Well-written and accurate documentation plays a major role in any company’s customer support strategy because it helps to reduce support costs. Technical writing plays a big part in the support equation.
Technical writing is much more than just technical jargon, and structured, concise instructions. As the intended audience for the technical writing could be for both technical and not-technical people it must to convey its message so that both sets of people understand it.
The main purpose of a technical writer when approaching a new technical writing project is to ensure that they maintain focused on what they are writing about. The information they are producing has to be organized and structured within the laid down style that is appropriate for the intended audience. By sticking to the basic principles of technical writing the technical writer is ensuring that the documentation is clearly understood by the reader.
The following is the six basic principles of technical writing that a technical writer has to take in to consideration.
There are five basic questions a technical writer has to ask themselves when starting a new project – who, why, what, how and when. Answering these questions will allow the technical writer to be able to develop the content for any type of technical documentation. For example, let’s say the technical writer has to create a user guide for a new video recorder. Before creating the user guide, they will have to plan the content of the user guide by applying following key questions to the situation:
- Who will read the user guide?
- Why do need to create the user guide?
- What is this user guide going to offer its intended audience?
- How is the user guide going to be delivered?
- When does the user guide have to be ready (publishing date)?
The audience and purpose of the documentation
Before beginning any new writing project, the technical writer has to analyze the intended audience and identify the purpose for the document. The technical writer will need to ask the following questions about the audience:
- Who will read the documentation?
- What are their biases?
- What responsibilities does the technical writer have when communicating the information to the audience?
With regard to the purpose of the documentation, technical writer will need to know what the documentation will accomplish and also what should it do.
Technical writers will more than likely use a company styleguide (if there is one) to ensure that their documentation has a structured and organized pattern so that it gives consistency to their writing. A styleguide will provide the document with continuity so that the audience can comprehend the information. For example, technical writers need to organise their ideas in a specific chronological format because without a specific layout and structure to the documentation it will be very confusing for the reader to understand.
Technical writers will need to change their writing style depending on the audience and situation they are writing about. If they are writing technical documentation then it needs to be formal and devoid of any emotion as you get with creative writing. Whereas, if say they were an email to one of the senior managers involved in the project then their approach would more casual than formal.
Accessing the information
Accessibility applies to the ease at which the intended audience can gain access to the information they need from the technical documentation. A technical document must at least contain a table of contents, headers and footers, list of illustrations/tables, page numbers, etc.
Also a technical document must adhere to a specific heading and sub heading structure to break down the information into relevant areas that the reader can access easily.
A technical writer must adhere to all the rules of conventional grammar. Also it is the technical writer’s responsibility to proofread and edit their documentation to detect and correct any errors in the writing, graphics, typography and layout.
In summarising, a technical writer must ensure that they incorporate the above mentioned principles into their everyday writing style. This will go a long to make them not only a better writer but their technical documentation will be appreciated by both their peers and readers alike.
Filed under: Technical Writing
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