What is technical writing?
There are many different types of writing and each type has a purpose. Some texts are geared to expressing opinions or generating business, while in prose or fiction it is all about telling a story. Technical documentation communication is different from other types of discourse in that it is purely informative. Its purpose is to convey information in a variety of technical and occupational fields. It is sometimes defined as ‘simplifying the complex’ as good technical writing is meant to provide relevant and accurate information to those who need it to accomplish some task or goal. This goal may be learning how to safely operate machinery and equipment, mastering a software application, using medication, or complying with a law, to name a few.
Characteristics of Technical Writing
Which of the below statements you think are true:
- Technical writing is meant to be understood only by highly educated scientists and engineers.
- Complex technical subjects require a complex approach to writing.
- Everyday language is not precise enough to describe the results of a scientific study.
- Long words are more scientific than short words.
- The first person cannot be used in scientific writing.
- In technical writing, it is better to use the passive voice than the active voice.
- Long sentences are better than short sentences in highly technical documents.
Did you pick one, a few, or all of them? If so, I am afraid this blog is here to prove you wrong.
In effect, technical writing calls for communicating information that is often hard to comprehend in a way that anyone will be able to follow without an issue. Technical writers can spend hours trying to convert scientific proof or data into strings of text, but whether their work is successful depends on the extent to which the reading audience can accurately perceive what they had in mind.
Therefore, technical communication has certain characteristics which distinguish it from opinion pieces, prose or fiction:
- It is clear and straightforward.
- The language is direct and straight to the point.
- It is detailed and informative, describing the subject matter as fully as possible.
- It is very structured. Solid structure is needed with technical writing as it allows the audience to easily access the information as needed.
Why stylistic editing is needed
Despite the purpose of technical writing being clear and concise communication, many scientific and technical writers still try to impress their audience at the expense of the principles outlined above. As such, they often employ an abstract, verbose and pompous style which results in obscure language. They tend to write in the third person, often eliminating personal pronouns and relying heavily on passive voice. Long sentences, overloaded with noun-phrases and jargon and lacking proper punctuation are also common.
The opposite of clear and concise language is ‘foggy’ language. Go out in the fog and you are likely to get lost. Speak and write with fog and your audience is likely to get lost. The foggier your language is, the less your audience understands.
Stylistic editing improves readability and makes texts easier to comprehend. Readers shouldn’t have to read a text two or three times to get the basic point. Writing needs to be clear, communicative, concise, direct, personal and simple.
Tips to make your technical documentation more readable:
- Use shorter sentences.
- Use simple words.
- Use the active voice unless there is a good reason for using the passive.
- Use vigorous verbs as much as possible.
- Take out redundant words.
Remember that how well you communicate affects not only your career but also the well-being of others. When it comes to writing documentation about health and safety, manufacturing, scientific or medical material, failure to communicate is not an option.
Read more about How to prepare your documents for technical translation.
Written by Maria Ampelourgou.
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