ABC of Technical Writing: Meaning, Goals & Categories

What’s Technical Writing?

Technical writing is sometimes defined as simplifying the complex . Inherent in such a concise and deceptively simple definition is a whole range of skills and characteristics that address nearly every field of human endeavor at some level. A significant subset of the broader field of technical communication , technical writing involves communicating complex information to those who need it to accomplish some task or goal.

Lexico.com (parted of Oxford Dictionaries), provides four definitions of technical, all related to technical writing.

  1. A description of or relating specifically to a subject, art, craft, or its techniques
  2. Concerned with, involved in, or concerned about applied and industrial sciences
  3. Mechanical failure can cause serious damage
  4. According to strict interpretation or application of the law/rules

These definitions make it easy to see how technical writing has existed for as long as written languages. Technical writing and technical communication as a profession are now common references. This is because technical advances in industry, warfare and telecommunications started to accelerate. Technical writing is often thought of as writing manuals for software and computers, but it can be practiced in any industry or field where complex ideas, concepts or procedures must be communicated.

The US Bureau of Labor Statistics defines technical authors as people who “… translate technical information into understandable language. They work primarily in information-technology-related industries, coordinating the development and dissemination of technical content for a variety of users; however, a growing number of technical communicators are using technical content to resolve business communications problems in a diversifying number of industries.”

The Goal Of Technical Writing

Technical writing is a skill that produces relevant, useful, and accurate information for specific audiences. This allows them to take specific actions to achieve a goal. It could be operating industrial equipment, safe consuming packaged food, diagnosing a medical condition, following a law, coaching a team or any other number of activities. Technical writing is required if the activity requires specific skills or expertise.

Technical writing is only a small percentage of what is intended for general consumers. Many technical writing is provided by businesses and organizations to help them explain their internal processes, create products, implement processes and sell products and services. The Society for Technical Communication is the leading association for technical writing. It hosts many special interest groups for different aspects of this profession.

Technical Writing Categories

The largest sector of technical communications is technical writing. Technical writers collaborate with graphic designers and illustrators, editors, document specialists, content managers and instructional designers, trainers and analysts to create a wide range of deliverables.

ContractsOnline and embedded assistanceSpecifications of requirements
Customer Service scriptsPoliciesSimulations
DemonstrationsProcess flowsMaterials for training
Design documentsProject documentsUser manuals
FAQs (Frequently Asked Question)Catalogs of productsWarning labels
How-to videosProduct packagingOnline Training
InstructionsProposalsWebsites
Knowledge base articlesNotes from the releaseWhite papers
Refer to the Reference Guide

The development lifecycle for technical writing often mirrors that of a product development organization.

  1. Identifying the needs, audience(s) and scope
  2. Plan
  3. Research & content development
  4. Revision and testing
  5. Delivery/production
  6. Feedback and evaluation
  7. Disposition (revisions, archiving or destruction).

Technical Writing and Integrated Technical Communications

In the 20th century, there have been many changes in technical writing, especially in terms of how technical content is produced and delivered. To effectively manage information, more organizations are creating integrated technological communications. A content management strategy is also developed by them. This strategy includes the delivery of technical, marketing, and promotional messages to customers, suppliers, and employees.

The ABCS of Technical Writing: 4 Things Technical Writers Must Know

Many technical professionals find it difficult to write technical reports. Research, investigation and design are the reasons you do what you love… but you must write a technical report. This is where the weak link can be. Regardless of your industry or organization, there are certain features that technical writing must have. These are the ABCS of Technical Writing, which I refer to as clarity, simplicity, accuracy, and clarity.

Accuracy

A precise reporting of your findings and accurate presentation of the facts. A representation of your findings that is consistent with the methods used. It is important to clearly state where you have expressed an opinion and not a specific outcome of your investigation. Specific information is better than generalizations.

Brevity

Time-poor readers will appreciate a short document. You might consider placing background and supporting information in an appendix or footnote. Keep sentences as short as possible (15-20 words is a good rule of thumb for most readers), and only one idea per sentence.

Clarity

Use familiar vocabulary and constructions. Consider who will be reading your report, and be ready to explain unfamiliar words as a glossary or footnote. Use consistent terminology and abbreviations when presenting figures, tables, or illustrations. To illustrate your point, you can use tables, figures, graphs, and illustrations. As ‘they’ say: a picture is worth a thousand words. Jargon, which is specialized terminology in your field, excludes people who are not familiar with these terms. Be precise: Your readers won’t appreciate you having to determine if a word means something differently in different contexts. If your discipline allows, you can use bullet points or numbered points to communicate complex ideas.

Simplicity

This is about communicating your thoughts with simplicity and not simplifying your work. Your readers are important: You want to demonstrate the value of your work and not just how good a writer you might be. Exuberant writing is not as important as the content. Verbosity can hinder your readers’ comprehension. You should think about the logical flow of your report. Your document’s structure should be designed to lead your readers to your conclusion. Plain English is simple and will work well for you.

Learn the ABCS of Technical Writing. Keep in mind that you want your readers to say “That’s outstanding work” and not “That’s great writing, but I don’t know what it was about.”

Desolie Page, an editor accredited by Perfect Pages, is the owner of Perfect Pages. Perfect Pages helps non-fiction, business, and technical writers improve their writing. I will work with you to get to know your audience and to use precise, clear language to convey your message clearly. My work focuses on plain English, and how to make your document more readable (including formatting). This will ensure that your readers enjoy what you have written while still understanding your message.

Conclusion

  • Technical writing can be described as simplifying complex ideas.
  • Technical writing is the art of communicating complex information to others in order to achieve a task or accomplish a goal.
  • This often leads to relevant, useful, and accurate information that is targeted to specific audiences. It enables a set of actions by the audience to achieve a goal.
  • This isn’t just for software manuals. Modern technical writing can be found in almost every industry because of its broad range.