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Making the Obtuse Clear

Technical Writing - What is it?

Technical Writing Help

The short definition of technical writing is, “Writing that communicates complex information about a topic in clear and concise language so that it can be understood by the intended audience.”

Technical Writers often use other types of communication aids such as images, graphs, and videos to explain and clarify the subject. Developing and editing owner’s manuals, instruction manuals, process documentation, and proposals are some examples of technical writing products.

Technical Writing Principles - Audience Purpose and Content

To produce the right level of communication there are several technical writing principles that need to be addressed. The major ones are listed below.


Analyzing the product's intended audience, the language and complexity of the explanation will change. For example: The language used to explain the functions of a nuclear reactor to a physicist would contain technical jargon that would not be used when explaining the same functions to an audience of high school students. Writing for the wrong audience ruins the effectiveness of technical writing.


Much of the format and content of Technical Writing is dictated by the purpose of the writing. Consider the following. If the goal is to provide a troubleshooting guide for a process or machine an explanation of typical upsets would be included with “IF – THEN” flow charts or checklists. If however, the purpose is to explain the process or operation of the machinery, then pictures and diagrams would be used and organized in logical steps.


There must be a balance between providing too much and too little information. Too much information or too deep of explanations can lead to user frustration and information overload. Too little information or too general of explanations can lead to user confusion and frustration.

For example, explaining how to operate a new accounting computer program, too much information would include the theory behind the programming language of the computer. Too little information would include simple steps such as: 1) load the program, 2) follow the instructions on the screen, and, 3) If you have any trouble, call your system operator for help.

The keys to the right level of content are:

1) Understanding the audience and purpose of the writing.

2) Doing research about the process or machinery.

Research includes, online and book research, prior and current documentation research, subject matter experts (SMEs), and other user interviews.

In summary, keeping the basic principles of the Audience, Purpose, and Content of a Technical Writing project at the forefront of the planning, creating and implementation stage will help to assure successful documentation outcomes.


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