The process of technical writing is similar to performing a process for anything that requires skill and accuracy. The process for a technical writer or any other specialized skill revolves around a procedure of thought. The primary objective of a technical writer is to educate, train or explain something to someone. The technical writer must know how to write and must understand the topic to be written about. "Errors in technical writing," explained my boss, Richard L. Kintzele, Jr., CEO, Colorado Computer Center, "often result in bad data, bad decisions and bad days." Accuracy is important.
The Process
The technical writing process serves as a reminder about how to do something and allows us to think about what we are doing without trying to remember what we are going to do next. It is a logical process requiring us to do first things first. The process allows us to focus on the task before us without worrying about the next task in a sequence of events. The process serves as a reminder to help us remember or prompt our memory about the broader objective before us.
When attempting to write, we must also do first things first. Even experienced writers need a reminder to return to the basics of writing before proceeding to the bestseller list. It also helps to have a checklist available to help us remember what we need to do to eliminate errors, clarify thinking and communicate to our audience in a clear and concise manner.
This is why the first step in writing is to always conduct the research first. A subject must be understood before it can be explained.
Ten Steps to Technical Writing
  1. Research first
  2. Always take notes
  3. Write it
  4. Rewrite it
  5. Add graphics
  6. Add lists
  7. Write it again
  8. Proofread it
  9. Write until it is right
  10. Repeat process, as necessary
Research First
The first step in any writing process is to conduct research. Writers must know and understand the subject they are going to write about before embarking on the task of writing. This is why teachers teach us about a subject before requiring us to write a book report. We need to learn about something before we can teach it or explain it to someone else. Research is required. Know your subject and know your audience. It is important to understand the subject you are going to write about and equally important to know the audience you are writing for. While conducting research, take notes and, then, later when writing, you will be better able to share your knowledge with others.
Always Take Notes
While conducting research it is always helpful to take notes. The notes we write or scribble become the basis for an article, book or technical manuscript. Take notes whether your research is obtained from a book or from a personal interviewed. Notes are later used to help maintain accuracy and cite sources. In addition, note-taking allows you to:
  • Refresh your memory
  • Refer to while writing
  • Help determine how to organize the material into an outline or rough draft
  • Verify facts after writing the rough draft
  • Review for new information that may need updated or revised
Notes do not have to be taken or written in complete sentences either. Notes are simply reminders that are written down to help with memory recall allowing the writer to think while writing. Grammar and punctuation do not need to be perfect when taking notes. Wait to edit until after completing the first draft.
Write It
The process of writing always begins with the first draft. It cannot be called a draft until something is written. The first draft, whether partial or complete thoughts, is always called a first draft. It takes time to sort thoughts in a logical manner that will help your audience understand the content, context or meaning of what you are trying to say. This takes time. This is also why the first draft is sometimes referred to as a "rough draft" because our first attempts to write are meant to simply get words on paper so that we can read what we wrote while deciding what it is we want to say. The first draft may be only an outline or a few paragraphs, but this is what leads the way to the next thought that becomes a subsequent paragraph.
Types of Drafts
There are basically four types of drafts. Different industries use different terminology to label the draft within the writing cycle. The cycle remains the same within industries with slight variation in terms to explain the process of obtaining editorial reviews. The most common names for the different types of drafts are provided below.
The four types of drafts are:
  1. Rough draft (words on paper)
  2. Content draft (add content, refine outline)
  3. Peer draft (prepare for technical review by peers to verify accuracy of content)
  4. Edit draft (revise content, prepare for editorial review and publication)
Rewrite It
Rewriting does not imply starting over by reworking all of your work. Rewriting implies revising one's work. After reading what you wrote, revise it, correct inaccuracies, read for clarity and purpose. Read what you wrote several times to ensure that you communicated the information in the best format and context for your audience. Remember the draft is a draft until you determine that you wrote what is needed to be written in order to communicate the information to the best of your ability. Rewriting is writing. Rewriting is refining the format, the content, the words or the text that makes something understandable by someone else. Communication is not easy, whether in person or on paper. Below are five steps to help you review or revise the content of the material.
  1. Rewrite the rough draft
  2. Review content from the rough draft
  3. Conduct more research to add or refine content
  4. Revise outline and content to better organize information or describe data
  5. Design content to prepare for presentation to audience
Add Graphics
Visual appeal is important to draw attention to the subject, to allow readers to remember it and to provide color to the written words. People more easily relate to visual aids which are also easy to remember. The eye and brain work together allowing us to visually understand and to quickly recall information. There are many types of visual aids which help the writer communicate quickly and help the reader associate the visual reminder with the written text. Visual aids serve many purposes. Photographs, diagrams or drawings are good for the eyes also. Visual aids are also good for the mind and, most importantly, conducive to thought. Visual aids help us think.
In addition to helping us think, visual aids are more easily remembered than text, are more easily memorized than text and, therefore, more easily recalled by the reader than text.
Types of Graphics
The most common types of visual aids are defined and listed below. As a writer, the type of graphic used improves the communication process and helps the reader comprehend the message. The more technical the information is, the more important it is to provide good graphics to help communicate with the audience. The list below provides a list of the types of graphics typically used and the purpose they serve.
  • Graphs = Compares data based on different variables.
  • Maps = Shows the geographical location of something.
  • Charts = Shows comparisons, proportions or percentages.
  • Flow Charts = Shows how something works. Flow charts are typically used to describe a process or function of a computer or software.
