Strictly speaking, the purpose of technical writing is to provide technical information in a totally objective way. This type of technical writing is frequently written for professionals in a specific field who already “speak the language,” and understand the general concepts. So what may look like unintelligible “jargon” to the non-technical reader may well be a timesaving “insider language” for the technical reader in that specific field.
It is important to make the distinction between this type of technical writing, and a second type – the type of technical writing most of us will most often be called upon to write: technical writing that is, by most (short) definitions, good business writing dealing with technical information.
Unless you are specifically employed as a specialized and highly-skilled technical writer in your organization, this second type of technical writing – writing technical information for the non-technical reader – is what most of us will be called on to do, and frequently just from time to time.
Understanding what this technical writing is, what it has to accomplish, and how to do it effectively is critical if it is to succeed.
Why? Two examples:
- Writing technical information effectively for the non-technical reader could well be the “go/no go” difference when the non-technical reader is the one, or perhaps the group, who decides whether your project or process is likely to be viable – or not. Or when that individual reader – or sometimes the group – holds the power of the purse, and can decide whether or not to fund that project. Remember too, that often-overlooked, but critically important group – the influencers whose opinions strongly affect the decision makers.
- Alternatively, your non-technical reader could be a technician who is unfamiliar with a process, or perhaps a purchaser who implements – or tries to implement – your technical instructions, for example, and may well determine whether the process, or the product “works” or not.
You must understand who your reader is, and how to write for that reader.
Where do you start?
First, identify what you will be writing – an instruction, a proposal, a “sales sheet,” or…
Understand your reader. Who is he or she, and what is his or her background, knowledge, experience with what you hope to communicate? What do you want him or her to do with this information – why are you writing it? How will he or she use it? What kind of words, terms, phrases will you use? How “technical” can you get – at what level will you best reach your reader(s)?
And then what?
Now that we have a good starting point, over the next few weeks let’s take a look at how to
- ”Translate” technical information to improve non-technical reader understanding
- Make necessary and appropriate adjustments to strictly technical writing for your non-technical reader – and why it matters
- Use the basic grammar and usage of technical writing
- Select, edit, and organize your material
- Use graphics to enhance your message
Join me right here next week!