Online shopping, electronic mail, cloud computing, chatbots, and virtual reality are changing our everyday lives. But these technological advances would not be the same without technical writing.
Technical writing – including software documentation – is the instructions, user guides, and more that impact our use of these tech services. As our reliance on technology increases, so will our need for technical documentation.
Here are several ways that technical writing will influence and improve your everyday life.
What is technical writing?
Some people think that technical writing is as boring as watching paint dry. Unlike fiction, technical writing is stripped of descriptive language and lively metaphors. In contrast to poetry and narrative, in technical writing, sentences are unambiguous.
There is a crucial reason for the plain language.
Technology is global, so we need a language that gets the message across to everyone. Technical writing must use language that everyone, both native and non-native speakers, understands. How important is plain and simple messaging?
For example, imagine reading instructions so confusing that you delete a critical file at work! Someone could be fired.
Technical writing is clear communication.
The Society of Technical Communication, which is a professional association in the field of technical communication, gives this definition:
Technical communication is a broad field and includes any form of communication that exhibits one or more of the following characteristics:
- Communicating about technical or specialized topics, such as computer applications, medical procedures, or environmental regulations.
- Communicating by using technology, such as web pages, help files, or social media sites.
- Providing instructions about how to do something, regardless of how technical the task is or even if technology is used to create or distribute that communication.
Technology and technical communication go hand-in-hand. The need for technical writing is expected to increase over the next ten years as our reliance on technology increases.
According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, “Employment of technical writers is projected to grow 7 percent from 2019 to 2029, faster than the average for all occupations. Employment growth will be driven by the continuing expansion of scientific and technical products. An increase in Web-based product support should also increase demand for technical writers. Job opportunities, especially for applicants with technical skills, are expected to be good.”
Why do we need technical writing?
Technical writing is a part of our everyday lives. Everything has gone or is going online. With the increased use of tools and services, we have an increased need for instructions and user manuals. Here are some situations in which you may have come across technical writing:
- When you log into a company’s website to use their services, you follow directions on entering your personal information.
- When you use new software, you may refer to the user manual or FAQ page for answers to your questions. The increase in cloud-based services and SaaS (software as a service) as more employees work from home or communicate online will increase the need for user-focused documentation that is easy to find and understand.
- When you shop online or read the news, precise and detailed infographics provide you with product information or statistics.
Now imagine all these situations without clear communication. Imagine reading confusing directions as you fill out your application on a company website. Imagine searching endlessly through a user manual and not being able to find the answer you need.
Technical writing clarifies and explains. It also provides us with important information, as shown by the following examples.
What are some examples of technical writing?
Technical writing is more than user manuals and software instructions. It includes reports, data sheets, and procedures. For example:
Manual for using a device or program
- A manual that explains all the features and uses for your house alarm, which has remote access through your phone.
- A manual that answers questions on how to use CRM tools such as Slack or Trello.
- A report by an engineering company that includes research, design criteria, images and illustrations, and data relevant to a project.
- A report about scientific findings.
- An email about new changes to company policies.
Technical specification data sheets
- Your computer’s technical specification data sheet which has detailed information about the operating systems, warnings, and compatibility for connecting to the company network.
- A material safety data sheet (MSDS) with details about a product’s hazard information, measures for accident prevention, and what to do for first aid.
Manuals that document how to write documents:
- The MLA Handbook (Modern Language Association Handbook) which documents how to cite sources for scholarly writing, such as research papers.
- The Chicago Manual of Style which is a style guide for writing and citations for publications.
Standard operating procedures (SOPS):
- Standard protocols for completing tasks according to agency standard, such as the Food and Drug Administration’s SOPs for a food business’s operating procedures.
- A flowchart that illustrates the SOPs for how a call centre processes open tickets from customer issues.
Plain Language Versus Simplified Technical English (STE)
We need user manuals. Some people toss manuals aside to muddle through learning how to use a new smartphone on their own. However, not everyone knows how to operate an aircraft. Not everyone knows how to register their business.
And not every parent knows how to set up their child’s PlayStation or bouncy house.
Businesses want to sell things that people understand how to use and repair. They need user manuals that are easy to read and understand.
Plain language clarifies written communication as much as possible so that both native and non-native speakers of English can communicate with each other. Standardized language eases communication, despite differences from region to region.
This clarity is especially vital for highly technical industries, such as aerospace. Explaining the intricacies of building a plane is not easy, and ambiguous communication can result in serious errors.
Simplified Technical English (STE) was created to simplify communication for the aerospace and defense industries. It is also similar to plain language in its structure.
Here are some characteristics of STE and plain language. Notice the emphasis on clarity:
Active voice: the subject or doer of the action is in the sentence or clearly implied.
- (You) enter your last name in the first cell.
Accurate word choice
- Turn the red switch to the right until you hear three clicks. Then press the square button.
Important information is written in the main clause.
- The first stage of the experiment was successful, despite the concerns of three researchers.
Brief, not wordy
- All employees must register for the training before Thursday.
- The patient had peripheral oedema (ankle swelling).
The need for technical writing will increase with our reliance on technology for working from home, SaaS, cloud computing, and other services like online shopping. As technology becomes more integrated into our lives, we can expect technical writing to improve user experience with clear instructions and product information.
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