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How to Master Technical Writing: 13 Steps - wikiHow

How to Master Technical Writing


Three Parts:

Understanding Technical Writing

Improving Your Writing Style and Approach

Using Technical Writing Courses and Professional Resources

Technical writing is one of the fastest growing professions and the demand for
technical writers shows no signs of slowing down.[1] Perhaps you have basic
knowledge of technical writing and are looking to build a career as a technical
writer, or perhaps you have been working as a technical writer for several
years and are looking to expand your skillset. Mastering technical writing will
take years of experience, practice, and constantly pushing your skills to stay
up to date with the demands of the industry.
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Part 1 of 3: Understanding Technical Writing

Be aware of the skills required to be a technical writer. Unlike creative writing


or opinion based writing, technical writing should help a reader understand a

process, product, or subject in a clear and concise way. Technical writing is not written
to entertain or distract the reader. Instead, it should be informative and clear. Technical
writers, also called technical communicators, will prepare documents like instruction
manuals, journal articles, and design documents that contain information for customers,
consumers, designers, and manufacturers.[2]
As a technical writer, you may also write assembly guides, user guides,
scientific papers, medical papers, brochures, and employee and student
handbooks.
You should also have a good eye for detail and be able to communicate in a
clear and concise way. Most technical writers are good teachers, and can
explain rules or guidelines in an educational way. You should also have
extensive knowledge of punctuation, syntax, and style, and have a strong grasp
on sentence structure and grammar.
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Remember the key elements to being an effective technical writer. Strong


technical writers will plan their documents before writing them and state the

information with clarity, brevity, and simplicity. They will also use the appropriate word
choice, use the active voice as much as possible, and understand that technical writing
is a process that may require editing or revising. Planning your written documents is one
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How to Master Technical Writing: 13 Steps - wikiHow

of the key steps to producing strong technical writing for a client. You should keep in
mind the following elements during the planning stage:[3]
Identify your audience and their expectations.
Understand the purpose of the document.
Organize your supporting materials and outline the document.
Budget the necessary time to write, revise, and edit the document.

Understand the growing demand for technical writers. Technical writing is a


growing field, especially in the United States. The Bureau of Labor Statistics

predict technical writing jobs will grow 15 percent faster than average for all occupations.
In fact, technical writing is one of the most in demand skills by employers, especially as
the technology sector continues to grow. Having the ability to communicate effectively
and teach readers about a variety of subjects will make you a very desirable candidate
in the job market.[4]
As of May 2012, the median annual wage for technical writers was $65,500.
Most technical writers have a college degree in technical writing or a related
field, as well as some experience in a technical subject like computer science,
web design, or engineering. Many universities also offer certificate programs in
technical writing.
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Part 2 of 3: Improving Your Writing Style and Approach

Focus on rhetorical awareness and user-centered design in your documents.


Beyond simply writing documents that explain a process or product, strong

technical writers will also be skilled at rhetoric. This means you can write persuasively
and eloquently about the process or product. Rather than reproduce templates or
guidelines, you should consider the goals and situations around the document. This will
allow you to communicate more effectively with the target audience and explain the
process or product in a more user friendly way. No matter what type of technical
document you are creating, you should always consider your intended audience and
make the document user-centered. Doing this will make your document accessible and
understandable to your reader. To write rhetorically, you must have a strong grasp on
the rhetorical situation of a document:[5]
Determine the audiences expectations. Ask yourself: what information are my
readers expecting to get from this document? What information do I need to
provide to readers?
Think about the characteristics of the audience. Consider who is reading the
document. Is your audience part of the decision making process in terms of the
style and organization of the documents, such as stakeholders and
management? Is the audience the general public or the average reader? How
do the characteristics of the audience affect the document expectations?
Writing a document for an audience who is familiar with the information will
create a different tone than writing a document for an audience who are non
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How to Master Technical Writing: 13 Steps - wikiHow

specialist or general users. You should also consider the reading level of your
audience. Your client may specify the reading level and you should write to that
reading level.
Consider the goals of the audience. What is your reader planning to
accomplish? What should your reader learn from the document? You should
ensure the document includes all the necessary information to allow your reader
to achieve their goal or goals.

Try a task based approach to organize the information. Organization is a key


element of being a strong technical writer and one of the simplest ways to organize

raw information or data is to break it down into a number of tasks, followed by


instructions for each task.[6]
Consider how many tasks there are in the procedure you are writing about. A
task is a semi-independent group of actions within a procedure. For example,
setting the clock on an oven is one task in the procedure of operating an oven.
Some procedures do not contain more than one task, for example, changing a
light bulb. But more complex procedures, like operating an oven or finding a
light bulb for a certain light fixture contain several tasks.
To organize a long list of tasks, group similar or related tasks together into
steps. Then, group these steps into phases or stages. Number each step in a
phase or a stage. For example, for operating an oven, you may have one phase
titled setting up the oven, with steps on plugging the oven into a power source,
setting the clock, confirming the temperature settings, and checking that the fan
and oven light work properly once the oven is plugged in.
You can also organize the information by tools, rather than by tasks. Consider
the tools available to the user of the product, for example, the user of an oven.
In a tools approach, you may create a section for the power source of the oven,
the oven clock, the temperature setting, the fan, and the oven light. However, it
can be difficult to use a tools approach for technical writing that does not involve
a product or item. Often, you will use a tasks approach in technical writing,
especially if you are writing about a process.

