Ready to take your technical writing to the next level, but not sure where to start? Would you like to learn how to freshen up your writing approach? In this post, Jennifer Signore, PhD, Associate CER Writer, shares four tips to strengthen your technical writing skills.
1. Use templates and instructions to create a strong foundation for your document.
Success in technical writing starts with a lesson we all learned in grade school: “Follow the directions.” For each document we create as technical writers, there are guidelines and templates regarding content, especially relating to levels of evidence and detail required. Following these closely is the first step toward success, with clarity provided by the client or regulatory authority as needed for special cases. In addition, guidelines and templates tend to be updated more often than one would expect, so make sure to review them carefully, even if your document updates might appear simple.
2. Be clear in your writing.
Have you ever had to re-read a paragraph repeatedly to understand what the author is trying to convey? Technical writing requires one to avoid ambiguity and adhere closely to the three Cs of writing: be clear, be concise, and be consistent.
Some basics to help you stick to the 3 Cs are:
Avoid wordy sentences or flowery language; be exact.
Let the source documents dictate the content (but don’t plagiarize!).
Do not draw conclusions or make claims you cannot support with evidence.
Ask yourself, “Is this still relevant?” “What does this add to the discussion?” “Is this necessary?”
3. Understand the scope of your work.
This tip builds off the concepts of being clear and concise. While it can be tempting to include as much detail as possible with the idea that it will paint a full picture for the reader, excessive detail can often conceal the main points of the document. Knowing when it is (or is not) time to “go down the rabbit hole” is a skill that sets good writers apart from the crowd. To learn this skill, examine prior documents, discuss with the client, ask a colleague. Ask yourself:
“What is the scope of the document?”
“What level of detail is warranted to accomplish the goal?”
(For updates) “Is the information included still relevant?”
4. Leave plenty of time for edits and revisions.
After you finish your first draft, step away from the document. It is extremely difficult to edit your own work, so build in this gap whenever possible. As you revisit the document, read it with fresh eyes, checking for mistakes, and find places where language can be revised to fit the three Cs. At this point, ask a colleague for a final review to ensure that you are presenting a finely polished deliverable to your client.
For more information regarding the tips and tricks above and even more guidance on technical writing, please listen to Jennifer’s two-part series on GLOBAL’s podcast, Chasing Compliance: