in Technical Writing

“You have nasopharyngitis.”

For most people, the reaction to this statement from a doctor is probably, “What is that and what do I do with this information? Am I dying?” However, if he simply said, “Your nose and throat are inflamed. It’s just a cold.” Chances are, your reaction would be much less confused and panicked, and you’d know exactly what to do with that information. Simply go buy some cold medicine.

When it comes to technical writing, the information can be complex, difficult to understand, and just downright boring. There can be many ways to approach sharing information this information, however, it’s important to keep two main questions in mind.

  • Who is your audience?
  • What is the message and its purpose?

Producing technical documentation in the wrong way can cost a company thousands of dollars as it can be damaging to your business if nobody knows how to use your products. When your audience is the general public (no matter what industry you’re in) it’s important to keep communication simple, especially ones that involve heavy technical documentation. Although you may have a degree in engineering, 60-year old Mrs. Smith next door might not, and probably doesn’t want to read a textbook when all she wants to know is how to reboot her computer. Here are some tips to keep in mind as a technical writer writing to the non-technical audience.

More how, less why

When the time comes to consult a user manual, an average user probably doesn’t want to read all the technical reasons as to why their tablet is suddenly frozen. More likely, they would just like to know how to fix it. Focus on who you are writing for and why they would be consulting this document in the first place, then get straight to the point.

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Get rid of the jargon, acronyms, and excessive details

What may make perfect sense to you, might hold little to no meaning to someone else. Acronyms, jargon, and buzzwords prove that you are knowledgeable in your field, however you should never assume what the readers already know. Keep everything as simple and easy to understand as possible.

Structure your content clearly

When it comes to the structure of your content, how it’s organized is vital to the user. Some ways to better organize your content are:

  • Use headings to sign-post and help orientate your reader for main points
  • Address one concept in each sentence or point
  • Use lists or bullets to help simplify complex concepts
  • Use visuals, graphs, or charts

Have a non-technical person test out your work

Having an outsider without any technical knowledge read your work will help fine tune language and areas that need improvement. If you’re writing an instruction manual, have them actually test your instructions to see what needs to be changed and if you have effectively gotten your message across.

Always return back to the two most important questions. Who is this for? What is the message and its purpose? The finished product should be as easy as possible for users to understand, which is why having a professional and trained technical writing team is vital to the success of a company with heavy technical documentation.

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