Communication in the simplest possible way is one of the most challenging tasks I have been faced with. For a writing enthusiast like me, flowery language appealed deeply. Writing prowess, I thought, was all about impressing readers with a rich vocabulary and flooding an article with idioms. All these misconceptions about writing came to me when I was trained as a technical writer.

Effective communication in the business world however, is conveying the message in the simplest and the shortest possible manner, without leaving the reader wanting for more explanation. Technical writing taught me to be brief, precise and accurate. There is no room for ambiguity. A year’s stint as a Technical Writer moulded my writing to an extent that it reflects in my day-to-day written communication. Short sentences, to the point, clarity and so on are some of the features that stand out in my writing.

Success in technical writing is when the readers of the technical documents are easily guided to use a product or understand the technicalities without going through the technical jargon and terminology. Simply put, there is no round-about and convoluted message leaving the reader clueless. At times, the round-about approach might prove dangerous when the technical document is a safety manual, and the instructions might not convey the intended meaning. Ambiguity might lead to misinterpretation of a procedure as a whole.
Readership in technical writing is varied. Readers may have a diverse educational background. A good technical writer is thus expected to balance the writing to reach such a wide-ranging readership, not narrowing down to any one or minority group of readers.

Another important feature of technical writing that I learnt and has a universal application is outlining. Preparing an outline for a technical document does half the work. An outline helps steer the way to an efficient outcome of the document. Outlining is about organising and prioritising the information that goes into your writing. In other words, it helps you decide:

  • What information to include
  • What information to exclude

Outlining might seem a very crude and an informal process in a writing career. But it is an efficient part of our daily lives. The much-discussed recipe for any kind success has planning as an important ingredient. Planning is nothing but outlining what will be done. Outlining thus has a guiding role not only in technical writing but also in our practical life.
Good technical writing is presented well. It is not a mundane block of words that discourages the reader.

It is rather an inviting piece of information presented to appeal to the reader. Bulleted lists used in technical documents prove effective in any medium of written communication. We see the wide usage of such bulleted lists in news headlines, sales flyers, power-point presentations and so on. Bulleted lists have crept into my notes in various classes and sessions that I now I attend. The advantage of the bulleted list is proved when it makes the reading easier, comfortable and most importantly faster, thus rendering a faster understanding.

Attention to detail is a skill underrated in both professional and personal lives. In the rushing life of today, we run through any information in a jiffy, often ignoring the tiny but significant details. Technical writing has taught me to never underestimate such minute inputs habitually left out. An eye for detail is an additional skill that wins over at a professional scene as well as a domestic setup.
Another important feature that technical writing has taught me is expertise in handling complexities. In other words, interacting with the subject matter experts such as software developers has eased venturing into something that seems difficult due to the lack of technical knowledge or subject expertise. It prepared me to approach something next to impossible, to learn and expand my horizons and not the least to simplify the otherwise intricate aspects.

While the above-mentioned features of technical writing have honed my writing skills primarily, the ability to meet deadlines has given me an important learning too. The readiness to reach the target in the stipulated time is universally appreciated. I learnt it fast, if not the hard way on the technical writing projects I was involved in. The impact has been amazing since today deadlines excite me and keep my adrenalin rushing.

A few other features of drawing charts, diagrams, illustrations and capturing screenshots too have contributed in their own way to my technical writing learning. Sometimes when a communicator falls short of words to explain, these graphic tools come handy. These tools help break the monotony of extensive details in technical documents.

I was trained and worked in the technical writing arena for nearly a year. But the training has been proving valuable time and again in various aspects of my life. It has not only honed my writing skills, but has indeed helped me transform my outlook in terms of communication, and communication to say the least is a social aspect one cannot live without.

Author: Nishitha Krishnaswamy