Writing is arguably one of the most underrated skills. Indeed, it might seem tempting to shake off any misunderstandings arising from poor writing because it’s “not something you can really control.” This, however, is far from true. Technical writing is as much of professional skill as anything else, and the extent to which those responsible can exercise it has a major influence on the overall productivity within the organization. This article explores the many benefits of having a professional technical writer as well as common pitfalls.
If you look at an example of bad instruction writing, you’ll notice immediately how it fails to convey a single established approach to solving this or that issue. Very often, more questions arise than there are answers. While an excellent piece ensures total clarity, poorly written guides, manuals, and instructions usually fall on the vague side of the spectrum.
Ideally, the reader should be able to answer the following questions without doubt:
- What is the usual procedure to follow?
- What possible deviations from this procedure should we be ready for?
- What are we expected to do if a deviation does happen?
- How do we raise a question if we aren’t sure what to do?
This is not merely, or even necessarily, about the writing being an easy read. The key purpose here is to avoid a situation where different people within an organization or project have different ideas of the same process, which is bound to cause a painful clash at some point.
When the conflict of understanding becomes apparent, it’s often too late to fix what has been done the wrong way. Retroactive unification tends to be more expensive than proactivity, just as improvements late in the process are much more time- and cost-consuming than prevention or timely fixes. Quality technical writing will spare you a lot of frustrating discoveries towards the end of your next sprint/project/milestone.
Last but not least, instructions and policies that fail to instil clarity are not easily forgotten. The negative experience that your target audience is faced with every time they find themselves confused by a rambling and unhelpful document accumulates, potentially undermining their trust in your further developments. One major negative consequence of this scenario is compromised compliance. People who feel like they have to guess the writer’s intentions or believe that the instruction was written haphazardly like something unimportant are much more prone to negligence than those dealing with a well-structured and informative document.
Technical writing is part and parcel of overall productivity and efficiency. It serves as the major tool to convey a common vision and attitude, potentially saving you time as well as costs. When neglected, however, it tends to bring about misunderstandings and dangerous risk-taking behaviours. This leads us to the inevitable conclusion: professionally written documentation is an investment you won’t regret, no matter what domain you are active in.