Technically Speaking…

Technical writing seems to be a big challenge for many companies. How many times have we tried to decipher instruction manuals that may as well be written in another language? (Well, actually they do tend to be written in two or three languages these days, but clear, understandable English is too often not one of them.)

If you’re the one producing or contributing to technical writing (such as an instruction manual), make sure the information is as clear as possible to the reader. Here are some important things to remember:

Avoid jargon:
Okay, so you and your colleagues may know what a Mergan nut is, but your audience may not. Instead, create a legible diagram and clearly identify the part you’re making reference to. Then, refer to it is Mergan Nut X (for example).

Use diagrams that make sense:
Assume that the person reading your work knows how to read, but has never read anything before. Assume no technical knowledge whatsoever. You may also want to assume the reader will have a short temper and little patience, and will make a nasty phone call to your company asking for the hide of whoever wrote this blankety-blank manual that doesn’t make a lick of sense.

Make good use of bulleted and numbered lists:
Rather than use huge blocks of text with lots of semicolons, make your instructions and information easier to read. A good format to follow is something like this:

Introductory line or two

  1. Step 1
  2. Step 2
  3. Step 3
    • Part a
    • Part b

Next section’s introductory line (Example: Features include)

  • Feature 1
  • Feature 2
  • Feature 3

Like any other type of business writing, remembering to write from a “you” perspective (i.e., pretending you’re the average reader, not the expert). Your goal should always be to make things as clear as possible; then, anyone who reads your work will think you’re a genius for making things so easy for them to understand.