The Technical Writing Process

4 steps to help you create better technical writing documents and instructions

 min. read
February 25, 2022

It may surprise you to learn that planning and reviewing take just as much (if not more!) time as writing in the technical writing process. The planning stage sets you up for success and helps you get the most out of your writing time. The review step is critical for ensuring that your work is technically correct and accessible to your intended audience. 

There are critical preparation stages that will define your text before you type a single word. You'll simply cause yourself headaches if you start writing and then try to revise your way into a passable technical article. 

To best produce your instruction manuals, use the technical writing method outlined below.

1. Planning the project 

When a technical document is requested, the project planning process begins. An employer, a coworker, or a client may commence this stage. Initial requirements are defined with the request: document type, subject area/content, aim, scope, and audience. 

At initially, not all of these crucial elements may be clearly specified. Your client may not even be aware of their own requirements at times! A guided discussion of the document is essential for ensuring that you, as the author, comprehend the project. You may elicit this information by asking meaningful questions, resulting in a project that is clear and well-planned from the outset.

2. Audience research 

The audience is the most important writing component after the initial project planning with the customer. 

The technical writer's mind is constantly focused on the audience. The text is defined by the reader. The technical data does not change very often. The only difference is in how those facts are communicated. A smart technical writer revises the material to fit the context of the reader.

3. Determine the user (the audience)

To figure out who you're writing for, gather as much information as possible about the people who will be reading the text. It's critical to understand whether your audience is an expert in the industry, if the issue is completely unfamiliar to them, or if they lie somewhere in the middle. 

The audience will have its own expectations and requirements. When the reader starts reading the document, you must figure out what they're looking for. Because the paper should meet their wants and answer their queries, the reader's aim will guide the entire writing process.

To understand your reader, ask yourself the following questions, adapted from Technical Communication Today, before you prepare the document: Who are they? What do they need? Where will they be reading? When will they be reading? Why will they be reading? How will they be reading?

Once you’ve answered these questions, only then can you start to prepare your technical instruction.

4. User experience

User experience is just as important in a technical document as it is for a website’s mobile usability.

Now that you know your audience and their needs, keep in mind how the document itself services their needs. There can be a tendency for experts to craft a document that shows their depth of knowledge and to compile it in a way that is appealing to their own peer group. It’s an easy mistake that ignores how the actual reader will use the instruction. As you prepare, continuously step back and view the document as the reader. Ask yourself: Is it accessible? How would they be using it? When will they be using it? Is it easy to navigate? Does it make sense? 

I personally like to use this one question to determine if my technical writing is good: can my mom understand this?

Always create a document (or instruction) that is useful and simple for the user.