Helpful Tips To Improve Your Technical Writing Skills
Here are some hints and tips that can help you improve your technical writing and business writing and avoid costly and embarrassing mistakes.
General Writing Principles
Top 50 Misspelled Words
Online Help Basics
Top 10 Editing Basics
As you edit, keep in mind the document’s audience and purpose.
- Read through the document initially to make sure the information flows, makes sense, and contains no glaring errors. Check:
- Up-to-date spelling and usage with national newspapers and Internet Mechanics (grammar, punctuation, and spelling)
- Create a checklist of possible errors and read the document more critically.
- Impose consistency on the document using a style guide.
- Improve the organization of the document:
- Attach a template
- Use parallel construction for lists—consistent form and function
- Break blocks of text into bite-sized pieces and use:
- Bulleted/numbered lists
- Check word choices. Ensure the use of:
- Correct words
- Strong verbs
- Active voice
- Plain English—not jargon
- Consistent terminology when describing the same items or concepts
- Tighten the writing.
- Short words (simple, direct)
- Short sentences (20-30 words maximum)
- Short paragraphs
- Eliminate obvious, needless, or redundant information
- Correct the use of too many prepositions in one sentence.
- Pay particular attention to transitions—add them if they are missing.
- Use grammar/spelling checker, but do not rely on them—proof carefully.
Technical Writing Standards
Good Technical Writing is:
* Blake, G & Bly, R Elements of Technical Writing 1993
Print Preparation Basics
These hints will help eliminate unwanted surprises when reproducing reports and manuals. Today, much of the checking can be done on-screen. Make sure
And if time permits,
Writing Subheads, Captions, and Closings
Copy can be improved with good subheads, captions, and closings. This article from The Business Marketing Association gives some helpful suggestions.
- Subheads help break up the body copy into short, easy-to-read sections. And thoughtfully worded, informative subheads provide quick reference points for key information (descriptive subheads are preferable to too-short subheads). They also enable your reader to scan the page and come away with an outline of your message.
- Subheads permit rapid communication with readers who have no time to waste. They also contribute a path for the eye. This can make your work look uncomplicated, and increased readership can result.
- Write your subheads to tell a story by themselves, so you’re communicating even with the reader who only skims your copy.
- As with headlines and captions, you can often extract subheads from the body copy you have already written.
- Exhaustive studies measuring readership show that many more people read the captions under illustrations than read the body copy. Using an illustration without a caption is wasting an important opportunity to enhance understanding.
- Other research has shown that caption material (coupled with an illustration) is retained better even than a headline or an illustration alone!
- Your caption should include a reference to your product or service and a benefit. The best captions are self-contained advertisements in themselves.
- Of course, your illustration should be directly related to your message. As you can imagine, if your reader sees no connection between the illustration and your copy, their attention evaporates.
- Beware of weak closings! Just because this is the end of our business/industrial copy doesn’t mean the closing is unimportant—just the contrary. This is the last thing your reader will remember. And he or she may remember the entire piece as having the characteristics of the closing.
- Try to leave your reader with one simple thought—preferably what to do next. If you want the reader to call your 800 number for more information, say so. But remember to give her a good reason to call. You may want to reiterate your main selling point, or repeat an example from your copy.
- If you’ve made many points throughout your copy, you’ll want to summarize. But do this before the last paragraph, so you can hold to one point in your closing.
Commonly Confused Words
Click on the following links to view other helpful web sites.
Purdue University Online Writing Lab:
The Kent State University Online Writing Lab: