Computer software, fibroblast conversion, radiofrequency absorbers… oh my.
Technical writing can be… boring. But it doesn’t have to be.
As a non-technical person, writing content geared toward experts in a technical field can be intimidating. Truth be told, I had no idea what a CNC machined metal housing or EMI gasket was when I first began.
But that doesn’t matter. *gasp*
I don’t need to be an expert in any of those things. What I do need to know, however, is how to quickly absorb the information, the spoken language, and its stuffy written counterparts, to create technical non-boring content for experts.
Through a framework that is far from groundbreaking, but incredibly effective.
No matter what type of technical writing I’m doing–medical, industrial, or otherwise–I follow the same framework to ensure I get to the point and deliver on my promise.
Let’s get into it.
What is the Goal of Technical Writing?
Technical communication or technical writing is defined by the Society for Technical Communication as:
- Communicating about technical or specialized topics, such as computer applications, medical procedures, or environmental regulations.
- Communicating by using technology, such as web pages, help files, or social media sites.
- Providing instructions about how to do something, regardless of how technical the task is or even if technology is used to create or distribute that communication.
Technical writing requires that you take a complex topic, radiofrequency shielding for example, and explain it using simple language. A non-expert should be able to read it and have a basic understanding of the topic.
Clear, concise, easy-to-understand content is the name of the game.
Technical Writing Process
There are five key steps to writing technical content that I typically adhere to. They allow me to effortlessly follow a framework that nudges me through the creation process. It also gives me an idea of what is yet to come and helps me plan my time accordingly.
Step 1: Plan
The planning phase is where I spend a significant chunk of my time. I immerse myself in the topic until my eyes glaze over. (I promise I’m having fun.)
Here are the key components of my planning phase:
What’s the Point?
Out of the gate, I like to ask myself “What is the point of this?” No, this isn’t an existential crisis so let’s not get carried away. There must be a clear question to answer or an issue to address. And if there isn’t, it’s back to the drawing board.
Define Your Reader
Who are you writing for? Management, field experts, engineers, customers? Knowing your end user is critical in technical writing. Directing it at the wrong person could render your content completely ineffective, and dare I say it, useless.
Interview Subject Matter Experts
Interviewing an expert can be intimidating at first, but I promise it gets easier. It helps to remember that SME’s may not be expert writers, just as I am not an expert engineer. Our collaboration is what makes this complex information easy to digest and accessible to all who need it.
Do Proper Research
Effective technical writing demands that you understand the material you’re writing about. Do you need to be an expert to talk about form-in-place gasket design or fibroblast to osteoblast conversion? No. But you do need to use the proper language.
Research everything, and when you inevitably get hung up on something, enlist the help of an expert. Whatever you do, don’t just make it up.
Inaccurate or misleading content can be the death of the business. Who wants to do business with a company that clearly doesn’t understand its own products or services? No one, that’s who.
Step 2: Build the Structure
At this point, I generally have a good understanding of the topic. I’ve discovered the main questions the readers want to be answered and the end goal of the piece. From here, I build out the structure of the piece.
Technical writing comes in a variety of formats–it’s not all manuals and instruction books. It may be a blog post, a case study, a datasheet, a user manual, or a white paper. You may even find space for storytelling if the material calls for it.
Step 3: Writing Technical Content
Once the structure has been laid out, put your fingers on the keys and knock out that ugly first draft. You have my permission. (My first round is always heinously awful. Seriously.)
I dump everything onto the Google doc, and then I attempt to knead and coax the chaos into logical sentences that flow. I pull out potential headers and leave notes for areas that might benefit from further research.
I find it beneficial to comb through the SME interviews for the nuances in the way they speak. I listen to the way they describe processes or the way they define specific workflows, properties, or attributes. Using their type of conversational language in your writing can help improve its flow.
Step 4: Reviewing Technical Writing
The final step before publishing technical writing is the review process. It is critical to ensure that the information presented is technically correct and free of errors.
Typically, a review of technical writing includes several iterations:
- Self-review. Read it out loud. Look for unclear segments or areas that could benefit from further explanation. Edit aggressively. Run it through spell check, or use a tool such as Grammarly.
- Peer review. Don’t shy away from a knowledgeable colleague's honest review of your work–it will only make you a better technical writer.
- Subject matter expert (SME) review. No matter how confident I feel after I’ve finished my technical writing piece, I like to have the SME who was interviewed review it for accuracy.
- Editorial review. Finally, it’s time for one last review by someone who can ensure it is in line with the company’s mission and technical requirements.
Step 5: Publish your Technical Writing
Your finished piece is ready to go live! This can be as simple as sending the final draft to your boss for approval, or as complicated as translating it into different languages, enlisting a design team, uploading it to your content management system, or creating several versions of the document for different purposes.
Technically, the End
Technical writing isn’t for everyone. But for writers who are interested in expanding their skillset, it may be worth exploring. It will challenge you to be a better writer. You may find that you actually enjoy bringing “boring” topics to life.
If you need an expert technical writer for an upcoming project, contact us at Hire a Writer. We’re happy to connect you with a skilled technical writer to take your message to the next level.