Use the active voice and action verbs. Strengthen your language use in a
document by using the active, rather than the passive, voice. Describing a process

in the active voice, with action verbs, will give your writing immediacy and clarity.
For example, rather than start a document with about how to operate an oven
with: Stick the oven into the power source, use a stronger verb like plug or
connect. You can also use other action verbs in active sentences like Set the
oven clock, Determine your ideal temperature setting, and Confirm the fan
and the oven light work properly.
You should also ensure your sentences use the active voice as much as
possible. You may have a sentence that uses the passive voice, such as: "Light
pressure should be applied on the oven door to ensure it is closed properly."
Adjust this to the active voice, where the sentence's subject does the action in
the sentence: "Apply light pressure on the oven door to ensure it is closed
properly."[7]

Simplify any terms or phrases when possible. If you are using jargon or slang
in your documents, you should consider if your audience will understand this

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jargon. If the jargon is unfamiliar to them, you must define these unfamiliar terms, or
replace these terms with simplified language. A good rule of thumb is to never use two
words when one word will do. Focus on paring down your language so the essential
meaning is clear to your reader and the meaning is not cluttered by unnecessary
information or terms.[8]
Avoid needless complexity, which occurs when you use formal terms that can
confuse or throw off your reader. For example, rather than write utilize, you
can write use, rather than write finalize, you can write end, rather than write
functionality, you can write feature.
Often, technical terms will be abbreviated in documents. You should always
spell out the abbreviations when they are first mentioned in a section and then
use the abbreviation in the rest of the section to avoid redundancy.

Integrate graphics and visual aids. Many technical writing documents can be
enhanced with the use of graphics or visual aids to keep your reader engaged and

to provide a visual example of the process. It can be difficult to explain a complex


process in words, and using an illustration can help your reader understand the process
that much more.[9]
Your client may provide visual aids or graphics that need to be integrated into
the technical writing document, or you may need to outsource these graphics to
an illustrator. Suggest visual aids if your client is not already aware of their use.
The white space provided by graphics can also break up the written
descriptions and give your reader a chance to digest the information.

Format your documents according to the clients style guide. Most clients will
provide a style guide that outlines their expectations of the document in terms of

language, grammar, punctuation, syntax, and style. You should always follow the clients
guidelines when formatting a technical writing document. Avoid submitting documents
that have not been formatted properly or that do not adhere to the clients style guide.
This will appear unprofessional and sloppy.

Be prepared for revisions and rewrites. Technical writing documents often go


through several revisions and rewrites before they are considered final by the

client. You must maintain open communication with your clients to ensure they receive a
final document they are happy with. Avoid taking any edits or revisions personal. You
are working for a client and you are writing for a clients needs.
Many technical writers create multiple versions of documents to keep track of
any revisions or adjustments. You may be working on several projects at once,
especially if you are a freelance technical writers, so keep your documents
organized to make revisions easy and fast.
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Part 3 of 3: Using Technical Writing Courses and Professional


Resources

Take a continuing education technical writing course. Improve your writing


skills in a continuing education course on technical writing and gain more insight

into how to master technical writing. Many courses focus on specific elements of
technical writing, such as audience awareness, organization of information, use of visual
aids, and simplifying language according to the reading level of the audience.[10]
Consider which areas of technical writing you would like to improve on and
which course would be most beneficial to help expand your skillset as a
technical writer.

Attend a technical writing conference. Technical writing conferences can be


good places to meet other writers in the industry, and find a possible mentor to

guide you in your career. Be prepared to network at these conferences and dont be shy
around your peers. Many conferences also hold panels and seminars to help you
improve your existing technical writing skills.[11]

Join a professional technical writing association. A professional technical


writing association, such as the Society for Technical Communication (STC)[12],

can help you meet other professionals and keep up to date on the latest developments
in the technical writing industry. Many employers also consider membership in a
professional association as asset, and an indication that you are connected and well
versed on the current developments in the industry.
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Sources and Citations


1. http://www.businessnewsdaily.com/5864-technical-writing.html
2. http://www.businessnewsdaily.com/5864-technicalhttp://www.wikihow.com/Master-Technical-Writing

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How to Master Technical Writing: 13 Steps - wikiHow

writing.html#sthash.RoLZn0F0.dpuf
3. http://web.mit.edu/me-ugoffice/communication/technical-writing.pdf
4. http://www.businessnewsdaily.com/5864-technical-writing.html
5. https://owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/resource/624/01/
6. https://www.prismnet.com/~hcexres/textbook/instrux.html
7. https://owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/resource/539/02/
8. http://web.mit.edu/me-ugoffice/communication/technical-writing.pdf
9. http://www.businessnewsdaily.com/5864-technicalwriting.html#sthash.RoLZn0F0.dpuf
10. https://zeltser.com/how-to-become-a-better-technical-writer/
11. https://zeltser.com/how-to-become-a-better-technical-writer/
12. http://www.stc.org/

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