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5 Must-Know Technical Writer Tips!

Written by Ekaterina Tsvetkova | Jul 10, 2013 6:00:00 AM

Technical writers hone a skill set that not only aids the consumer to better understand the latest technology, product or software system, but helps build the reputation of the organization they are representing as they act as a knowledgeable expert regarding a specific product and topic. 

If you've ever read a user/instruction manual, you know what technical writing is, but have you ever wondered about the series of actions used by technical writers as they assemble documents?  Thinking of becoming a technical writer?  

We’ve gathered 5 technical writer tips to consider as you embark on your journey of manuscripts, manuals and more.

 

1) Use verbs as verbs

Avoid turning verbs, especially excellent ones, into nouns whenever possible.  Too often, beginner technical writers take a useful and spirited verb, turn it into a noun and then attach a boring verb it it. 

The table below provides examples of verbs that are turned into nouns and paired with boring verbs: 

Instead of Try
Obtain estimate of.. Estimate.. 
Has seen an expansion of..  Has expanded.. 
Provide a methodological emphasis of..  Emphasize methodology.. 
Take an assessment of..  Assess.. 
Provide a review of..  Review.. 
Offer confirmation of..  Confirm.. 
Make a decision..  Decide.. 

 

2) Don’t bury the main verb

Keep the main verb and subject of the sentence close together at the beginning of the sentence. Most of the time, the reader is waiting for the verb so bring it to the start of the sentence. Adhering to a subject-verb-object sentence order makes it easier and more engaging for the reader to follow along.

Example: One study of 1,000 adults with a coronary artery condition receiving care in one of three government managed care setting found that only one-third of those needing to contact a cardiologist for a coronary artery-related condition in the prior 8 months had done so. 

As you can see, it takes reading quite a bit of the Subject before getting to the main Verb.  As you can see, it takes quite a bit of reading before getting to the main verb. The reader gets lost as they are waiting for the main verb to arrive.  By moving the verb to the front of the sentence, the sentence becomes an easier read. 

Example: One study found that, of 1,000 adults with a coronary artery condition receiving care in one of three government managed care settings, only one-third of those needing to contact a cardiologist for a coronary artery-related condition in the prior 8 months had done so.

 

3) Declutter

Expert technical writers should always make a point to eliminate distracting information that doesn’t contribute to the main idea in the sentence and/or paragraph.  Rather than using long words or phrases, figure out the short form and use that instead.

Other terms to look out for are:

  • Dead-weight words and phrases
  • Repetition 
  • Adverbs
  • Negatives – for example: Use ‘she failed’ rather than ‘she did not succeed’

 

4) Paragraph-level 

A single paragraph should contain one centralized idea.  As you begin writing, think to yourself: what is the point of this paragraph?  Stick to this main idea as you link a logical flow of sub-ideas to it.  Remember - one paragraph, one idea. 

Make sure to give away the punch line early on in the paragraph.  Don’t keep the reader guessing what the message is about as they read the paragraph – provide the take home message early, and then fill out the details later on.

 

5) Sentence-level 

When writing at the sentence-level, technical writers should make a point to:

  • Use strong, active verbs – these verbs are easier to follow and are more engaging to the reader
  • Use the active voice – a subject-verb-object order over an object-verb-subject order
  • Be specific - Vague terms are hard on the reader because it is difficult to get a clear picture in mind
  • Avoid unnecessary jargon and acronyms

 

WHAT OTHER TIPS DO YOU RECOMMEND FOR TECHNICAL WRITERS?