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Technical Writing has been a passion of mine for years. I actually started out as a Help Desk support person documenting technical instructions for employees and new hires, and then moved onto project work documenting programming code and technical specifications for larger projects. I’ve also written a course for a local community college in my area and taught it as well. I wanted to share some of my insights from this course since so many participants found it helpful. They even did a review in the US1 Princeton newspaper!
Anyway, I digress…in my opinion there are 4 keys to technical writing and I refer to it as the DOPS method. Let’s review each point.
D is for Defining your Audience – Not only do you need to know who you are writing for but you need to know their knowledge level and awareness of the set topic. For example, if you are teaching MS Word to top executives and they do not even know how to use Outlook or navigate in Windows, you may need to re-evaluate your content and the language you are writing in. Try to steer clear of complex technical terms and begin with a basic review of the toolbars or even how to open the application.
O is for Outline. Personally I believe this is the key to success. I see so many writers just sit down and begin writing with no direction and you can tell in the flow of their document. You simply cannot follow their “train of thought”. Take the time to outline the entire document from the content of the title page and even graphical notes, to the section titles and content, all the way to the Appendix, leaving the TOC (Table of Contents) to be completed last. Trust me you will see a big difference in the flow of your documents.
P is for Defining your Purpose – I hate to use acronyms inside of acronyms, but I like to refer to this as the TRIIP theory. Your purpose for creating the document could be to Teach, Recommend, Inform, Interest, or Persuade. For example, if you are the technical writer for a new software application for the Human Resources department, and your job is to write a document for the employees who will be using this new application, what is your purpose? In this case, it is to teach. Here’s another one: If you are hired as a technical writer to create a document designed to let employees know about new policies and procedures, what is your purpose? In this case, the answer is to inform. You’re not making a recommendation that they follow the procedures or trying to interest them or persuade them to follow the policies and procedures; you need to simply inform them.
S is for the Stages of Writing. I believe there are 3 steps to the stages, so to speak, and No I do not have an acronym for this one. LOL The 3 steps are plan, draft and revise. After you complete your entire plan for the document, including the evaluation of your audience and the detailed outline with perhaps a few sketches, you may begin to create your Draft document. If you are not new to technical writing you are well aware that your first document created is Always a draft. You will have many, many revisions by several people before the final document is approved. Hope I didn’t scare anyone off yet!
So there we have it, the DOPS method by Cheryl McNeil. There is so much more to Technical Writing, but I thought I would just provide a preview of what is to come in my next article, Part II of Technical Writing 101. Until next time…
Resources for creating outlines:
Cheryl McNeil, the owner of Graphik Connexions, started her business back in 1996, as one of the first women in NJ in the field of “Technological” Instructional Design. With a Masters degree in Project Management and more than 10 years of training and instructional design under her belt, she is skilled at course curriculum writing, Soft Skills and Technical training, ELearning design and development, PowerPoint presentations, and technical writing.