Education

3 Basic Principles Of Technical Writing

After all these years I still haven’t figured out what the reasoning was behind requiring an apprentice plumber to take a writing class, but be that as it was, there I was sitting in the classroom.
My professor was handing back some graded assignments, when he tossed my packet on my desk I noticed there wasn’t a grade on it, then I realized this wasn’t even my paper.
I politely informed the professor of his mistake and was taken back when he replied he knew that, but wanted me to read aloud the papers he’d given me.
After reading half a page, he stopped me and asked me to explain the principles and directions I had just read. I told him I couldn’t because I didn’t understand them, they were too technical in a subject I was only vaguely familiar with.
“Ha ha,” the Professor said “KISS, The Keep It Simply Stupid Rule.”
I’ll never forget that little experiment, played out at my expense, but it taught me a valuable lesson. I had researched and written a paper designed to impress my professor, which was not the assignment. He wanted me to realize the mistake I had made and as I stated earlier, it made a lasting impression. Make no mistake about it, I don’t claim to be an expert technical writer, but I have had some experience and success writing procedural directions.
There are primarily three basic guidelines I try to adhere to when writing on a technical subject. The infamous KISS rule is always foremost in my mind as I plan my theme and approach.
Don’t mistake KISS with being elementary when delving into a subject, there’s a huge difference. To me “Elementary” means writing about the surface of the subject, the reader will know a great deal about the outside of the subject, but little of the in depth, what makes it tic portion of the subject.
KISS explores the in depth portion of the subject, but is presented in such an elementary style, it becomes easy to understand. If you can make a very technical subject easier to comprehend, you have done your job well as a technical writer.
Analyzing and remembering your intended audience and what they expect to get out of your writing is paramount to becoming a successful writer. Writing for a High School science class is obviously different from presenting the issue for a college graduate course, but can still be the identical subject matter.
The high school student will be looking to learn the steps 1 through 20 of a particular experiment, where the college student has been subjected to the 1 through 20 steps before and is somewhat familiar with the process, but wants in depth explanation of what scientifically occurs at each of the 20 steps.
The degree of difficulty and perceived knowledge base you’re dealing with in these two examples requires two different approaches to writing. If you forget you’re writing for the high school student and range off on some tangent displaying your superior knowledge, you’ve lost him forever. The bottom line is remember and write for your audience.
The last thing I always try to do is give a brief summary of what was covered in the article. I have already identified my audience, I’ve attempted to write to the level the audience understands by keeping it simple and relative to their needs and expectations.
Now I finish by a brief highlight of important issues just to clarify any unanswered questions, or remove any doubt or confusion. Adhere to these three principles and you’ll have an excellent head start on being a great technical writer.

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