How is Technical Writing Different?

There are several factors that set technical writing apart from other types of writing.

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Technical writing is characterized by a combination of all these elements. No single characteristic distinguishes technical writing from other kinds of writing. Remember, the saying, beauty lays in the eyes of the beholder. So, it is not surprising that technical writers find beauty in the bland manuals. They can appreciate a well written, usable, useful, and well organized manual, because that’s the beauty of technical writing!

Purpose

Technical writing is directed to a specific set of audience who reads to understand a product, or a concept, or to perform a task. The document should inform, instruct, and educate them. It should contain facts, theories, information, and details that the users look for.

Technical writing is factual, not fictional.

Audience

The users read a document with a purpose to learn, understand, perform certain tasks  and to make certain decisions. They are users of the writing. Hence, you should know about your audience and try to meet their expectations. You have to write what they want and what they they need to know, not what you want or what you may want them to know. Audience is the most important element of effective technical writing.

Technical writing is usually for a specific set of audience.

Language

It takes different level of writing talent to write different kinds of documents. The document should help the readers accomplish the task without them noticing that they were helped along by excellent documentation. Use of language is an important factor that distinguishes it from the other forms of writing.

  • Technical writing involves language that is specific to a particular concept, science, technology, or product. It is informative in nature.

Technical writing is informative, not entertaining.

  • Technical writing is characterized by the information that is accurate, informative, and useful. The language used by literary writers is avoided. You have to choose words carefully and construct sentences that emphasize utility over beauty.

Technical writing emphasizes on utility over beauty.

 Writing Style

Creative writers have their own style and mode of writing and hence, we can often identify the writer by the style of their writing. In comparison to the other forms of writing, technical writing is bland because you have to follow certain do’s and don’ts in terms of writing styles and guidelines when creating technical documents. Technical writing is consistent, organized, logical, systematic, and format specific. The identity of the technical writer is lost to standard stylistic issues, format, and rules.

    • The aim of the writing is to inform and to help the users perform tasks, not to confuse them. Hence, the writing should be clear, accurate, easy to understand, and concise.

Technical writing is concise and to-the-point.

    • It is less creative. You should make consistent use of terminologies, numbers, hyphens, units of measure, punctuation, equations, grammar, symbols, capitalization, and abbreviations. The information and format can be creative when writing marketing material.

Technical writing is logical and consistent.

    • Technical writing is an art because it conveys information to the reader in a way that enables the reader to easily understand the technical information. It is science because it deals with methods, systems, design, theory, and results.

Technical writing is a combination of art and science.

Format

The companies with well-established teams have their own customized style guides, which describes the guidelines and the style issues. They often have a preferred way of writing, organizing, and laying out the content of the technical documents. The writers have to follow the format and stylistic guidelines decided by the organization.

Technical writing is format driven.

Organization

In technical documents, the information has to be organized sequentially and systematically. There has to be a logical sequence to the sections and procedures to reflect the usage and patterns.

Technical writing is systematic, organized, and sequential.

Visual Aids

It is said that a picture is worth a thousand words. The users appreciate a tabular representation of the data or a flow chart instead of wading through lengthy paragraphs. Hence, make use of appropriate visuals aids in the document instead of painting a picture of words. Visual aids help in the following ways:

    • Capturing the attention and interest of the readers
    • Explanation—technical information can often be described better using different types of visual aids (illustrations, snapshots, tables, flow-charts, photographs, graphs) than it can be in words
    • Clarification—to show more about something explained in words so that the users understand the concept faster and clearer, without any confusion.
    • Better understanding—it provides an alternative for those who learn better visually than verbally.

Tone

The tone of the writing is objective and to the point.

    • The procedures are written in an instructive tone
    • Active voice is preferred over passive voice.
    • Sentences are action oriented (Click this…, Press that…, Do this to do that… etc.)

Dependency

Creating a documentation is not a stand alone function—it depends on many factors:

    • The information you receive from the SMEs

You have to depend on the SMEs for getting the document reviewed for technical accuracy. Most of the time, they may not respond to your request for timely review. If the documents are not reviewed on time, the entire documentation schedule gets delayed, due to which the product release also gets delayed.

    • Development of the product

If any functionality of the product is changed, you will have to make the corresponding change to the document. If the product (or a functionality) is not stable, and is in a dynamic state of constant change, you may not be in a position to write that part of the document.

    • The deadline followed by the engineers.
    • The tools and procedures used for documentation

In any case, the writer will be held responsible for the delay for not completing the document on time and will be seen as incapable and inefficient. This problem usually arises when the work of the documentation team is underestimated.

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