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The ‘How To’ of Technical Writing

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When you think about technical writing, you probably think about the dry writing that fills software manuals or other user handbooks.  Boring and dull – but is this the only way to approach technical writing?  Not at all. 

What you might not realize is that technical writing happens whenever someone instructs someone else.  This might be something as basic as a recipe or something more complicated, like how to handle hazardous materials.

Clear Instructions

In order to get from an idea to a final result, you need to follow certain steps.  When these steps aren’t followed, that’s when trouble emerges.  There’s a big difference between using eggs in a recipe and using peanut butter, after all.  In creating a technical writing document, the emphasis should be ensuring the proper outcome.  For technical writing teams and individuals, it can help to begin with the intention of the document.

  • If the document is to instruct, does it instruct?
  • If the document is to inform?  Does it do the job?

Teaching How, Teaching

While many people might think that technical writing is a much more serious practice, this doesn’t have to be the case.  By breaking down the steps needed to complete anything, you’re allowing your audience the chance to learn something they might not have known earlier.  You start with certain pieces, you bring them together, in a certain order or pattern, then you have the final result.  If something doesn’t go right, you can return to the document to see what steps were missed or misread.

You need to teach ‘how’ sometimes – in fact, companies with resources around the world need to teach ‘how’ more often than they might have before.  When a piece of paper needs to take the place of a training class, it only makes sense to break down the larger idea into manageable bites.

At its core, technical writing is focusing on teaching how to do something.  Does your document do its job?

Related topics:

Structure and Technical Writing
Structure and Technical Writing Followup: Strategies to Consider

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