The Technical Writing Mystery Revealed

The Technical Writing Mystery Revealed
Summary: Communicating effectively through writing is an integral part of instructional designing and training. Learning how to evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of your current writing style is essential. In addition, discovering how to craft your written messages to others better is vital.

Why You Might Need Help From A Technical Writer

Training professionals whose peers consider them to be well-written, well-spoken, well-liked, and well-respected have at least one thing in common: They are superior communicators. From the list above, let's focus on being well-written. Acquiring and improving this skill is essential in today's business climate, where small learning modules and short-term training activities are rapidly deployed to the workforce. An uppermost desire of all communicators should be to present messages truthfully and correctly and without embedded biases. Consequently, employees trust accurate communication, which creates a safe environment, where opinions and ideas can be freely exchanged and explored. When people strive to improve their written messages, levels of employee understanding increase decidedly.

What Technical Writers Do

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics defines technical writers this way: "Technical writers often create diagrams to show users how a product works. In addition, technical writers, also called technical communicators, prepare instruction manuals, how-to guides, journal articles, and other supporting documents to communicate complex and technical information."

A good technical writer can help teach you to follow structure, conciseness, and accuracy in your writing. They can also help you make your writing easy to understand. Have you ever thought about using one? Your learner feedback may give you some insight. If you've discovered that complex training processes are not easy to understand, help from a technical writer may save you time and money. The right one will also improve your writing skills.

Writing Skills Are Crucial If You Want To Be Listened To

Written communication skills are more critical than ever before because an increasing number of employees are working with those whom they've never met in person. That means people write to each other when they cannot communicate using voice, tone, and body language. In addition, the non-verbal elements of face-to-face communication present a listener with essential clues into the speaker's thoughts or feelings, making the writing even more challenging.

Evaluating your abilities and weaknesses with your current writing style (or skill level) can be an effective way to learn and improve your instructional design. Once you uncover your writing weaknesses, you can begin immediately to improve your skills through a good editor, colleague, co-worker, teacher, or technical writer.

A Short List From A Technical Writer (Work On These First)

Some years ago, I hired a technical writer to help with my participant guides, training manuals, and eLearning. He immediately went to work on teaching our team to do these things first:

  • Use summary leads at the beginning of your writing topics to include these elements: who, what, when, where, why, and how. Your writing should capture the attention of your readers from the start.
  • Increase message accuracy by using credible primary sources whenever possible. Avoid dogmatic language where opinions morph into false information.
  • Work on your grammar. A good editor will help you. It takes a fresh set of eyes to see your mistakes. Their feedback is a gift. Accept their critique; it will make you a better writer.
  • Don't be afraid to use dictionaries, synonym finders, and style guides. Good reference tools can teach you how to improve.
  • Try to simplify your messages using shorter bulleted lists and shorter sentences. Looking at a lot of text can be overwhelming to a modern learner.
  • Avoid wordy phrases. Long-winded phrases can often be streamlined into one word.
  • Understand that technical or specialized language (jargon) may be unfamiliar to a particular reader or learner.

Many good writers will also teach you about using active instead of passive voice. Generally, passive voice can use more words and can be vague to your readers:

  • Active: Employees in the plant improved production.
  • Passive: Production in the plant was markedly enhanced by the employees.

(The passive voice is often a style choice and not a grammatical error.)

Keep Getting Better

I admire people who write well but have a long way to go in my writing style, grammar, punctuation, and skill. However, I do care about my learners and I have a passion for storytelling. Many professionals want to improve their writing skills. Your company may want to consider offering communicating and writing as part of your leadership development or professional development course curriculum.