Five Signs of a Clear and Direct Technical Document
Technical writing can be challenging. If you are explaining how to repair a system failure, for example, there is not a lot of room for ambiguity! Every word counts, and it is vital that the reader understands what you write. So how do you do it?
Technical writing training can help you learn the skills you need to write clearly about complex subject matter. Let the five signs of an outstanding technical document (listed below) guide you.
Sign 1: It is reader-focused
In order to be understood, you need to know whom you are addressing. If you’ve ever been to a doctor who’s confused you by using cryptic medical terms, you know what I mean. A more familiar phrase, like “high cholesterol” instead of “hypercholesterolemia,” is easier for non-experts to understand.
In other words, make sure to ask yourself how much your audience knows about your topic. Are they “not-so-technical” people? Are there specific terms, abbreviations or acronyms that you need to explain?
Sign 2: It is easy to read
In technical documents, follow this rule: the more complicated your information, the simpler the language. If your audience finds your document readable and digestible, they are more likely to read it to the end! Capture and keep your readers’ attention by following these tips:
Use short, crisp sentences; keep them at about 15–20 words. For procedures, use 8–10 words per sentence.
Keep your paragraphs no longer than 3–4 lines.
Include only essential information. Too many details will distract your readers. Worse, they may get bored and you will lose their attention.
Sign 3: It is convincing
Help guide your readers by backing up statements with concrete examples. This will also make your document more interesting; remember, you want to keep your readers’ attention! For example, if you are describing a smartphone’s memory in terms of gigabytes, you can explain what that means in practical terms. How many photos can users store? Can they stream movies?
Sign 4: It is visually appealing
Readers are attracted to, and are more likely to read, documents that look good. Here are some ideas on how to improve the visual appeal of your document:
Use bullets and numbers to structure your information. If you are outlining a procedure, always use numbered lists.
Insert white space between sections and paragraphs.
Include illustrations, charts, and tables to clarify complex information. Don’t forget in-depth headlines and labels!
Use icons and sidelines to highlight safety issues.
Sign 5: It is action-oriented
Technical writing training worth its name will emphasize that quality documents contain clear action steps. Make sure you tell your readers what they are supposed to do, even if they just need to set up a meeting or do more research. Always include a clear deadline.
All about the end goal
Remember, you are not writing to impress, you are writing to solve a problem easily and briefly. Understanding the five signs listed above will help you do that—and will put you ahead of the competition.