Technical writing can be a lucrative field, but even experienced writers might discover repeat errors in their finished projects.
Technical writers come at each new project with a mission: to deliver clear, concise instructions for their readers. Advanced and beginning technical writers alike can find themselves struggling with a few common mistakes. When a writer chooses the wrong word or format, their readers might become frustrated or lost in a foreign subject matter. Technical writer responsibilities include creating a smooth reading experience. There are several problem areas that could compromise that ideal experience for a beginner.
Using an Advanced Vocabulary
If a technical writer is too familiar with his subject matter, jargon might start creeping into his copy. On the other hand, freelance technical writers with little experience will often begin quoting complex words from the subject-matter expert (SME) to cover for their own lack of knowledge. Both situations result in a struggling reader. Writers who recognize this problem in their work should try reading the finished project to a friend or family member with no background in the area. Ask them to point out which words went straight over their heads, then edit accordingly.
Lack of Preparation
Technical writers who find themselves pressed for time might begin a project before adequately researching their topic. Writers who don’t understand their own words can hardly expect their readers to grasp new concepts. In the long run this short cut can actually add extra time to a project. The technical writer might realize half way through his work that he misrepresented a crucial concept in the beginning. Even if that pit fall is avoided, half-hearted attempts will rarely squeeze by without requests for revisions, and repeat assignments from the same client will be unlikely.
Overusing Pronouns and Passive Voice
These rules of good style not only reflect the writer’s skill level, they also provide a clear reading experience. Bad technical writing uses passive sentences that skip over important information. For example, “when the file is opened” neglects to inform the reader if the file will open automatically or if the reader needs to open the file himself. Excessive pronouns can also leave the reader confused and wondering what “it” might refer to this time. Use specific words and action verbs to communicate clearly.
Skipping the Glossary
Glossaries might not always be required, but they are almost always a good idea. Technical writers should not assume that the readers will remember every technical term or acronym the first time it is introduced. Rather than having to explain the same terms several times, create a alphabetical glossary that can be referenced whenever needed.
Technical Writing Skills
Technical writers on all levels of experience and education should make a regular effort to improve their skills, and brush up on technical writing tips. Even the best technical writers can become so entrenched in a specific industry that they forget what is common knowledge to the outside world. A habitual self-review for bad habits and confusing language will keep technical writers on their toes and communicating efficiently.