they are writing an email to one of the senior managers involved in the project, then their style would be more conversational.

Accessing the Information

Accessibility is how easily the information in a document can be obtained by its intended audience. A technical document contains elements such as a table of contents, headers, footers, and page numbers to assist readers in navigating the document and finding the information they need. A technical document also adheres to a specific structure of headings and sub-headings to break the information into relevant sections that the reader can access readily.
These are just a few of the aspects we address as technical writers. For additional information, please visit some of our other blogs:

How procedures can save money, time and lives.

Usability engineering for user documents.

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