The Core of Technical Writing

"To me, the extraordinary aspect of martial arts lies in its simplicity. The easy way is also the right way, and martial arts is nothing at all special; the closer to the true way of martial arts, the less wastage of expression there is."

Bruce Lee, 1940-1973, Chinese-American Actor, Director, Author, Martial Artist

The Core of Technical Writing

There is one word that lies at the heart of technical writing. It's called simplicity. Part of becoming a good technical writer is to write simply and clearly.

Everything you write should be simple and easy to understand. Don't make life difficult for your target audience. Even when you're writing documents for engineers, keep things simple. I'm not saying don't include technical data, research, diagrams, and charts. Engineers love data. Your goal should be to present this data simply and clearly.

Writing simply is crucial when writing processes and instructions. Think of all the instructions you read when you buy a new product. Some of these are good. Others are confusing. If you confuse the end user, you fail as a technical writer.

Writing simply and clearly is easier said than done. As technical writers, our minds and thoughts are overloaded with information. Some of this information could be complex such as specifications, procedures, best practices, research, case studies, and engineering data. The challenge is to shave off the unnecessary information and only include what's relevant to your target audience.

There is something else which prevents us from writing simply and clearly. It's our individual vocabularies. As writers, there is a natural tendency to use fancy words and flowery language when we write. The key is to remove unnecessary words and phrases from your writing.

How to Write Simply and Clearly

There is no magic formula where you can write simply and clearly overnight. You will have to practice your writing skills. An easy way to start doing this is to take a paragraph of text and rewrite it using fewer words without changing its meaning. Another technique to write simpler is to break down a long complex sentence into two short sentences.

Take a paragraph from a magazine article, an online newsletter, a sales letter, or a brochure and rewrite it. Practice this daily or three to four times a week, and you will see how your writing becomes tighter and simpler. Use the Word Count feature in Microsoft Word or your word processing program to count the original number of words. Then do a Word Count on the paragraph you re-wrote.

Here's an example to get you started:

Original Paragraph

"Rassouli, the first acupuncturist to practice the technique in Canada, charges C$125 per one-hour session for the treatment, which usually requires 10 to 12 visits. Rassouli has trained more than 500 others practitioners from Canada, the United States, and Australia since 2000. Acupuncture, which has been used for more than 2,000 years, involves stimulating certain points on the body, known as "qi" with needles, heat, and pressure."

Number of words: 67

The above paragraph is not confusing. But let's see if we can reduce the word count without changing the meaning.

Here it is:

"The treatment requires 10 - 12 sessions. Rassouli is the first acupuncturist in Canada to offer it. He charges C$125 per session. Since 2000, Rassouli has trained 500 other practitioners from Canada, United States, and Australia. Acupuncture has been used for more than 2,000 years. It involves stimulating certain body points, called "qi" with needles, heat, and pressure."

Number of words: 57

Keep your writing simple. You will please your target audience and your manager or client. More importantly you will improve as a writer.