The Gift of Technical Writing
Why I call it the soul side of science
I like two things in life — Writing and being unnecessarily philosophical about everything. So welcome to a cringe-worthy piece on the do’s and don’ts of technical writing from a philosophical viewpoint.
The world of technology mesmerizes me. The speed at which it transforms itself and the world around is absolutely amusing. In fact, to me, technology is a love child born to a polar-opposite couple — one wants to conquer all horizons and the other constantly keeps thinking, “how do I make this life easier than it already is?” and crawls back into bed.
My decision to switch my career path from software development to technical writing, was followed by the most popular yet absurd assumption — technical writing is a less stressful job that requires lesser technical skills. First of all, NO. It was actually a conscious decision based on an intensive brainstorming session with me, myself, and I, by the end of which I established that I was more interested in how things came together to work as one — Simply put, I adored the holistic approach and writing helped me see through that lens.
Now that I know how my trillion chunks of detached codes helped the business world, I don’t feel all that insignificant.
So what did I learn from being a technical writer so far?
1. Unlearn to learn
“The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn. ” ~Alvin Toffler
Technical writing is a broad spectrum, as broad as the technologies in use. Chances are that, the tedious instructions you wrote today are most likely to become obsolete in a sadly short span. Do not give up! Always, proactively start looking for the next big trend and make yourself familiar with it. Always be ready to accept the fact that change is inevitable and that doesn’t make your previous effort go in vain. It has embedded something in you that would come in handy later on. Your job role or your industrial requirements should not define your learning scope — leave it to the best of your capabilities and your undying passion.
2. Realize the power of simplicity
“The more elaborate his labyrinths, the further from the Sun his face.” ~Mikhail Naimy
If there’s one thing I’ll never forget, it is the beauty of keeping things simple. People read your work in order to make their lives easier. Give them only what they need. Nobody needs to know how complex your products and processes are. All a reader needs to know is how easy it is for them to get on board with it.
3. Do not show off
“Knowledge and ability were tools, not things to show off. ” ~ Haruki Murakami
Most technical writers have a knack for writing in general. This, though a blessing in many ways, can unintentionally make us stretch and strangle sentences — DON’T. While creative writing that you do for yourself can be as elaborate and descriptive as you please (and rightly so!), technical writing is expected to be more crisp and clear in nature so as to not overwhelm the reader.
4. Seek help
“We are all here on earth to help others; what on earth the others are here for I don’t know.” ~ W. H. Auden
It is a dynamic world out there. Though continuous learning is key, there is always another person in the room who knows something better than you do. As a technical writer, do not hesitate to ask for help. For instance, seek help from the developers to make the instructions more precise, seek help from the UI/UX experts to make the content more user friendly, and seek help from your customers to understand what the market demands. This helps you help them better.
5. Create your reality and own it
“To see things in the seed, that is genius.” ~ Laozi
Find the gaps between what you want to deliver and what is being delivered. Be empowered enough to find platforms and techniques that will make your reader understand you better and find your writings more appealing. Do not expect people to accept your ideas as soon as you implement them. However, do not swing to the other extent and abandon them just because they weren’t accepted. Be your own critique. If you think an idea has potential but it gets rejected, be broadminded and accept every constructive feedback and present a better solution until everybody sees what you see.