Follow these basic techniques to make your technical writing effective and user-friendly!
Be clear and logical
Technical writing is not a place for elegant and dense prose. It’s not about writing a mystery novel. There should not be a plot twist or surprise ending — just clear steps, info, and examples.
It’s not only about what you write. “Be clear and logical” is also the rule for presenting information. Don’t just write a wall of text and expect your reader to make sense of it. You should think over everything: How does the information need to be sequenced and paced? What needs more explanation? What information should I rewrite? That’s the main key to effective technical writing — constantly ask yourself. So, they will give you an idea how you can represent your information right.
Know your audience
All writing is writing to someone and technical writing is not an exception. However, to my opinion, a technical writer should be more responsible in comparison with other writers. Since tech writers help people learn new products, and the writing way will depends on an audience.
For example, if you write for experts about the advanced technical details of a new product, it is probably safe to assume a high level of prior knowledge, meaning you can avoid explaining basic concepts and use complex jargon. However, if you write for novices of the industry, you must explain basic concepts and avoid complex jargon. Moreover, you also need to consider what is necessary to include and what can be skipped over to make your text more efficient.
To learn more on this topic, read the article called How to Conduct User Interviews.
To help your users to achieve their goals, you should not be totally theoretical in your writing. Be sure to use examples that not only clarify and describe what you are discussing but present the topic in terms of a realistic scenario. These are especially useful when you write an instruction — a text may be not enough. That’s why I recommend that you use photos to clarify your writing: Photos in Technical Documentation.
But it will work well not only for instructions but also for every type of documentation since people get the main idea quickly through visual content. Ideally, some difficult topics should contain videos but if you don’t have enough resources, adding screenshots and photos would be great.
Nothing is perfect and we’re just people — we can miss something and make mistakes but they’re inappropriate in documentation. Here is where proofreading steps in. However, it doesn’t mean you can just run spell-check and call it a day. Again, ask yourself — What can be made clearer? What can be expanded on? What can be cut? To answer these questions, you need to step away from a draft for a little bit and return to it with a critical eye.
There is another way to view your text from a different angle — ask your colleague or friend to read your text. It will provide you with a fresh perspective, your friend/colleague can follow the described steps and tell you what steps were unclear, so you can improve them: Proofreading Tips for Technical Documentation.