Top 4 Tips You’ll Learn in a Technical Writing Workshop
You know that you’re very good at what you do, but when you communicate with non-technical audiences, you feel as though they downgrade your abilities because, well, they don’t understand you.
Is that their problem? Or yours?
Right. It’s yours to solve, and you can solve it. Here are the top four tips you’ll learn in a technical writing workshop.
1. Write to sound clear, not smart
When the vocabulary of your profession is a language some of your readers don’t speak well, it’s tempting to strut a little and show off your technical knowledge. If you’re writing to non-technical audiences, resist this temptation at all costs. Flaunting your insider knowledge is deadly to communication.
Instead, be as clear as you possibly can. You may think your “clear” writing sounds too simple, but power on through to your goal of clarity anyway.
The best way to demonstrate how much you know is to be clear. After all, the goal of whatever you’re writing is to gain a good, shared understanding of the issue. If you’re clear, you will be strategic. If you try too hard to sound smart, you run the risk of irritating, alienating, or insulting your reader.
You were afraid you’d insult your reader if you sounded too simple? Please remember that, at work, people are not criticized for being too clear. Busy readers appreciate clear communications that allows them to read once and take action.
2. Use complete explanations
Non-technical people are as good at visualizing as technical people are, as long as they have all the data they need. Paint them a picture of how your technical process works. If you can, provide a metaphor for how it works: “Giving the system this command is like telling your MP3 player to scramble your tunes.” Then explain why it’s like scrambling their tunes.
It may take you a moment to think of your metaphor, but if it fits, you will be a communications tiger!
3. Use less jargon
Imagine arriving for your first day on the job. Your first command from your manager is, “Ask Leonard for instructions, then mackintosh up the P25C.”
You have no idea what the P25C is, or how it is “mackintoshed up.” How does that feel? On your first—or any—day, it feels awful.
You can choose not to do that to your readers. Tell them in everyday English what you want them to understand. Jargon is for conversations with your own team. The rest of your readers need ordinary English.
4. Request clear actions
Assuming they have understood your email, report, or proposal, now they have another (and a universal) need: they need to know what you want them to do. If you ever find yourself thinking, “Oh, it’s so blazingly obvious,” that will be proof to you that it is not blazingly obvious. Tell them what action you’re requesting and label it with a headline. They are not mind readers, and they are reading in a hurry, just as you do.
What could happen if you take all four tips?
You run a high chance of increasing your writing speed and the reading speed of your audiences. Writers who have attended this workshop report a 30–50 percent gain in writing productivity. They cut their readers’ reading time in half. Yes, that is the “win/win” it sounds like. It’s easier to be clear than it is to sound “smart.”
You will also face an improvement in the quality of your documents. With its clear writing, complete explanations, lack of jargon, and clear action items, your document will be of much higher quality. Yes, that is a good example of the elusive “win/win/win.”
Be bold. Use all four tips. It will be like unscrambling the tunes on your MP3 player. Everything will flow logically and sound clear.