5 Tips to Improve Your Technical Writing Skills

Have you ever read an instruction manual, assembly guide, or product tutorial? If you have, you’ve read content that was likely created by a technical writer. Technical writing is the art of writing instructions or process documentation. The material is not meant to be creative or entertaining; its intent is to provide clear and concise information to the reader. Having strong technical writing abilities is a crucial skill for instructional designers (IDs) because a large part of the ID’s job is to convey information to learners in a way that is easy to follow and understand.

Let’s have a look at a few practical tips you can apply to your next technical writing project.

Focus on Tasks

One way to make sure your writing is easy to follow and action-based is to focus on tasks. If you’re an experienced ID, you’re probably familiar with a task analysis, and this form of analysis is a technical writer’s best friend. (If you want a bit more information about how to do a task analysis, check out this article: How to Do a Task Analysis Like a Pro.) In addition to completing a thorough task analysis, you should strive to include an action verb in every sentence. It’s also a good idea to focus on active verbs rather than passive verbs; active verbs are clearer and more precise, and generally tend to lead to shorter and more concise sentences.

Don’t Make It Personal

There are a few ways you can avoid making your writing personal. First, refrain from writing in the first or second person. This means avoiding the use of the words “I”, “You”, or “We” in your writing.

For example, instead of writing:

Next you want to click in the Comments field and paste your comments.

Write something like this:

  • Click in the Comments field
  • Paste the comment

Notice how much more direct the second example is? I’ve also broken it up into two shorter sentences that each start with an action verb.

Another way you can keep your written content from being overly personal is to avoid using specific people’s names in your writing.

For example, instead of writing:

Forward the email to Janet McPhee in the Marketing Department.

Write something like this:

Forward the email to the Marketing Director.

This helps ensure your written materials don’t quickly become outdated if, for example, Janet leaves the company or changes departments within the organization.

Be Clear and Concise

An important part of making sure your written materials are easy to follow is to be as clear and concise as possible. Get rid of any unnecessary, descriptive, or subjective words. Be detailed and specific in your writing, and don’t leave room for your learners to have any questions about the instructions you provide. Read this article for more tips about improving your writing skills: Top Writing Tips for E-Learning.

Use Visual Aids

We all know the expression: a picture is worth a thousand words. Sometimes it can be difficult to explain a concept or idea with words. In those cases, incorporating a graphic, photo, diagram, or other type of visual aid can help drive home the information more quickly. That being said, keep in mind you don’t want to use TOO many visuals because they can quickly become outdated (especially screenshots of software systems or applications) and may require a lot of upkeep down the road.

Format Your Text

Formatting can have a huge impact on the legibility of your written materials. Using bullet lists, headings, tables, and proper margins will make it a lot easier for a learner to skim through your materials and find what they need. Before you publish your materials, take a closer look at how you can format your text to make it appear more organized and cohesive.

These are just some of the tips you can follow to improve your technical writing skills. Remember: the goal is to make your instructions as clear and easy to follow as possible. Do you have any tips of your own to share? If so, please leave a comment below!

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