According to the standard definition, technical writing is the practice of documenting processes, such as software manuals or instructional materials. However, not all technical writing needs to describe a formal process. The definition of technical writing has broadened in recent years to include other forms like reports, briefs, proposals, resumes, and descriptions just to name a few.
Aspects of Technical Writing
So, what are some of the attributes that make up technical writing? Let’s take a look:
Concise writing is straightforward and to the point; no needless words are used. In this sense, technical writing is not decorative like literary writing. The purpose of a technical passage is to get across information to the reader as quickly and effectively as possible, so the shorter the better, so long as all the pertinent information is effectively conveyed.
Of course, all writing should be accurate when describing its subject. However, technical writing requires complete accuracy. No guesstimates. In fact, poor technical writing in certain contexts—how to operate heavy machinery, for instance—could potentially end in disaster.
The most effective technical writing can be understood by the readers it is intended for. This varies from topic to topic. Instructions from IKEA should be understood by the average consumer; however, there are also more specific topics—things like discussions of processes in quantum physics that would require a level of technical writing that is more advanced. Sub-headings, numerical lists, and tables may also help the reader understand the information being presented fully. As such, don’t think of technical writing as just words—design can also be a crucial component.
Technical writing can be completely accurate, but if there is a hint of ambiguity, then it is not quite good technical writing. For example, think of a set of instructions— if an instruction manual is unclear or vague in its directions, there’s a high chance that the end product will not come together as planned.
Now that we know what makes up good technical writing, let’s look at formatting.
How a technical passage is formatted largely depends on the context. Remember that technical writing comes in a variety of forms, and each form has its own conventions. Instruction manuals, for instance, might contain visual aids, graphs, and numerical lists. Other kinds of technical writing might contain sub-headings or subsections. This helps enhance the organizational appeal of the passage.
Other common features are bullet points, varied font sizes, and bold text. These design elements are all important for emphasis. For example, bullet points might be used in a list of required parts in an instruction manual. Important notes might use bold text or varied font sizes in order to draw the reader’s attention. Keep in mind that all of these design elements have an intended purpose; they work toward enhancing the reader’s understanding of the technical passage.
Ultimately, the formatting of any piece depends on the rules and conventions of that form. For instance, different companies, organizations, and academic style guides—MLA, APA, and Chicago to name a few—all require different formatting rules for composing technical passages.
Let’s look at a few specific examples of technical writing. Do keep in mind that these are only four examples, and there are numerous other ones:
Like we’ve mentioned already, a set of instructions for building a piece of furniture is a form of technical writing.
Photosynthesis, the life cycle of a caterpillar, and the formation of a star are examples of processes. Note that some processes and instructions can overlap. For instance, a technical document for law enforcement officials that describes how to book an arrested suspect is both a set of instructions and the description of a process.
Think of these as the varied aspects of the parts, components, and nature of an object. When you read the details about an iPhone on its packaging—its size, camera capabilities, memory, and so on—you are reading a specific form of technical writing that is formatted in a very specific way and follows a very specific set of conventions.
Resumes inform the reader of an applicant’s credentials and experience. Though there are various ways to format a resume, certain conventions exist among all resumes.
Note that these four kinds of writing fall under the umbrella of technical writing because they all—if done successfully—fulfill the critical components that we’ve mentioned: (concision, accuracy, accessibility, and clarity).
Now that we’ve covered the definition and formatting of technical writing, let’s look at a review question before we go:
Which is not an important part of effective technical writing?
- Unambiguous writing
- Complete accuracy
- Writing in a way that allows for audience understanding of the topic
- Long length
Thanks for watching, and happy studying!