Technical writing: The arcane art of making sense

Technical writing: The arcane art of making sense

‘What is it you do again?’, they would ask with a squint and slight tilt of the head.
Technical Writing.’
‘Oh,’ they would say, as the squint usually turns into a look of puzzlement. ‘What’s that?’

I’d wager that every Tech Writer out there has been through this very same interaction a great deal of times throughout his/her professional life. We are odd creatures, alienated by our very own professional choice. We tend to sit in a dark corner of the client’s office, working alone, with a half-full cup of coffee as our only company. We only look up from the worn keys of our laptop when someone comes and asks ‘Need to make a change to that decision matrix again.’

But what is Technical Writing?

If you google these two words, you are bound to open a Pandora’s Box of technobabble and long- winded definitions, the very anathema to the concept of technical writing.

Defining Technical Writing is simple: It’s the art of making sense.

Why Technical Writing is good for you

A lot of people enjoy and own consumer electronics. Tablets, laptops, smartphones, DSLR cameras, etc. And all these things usually come with a sizable instruction manual that shows how to get the best out of whatever item it refers to.But many people would not be technically minded. These manuals could explain and list every last feature included, and the user might still be none the wiser. It’s all gobbledygook to them, so such manual would be no good.

For you see, an instruction manual must make sense. There is no point writing a complicated and convoluted set of rules that only a few chosen ones would understand. Use simple, everyday language. Leave the flourishing for those secret moments spent in the dark, writing poetry or words of wisdom. And yet, we are all guilty of slipping in the odd darling word here and there, aren’t we. But be firm. Murder those darlings, as someone once said.

And don’t even get me started on adverbs. Slippery rascals they are, all of them. Those dastardly traitors give you away spectacularly, don’t they. Off with their heads I say. Summarily.

So you see, technical writing is good cause it helps you. And anything that helps you must, by definition, be good.

So I want to be a technical writer…what now?

Pick up your phone. Yes, you. Pick up that piece of smart technology that goes everywhere you go. Now, send a text to your friend, girlfriend/boyfriend, or to that soccer coach who always seems up for a chat. Easy, right? Type the text and press ‘Send.’ Done.

But hang on a minute. What if you had never sent a text before? Or had a mobile phone, for that matter. A lot of things must happen before you can send the text. You must switch on the phone. And for the phone to come on, its battery must be charged. And where is the battery? And the charger? Am I using the right charger? And after all that, you must find the texting feature. What does it look like? How do I use it? And by God, what if the phone does not come on at all? How do I troubleshoot it? Where is that damn manual?!

Not so easy all of a sudden, right?

If you want to be a Technical Writer, you must be two things, at least: Patient, and curious. You
can’t learn patience, nor can you acquire curiosity. Either you are, or you are not. If the latter, pursue some other career. The world is full of seemingly successful people who cannot spell for their life, after all. I’m sure you will find your place in the world some day.

If you are the patient and curious kind though, well, then we can do business together and make sense of it all.

Published by Fernando Sanchez

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