Technical Writing

Technical Writing

Communicating with the audience
 
Audience analysis is a key feature of all technical writing. Technical writing is a communication to convey a particular piece of information to a particular audience for a particular purpose. It is often an exposition about scientific subjects and technical subjects associated with finance, construction, medicine, agriculture, technology, and various sciences.
 
Procedural technical writing translates complex technical concepts and instructions into a series of simple steps that enable users to perform a specific task in a specific way. To present appropriate information, writers must understand the audience and their goals.
 
Persuasive technical writing attempts to sell products or change behaviors by putting forth compelling descriptions of how a product or service can be used in one's life. This type of writing often delves into features and benefits of the product or service, and may use illustrations to make the benefits easier for the audience to understand.
 
History
 
The origins of technical writing have been variously attributed to antiquity. However, a clear trend towards the discipline can be seen starting from the time of World War I, growing out of the need for technology-based documentation in the military, manufacturing, electronics, and aerospace industries. In 1953, two organizations concerned with improving the practice of technical communication were founded in the United States: the Society of Technical Writers, and the Association of Technical Writers and Editors. These organizations merged in 1957 to form the Society of Technical Writers and Editors, a predecessor of the current Society for Technical Communication (STC).
 
Technical writing is presentational
 
Technical writing involves attractive layout for easy reading and comprehension. Presentational strategies help readers to grasp messages quickly.
 
The top-down strategy (tell them what you will say, then say it)
Headings (like headlines in newspapers)
Chunks (short paragraphs)
Plain, objective style so that readers can easily grasp details.
 
It is also important to understand the medium typically used to view the final product. An HTML document (web page), viewed through a browser, has presentational possibilities that are different from those of the printed page, notably hyperlinks and animation, which can enhance the readers' experience.
 
Overview
 
For technical documents to be useful, readers must be able to understand and employ them without having to decode wordy and ambiguous prose. Good technical writing clarifies technical jargon; that is, it presents useful information that is clear and easy to understand for the intended audience. Poor technical writing may increase confusion by creating unnecessary technical jargon or by failing to explain unavoidable technical terms that readers would not be expected to know.
 
Consider a technical writer writing a cake recipe:
 
Audience: Is the audience composed of people in home kitchens, or highly trained chefs in professional kitchens?
Source: Is there existing documentation—a rough draft? Who is the subject matter expert (SME)?
Deliverable: Is the deliverable simple text for inclusion in a book, or formatted to final form? Is the target a paper, a web page, or something else?
 
The three C's of good technical writing are:
 
Clear
Concise
Complete
 
Clear, concise, and complete writing helps the reader to grasp the meaning quickly.
 
The technical writer determines that the recipe is written on the back of a napkin but is partially indecipherable, so he or she must also interview a subject matter expert (SME)—the chef who created it. On being told that the audience consists of people in their own kitchens, the writer adjusts the writing style accordingly and replaces or defines terms such as "beurre mixer" or "springform pan", which may be more suited to an audience of highly trained chefs. The chef reviews a draft of the recipe (a technical edit) and notates corrections (bake at 350 degrees, not bake at 325 degrees). The writer prepares a final draft, which the document owner and any other stakeholders review and approve before it is published in one or more formats, such as a paper or HTML. Different versions of the document might also be published to meet the needs of different audiences. For example, the version intended for an American audience will use imperial units of measurement, whereas other versions will use metric measurements. Rather than creating an entirely new document for each audience, the technical writer will create a single document, and use variables and other methods to manage the differences.
 
Types of technical documents
 
Technical writers use computers and other electronic communications equipment extensively in performing their work. They also work regularly with publishing software and various authoring environments to prepare material directly for the Internet. Technical writers frequently work with word processing, graphic design, page layout, and multimedia software. The nature of technical writing is evolving, and modern technical writers combine text, graphics, images, and sound into their work.
 
Broadly speaking, technical documentation can be categorized into three types, depending on the style of writing, the level of knowledge transferred, and the target audience:
 
End-user assistance. These information products help a user understand how to use a technical software or hardware product. User manuals for computer software, hardware, household products, medical equipment, cell phones, smartphones, and other consumer electronics belong to this category.
 
Traditional technical documentation. Here the writer's objective is to communicate to a specific audience. Maintenance guides, appliance or application repair manuals, engineering specifications, research papers, reference works, annual reports. and articles written for technical journals (to name a few examples) belong in this category.
 
Marketing communication. Product catalogs, brochures, advertisements, introductory pages for web sites, press releases, and advertising copy belong in this category.
 
Technical design and Technical Drawing are also considered forms of technical communication.
 
Technical writing is often associated with online help and user manuals. However, technical writers create many other forms of technical content. These include product release notes, product troubleshooting guides, product user guides, tutorials (textual and multimedia), installation guides, API programmers' guides, marketing documentation, E-learning modules, web content, legal disclaimers, policies and procedures, business proposals, and white papers, among others.
  • Recommend Us