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Thinking Like a Reader: An Essential Part of Technical Writing

22nd February 2012 Posted in Blog, Documentation 2 Comments

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A common trouble with technical writing is the ability of the writer to connect to the end user.  Because many technical writers are already experts in the field, they might not be able to approach the information from a completely new perspective, leaving readers feeling lost or confused.

But there are many ways in which a technical writer can ensure the writing addresses the thinking ability of the reader. Here are just a few:

  • Ask the right questions – Before writing, the technical writer should consider what the reader might already be asking about a particular process.  Keeping these questions in mind, the writer can then ensure the writing answers those queries.
  • Focus on clarity – Watch for overly long words, which can impair the effectiveness of a document.  Instead, stick with simpler terms to convey ideas without forcing the reader to stop and wonder what you mean.
  • Have the document reviewed by multiple parties – After a document has been produced, it can help to have multiple rounds of reviews by those with similar traits as the target audience, especially those with little to no knowledge of the procedure or process you’re attempting to document.  Use these reviews as a means of identifying and addressing issues that are uncovered.

Thinking like a reader begins with knowing what the reader needs and where the reader’s level of expertise is at the moment the document is read.  Being complex in technical writing is usually not the most effective route.

When in doubt, remember the reader, as it is the reader who will determine whether the document is used effectively or not used at all.

What are your thoughts on thinking like a reader or end user? Do you have additional ways that you address the needs of the reader? Share a comment with us.

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  1. By Henry Daquipelon 24th, February 2012 at 12:06 pm

    I think having your article reviewed by many people can be time consuming although it is a very effective strategy in technical writing. When I finish writing an article, I do not publish it immediately. I go out for a walk for at least half an hour. I usually do this if I write a very long article. After walking, I go back to my article and I get a fresh perspective.

  2. By editoron 24th, February 2012 at 3:24 pm

    @Henry Daquipel – Thanks for your comment. Letting an article sit for awhile is a good idea. Taking a walk can refresh your mind, so it’s a great way to do that. If I can, I like to wait until the next day and take a fresh look at it. As a fellow writer, I know I always benefit, though, from another set of eyes. However, if you’re on your own and posting a blog article or something of that nature, it’s not always feasible to get your work reviewed.

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