What’s exercising your brain at the moment?

What are you thinking about at the moment? My recent musings are on the usefulness of technical communication skills to other people. By that I mean that people other than technical writers would benefit from learning core technical communication skills.

For example, organising information into chunks is a useful skill for all sorts of situations, including:

  • Compiling your resumé.
  • Writing an executive overview of your project.
  • Asking people to take action on something, based on your email message or a post to a social group.

Clarity and direct language are useful in all the above situations, and also in the following:

  • Putting your point of view in a fast-moving debate, or even in an argument at a dinner table. 😉
  • Communicating with people who speak your language at only a basic or intermediate level.

Short sentences and indeed short docs are useful when:

  • You or your readers are in a hurry. I guess that includes most situations these days!
  • Your words need to fit into a small space, such as a poster on a door, or a book review, or a Facebook page.

And so on.

Do you have any rambling thoughts to share, tech comm wise? (I’m enjoying the ambiguity of the last part of the previous sentence.)

About Sarah Maddox

Technical writer, author and blogger in Sydney

Posted on 9 June 2017, in technical writing and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink. 10 Comments.

  1. Stephanie Majors

    Another tip I’d like to add that anyone can use in any form of writing (especially manuals or long documentation) is being consistent with wording, styling, etc. As I’m part of the training team, we constantly have to remind content creators to use consistency. For example, in PowerPoints, use the same font throughout, and be consistent with font sizing in bulleted lists. Also, spell out the first instance of an abbreviated term (e.g., OOO (Out of Office)).

    • Hallo Stephanie
      Great points! Consistency in wording, and also telling people what a term means the first time you use it, are useful when we’re trying to communicate verbally as well as in writing.

  2. I have a lot of rambling thoughts these days 😉

    To follow your theme of “tech comm skills other people can use, too”, I would add Listening for Understanding — asking (and getting answers to) questions like “who is the audience,” “what is the audience’s goal,” “how do these things fit together,” etc. Not just “how can I emphasize the thing that’s important to me.”

    I’m just finishing up the yearbook for my 12yo son’s 6th grade class. The book is for the kids, not for the parent committee. It’s for all the kids, not just the kids whose parents took lots of pictures over the last seven years (so we need to dig deep to make sure everyone’s represented). That decision drives layout decisions — more pictures of each event makes more kids happy, but cramming a zillion onto each page to keep to budget offends my layout aesthetic 😉 I bring certain standards (font consistency, image alignment, organization, comma/apostrophe policing), but perhaps more importantly, seek to understand the needs of each stakeholder.


    • Hallo sbmetz,

      Rambling thoughts are a good thing. 😀 They give rise to new associations, and then potentially new ideas.

      That’s a really good point about the benefits of thinking about your audience and their goals. I love your example of the yearbook, with its unusual audience and requirements.


  3. Technical writing is actually more omnipresent than we think! I recently started to follow the Facebook page of the French UN linguistic department, as they regularly provide translation tips. Some advice relates to technical writing: use simple verbs, e.g. “do,” or avoid stacking words which mean the same, e.g. “the year of 2017” or “create a new something.”

    • Hallo Angéline

      That’s a great point. The relationship between technical writing and translation/internationalisation is really interesting. Often our material needs to be translated, so we need to bear that in mind when writing. And as you point out, even non-technical writing can benefit from the techniques we use, to improve the chances of correct and efficient translation.

      On this topic, the Australian Write the Docs community has just published a video on Writing for Localisation.


  4. Finally, someone else who punctuates “resumé” as such!

  1. Pingback: What’s exercising your brain at the moment? – Technical Writing World

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