By David Odell
If you are looking for a career in writing and somebody has suggested that you consider technical writing, ensure that you completely understand what is involved in this career, It is writing, but not as you probably know it. Don’t get me wrong, it can be a very interesting and even adventurous career, and there are opportunities to freelance, contract or work directly for a company, but only the last will offer you any kind of structure.
Why is technical writing different to most other forms of writing?, well there is not much room for creativity, every word is analyzed, short and simple sentences are a must, and a lot of emphasis is placed on consistency in structure, formatting and word usage. There is also a lot of planning involved in technical documentation before a word can be written. Such things as the audience you are writing for determines the type of language you can use, as does whether the document is going to be translated or not, or if the document is going to be read by people who do not have English, or whatever language the document is being produced in, as their first language,
Simplicity is the key, always use the same word to describe the same action, do not instruct someone to rotate a knob in one sentence and turn it in the next, and never tell anybody to hit any key to continue; they may take you at your word, and the word “right” should only ever be used as a direction.. Describing how to use software interfaces can bring a multitude of problems. Do you tell them to select, press, or click on a button or option, whichever you do decide to use stick to it. There will usually be a company style guide to follow, if not there are some great style guides on the market.
If you are writing technical marketing documents you will probably get away with writing that a certain piece of equipment or software allows you to perform a certain task, but you should never write that in a user manual, software does not allow you to do anything, it enables you to do it. In the same way a gun enables you to shoot and kill someone; it does not allow you to do it.
Technical writing and word usage can be challenging at first, but it soon becomes second nature. You just have to bear in mind that the instructions have to be simple, straightforward and easy to find. Once you have all the words in place you have to put them into a format that can be followed. Screenshots and graphics are a great way to get your point across, but then you have to ensure that your text matches what is on the screen.