  • Diagrams = Shows how something is put together. May show the components of a system and how they interrelate.
  • Drawings = Shows what something looks like.
  • Tables = Contains data that defines and describes.
  • Figures = May contain any type of visual aid or picture.
  • Photographs = Shows a photograph of something.
Add Lists
Lists are also critical aids for technical writers who are trying to communicate complex subjects to an audience. Lists are also memory aids which allow the writer to organize information in an easy to remember format while also allowing the reader to comprehend and recall the information quickly. Lists are always good memory aids. Lists are important for the following reasons:
  • Lists attract attention
  • Lists are logical
  • Lists condense information
  • Lists are easy to reference
  • Lists are easy to comprehend
  • Lists are easy to memorize
  • Lists are easy to remember
Types of Lists
There are also many types of lists to choose from when trying to organize information for understanding and comprehension. By organizing information into lists, the writer helps the reader learn the information quickly and easily. Lists also provide the reader with a method to quickly reference critical information. Below is a list of the most common types of lists and how they are organized.
  • Numbered Lists = Numbered entries are practical and necessary to define a step in a process or the order of a sequence.
  • Bullet Lists = Bullet lists are frequently used to organize words, phrases or sentences that are not necessarily related to a sequence or a step-by-step process.
  • Logic Lists = Logical lists are used to summarize a complex progression of thought. Major points are listed before minor points.
  • Sentence Lists = Sentence lists are lists of sentences that should be in similar length. The shorter the length, the quicker it delivers the message.
  • Word or Phrase List = Word lists are lists of words that may or may not be listed in a specific order. Alphabetical order is a common grouping for word lists.
Organization of Lists
How a list is organized is also important. Select the best method for organizing information that will best help the reader refer to the information later. Different types of information are better suited for different methods of organization. The data drives the decision. Below is a list of the most common types of lists which are used to organize data in a context that is meaningful and easily recalled by the reader.
  • Alphabetical
  • Geographical
  • Numerical
  • Chronological
  • Persuasive
  • Supporting evidence
  • Step-by-step
  • Equal value
  • Relative order of importance
  • Relative order of priority
Write It Again
After completing the "rough draft" or first draft, it is important for the writer to revise the draft. This includes condensing the information to simply it or expanding it to provide further clarification. When composing a first draft, the writer's goal is to write as much information down as possible. Once this is accomplished, the writer then has to condense it, expand it or clarify it for their audience. As the first draft begins to progress from a rough stage to a more complete state, the draft develops into a "content draft." This occurs as the draft become more fully developed and closer to the finished product. It is also the second phase in the writing process. Keep writing or rewriting and, if necessary, throw away the first draft and start over. At times, it is easier to start with a blank slate to clear one's mind for a fresh beginning.
Proofread It
The importance of proofreading cannot be overstated. Proofread your work yourself and, always ask someone else to proofread it for you as well. It is difficult to read, write, edit and proofread all at the same time. Writers need someone to read their work to make sure there is not grammatical, spelling or other errors that may distract the reader from the message. Ask others to proofread it for you before you publish. It is always easier to see the error after it goes public. Following is a list of five ways and reasons to proofread. By focusing on one specific goal with each proofreading session, it becomes easier to notice the errors and, therefore, correct them before others notice them also. Below are five steps to help you to remember to read it for comprehension first. Then, read it again for details and factual statements.
  1. Proofread once for clarity
  2. Proofread twice to correct errors
  3. Proofread a third time to verify facts
  4. Proofread a fourth time for good measure
  5. Repeat proofread process, as necessary
Write Until It's Right
After completing the "content draft:" begin preparations for the "peer draft" by continue to review, revise, rewrite, modify, update and correct information contained in previous drafts. Continue to take a few moments to proofread your writing to eliminate errors in typing, spelling, grammar, technical data, and improve content presentation. Then, begin preparing the material to be reviewed by peers, subject-matter-experts, advisors and executives. This the final stage in the writing process. This is the phase when you begin to read your work as others will see it. This is phase of the process when you begin to step back from your writing and try to read it from a neutral perspective. This is also the phase that separates the beginners from the professionals. This is the phase when the art of writing becomes the labor of work. Or, in the words of Mario Puzo, author of The Godfather, "Rewriting is the whole secret to writing."
Repeat Process, as necessary
The process of technical writing often has to be repeated to be performed well. Technical documents must be drafted, revised, edited and submitted for reviews by peers or subject matter experts. The writer is responsible for describing information accurately while the peer groups are responsible for determining that the content and context of the information is also accurate. This stage or phase of the writing process is often referred to as the "technical review" phase.
The technical review phase is when the final draft is submitted to multiple readers for feedback, corrections and to verify the information presented. While the draft is in this final review phases, the writer is simultaneously making last-minute changes to clarify data, check facts or reduce redundancy. After all of the comments are returned by the reviewers and all questions answered, the writer begins to incorporate recommended changes into the final document. This is also a good time to go back to the basics by reviewing the ten-step process or re-read the proofreader's checklist. Repeat each step of the process, not necessarily in order or sequence, but simply to ensure that nothing was forgotten. Repeat this process as necessary to ensure quality work in a timely fashion.
Merlene is a Communications Content Consultant working under the business name of Merlene's Memos. She also publishes articles about: computers, technology, psychology, criminology, sociology, media, human behavior, offender behavior, relationships, ethics and more.. Contact Merlene's Memos for help managing a special project or creating content for your corporation.

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