Recommended read: Practice technical writing

Becoming a better tech writer requires practice.

Mike Pope, tech editor at Microsoft in Seattle, has a brilliant blog post about 12 ways to practice tech writing. The catch is he means “practice” like a musician, so you learn to do stuff better than yesterday – instead of just doing the same things over and over.

Over the last years, I’ve tried all 12 ways, and they’ve all helped me to become a better writer. And most of them can be fun, too, at least most of the time… 🙂

Here are just six of the ways as a teaser, but I highly recommend you head on over to Mike’s post to find out about all of them with details and examples.

1. Read other technical writing attentively.
2. Read about writing.
5. Writing something outside your usual material.
7. Edit someone else’s work.
10. Learn new tools and new ways to use your existing tools.
11. Talk to other writers.

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5 Responses

  1. I am on a bit of a crusade to promote another way for technical writers to increase their value. The idea is that we need to become experts on the technologies we write about. When this happens, the engineers and SMEs come chasing us down rather than the other way around. It also makes it easier when looking for new work. If you can talk intelligently about the technology you worked with at your last position, you are seen as much more than a language and tools expert. Eli Jacobs, Techie Tech Writer

    • Thanks, Eli, that is certainly a worthwhile cause, and I’ve seen it work for me in a previous company (haven’t been long enough with the current one, yet…).

      It can be tricky though to try and “out-expert” the subject matter experts – I found my value was more in the aggregation and dissemination of information, so I was better at breaking down barriers between knowledge silos rather than filling them.

      Also, many of us tech writers cannot afford to work in one industry exclusively to build up enough knowledge in one field.

  2. Thanks. Good tips

  3. Tech writing is simple. Just learn enough about some technical subject to write about it in a way that provides useful information.

    We usually don’t have the time to do more than that. That’s why we’ll never be SMEs.

    But we can learn enough about something to write about it in a way that provides value to the reader. To help them do what they need to do.

    Amen.

    • Thanks for your comment, Larry. I believe the devil is in the details, however: Often, users may disagree with tech writers what it means to be “providing useful information”. So we have to know your users pretty well, in addition to the subject. “A way that provides value to the reader” also means users can find information they need efficiently. So we have to know about effective information structures in addition to the subject and the users.

      I agree that our main mission is to “help them do what they need to do” – I’m just not sure it is always simple to do that well. 🙂

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