The world of writing is categorized into three areas: literary, academic, and technical. Our first exposure to writing is usually literary. As a child in school, the teacher asked us to write a story or a poem about what we did over the summer break. We were asked to be imaginative, use descriptive language, and make our story come to life. In high school and college or university, we were required to produce academic works such as essays, articles, critical papers, and biographies. When writing academic papers, we were often told to meet a word count requirement. As a result, we became conditioned to take 500 words to say something that might only take 50 words.
Our first exposure to technical writing is usually in the workplace. As instructional designers, part of our job includes writing procedures, lesson plans, and job aids. No surprise then, that technical writing has both a different purpose and different characteristics compared to literary or academic writing.
These ten tips are important to keep in mind when writing technical content for training materials:
- Use a simple format to speed up reading and avoid confusion for the learners.
- Number the instructional points to provide flow and order to the instructional document.
- Provide explanatory notes where required to help eliminate confusion and provide clarity for the learner.
- Use meaningful instructional graphics, rather than cosmetic graphics, to reduce “clutter” in the document.
- Structure subject-matter in a logical manner to speed up reading and aid in retention.
- Use a clear, concise, and consistent layout to increase learner comfort and familiarity.
- Create technical documents that can be used as job aids whenever possible. These job aids will support on–the–job performance.
- Use an interactive structure where possible. Structure content in worksheets, flowcharts, decision tables, etc. to provide interaction between the learner and the material.
- Use an attractive appearance. Learners are more likely to use a technical document that is visually appealing.
- Use thought-provoking questions and statements where possible to engage the learner and encourage them to think about the material.
It is important to realize when writing technical documents, or training materials, that we’re not writing novels. Our job is to convey job–related knowledge and skill using fewer words and less descriptive language, while being as succinct as possible. Following these tips will help you create meaningful, relevant, and effective training materials.
BONUS TIP: Formal Versus Informal Writing Style
The tone, choice of words, and the way words are put together vary between formal and informal writing styles. A formal style is less personal than informal. Informal is more casual and spontaneous.
A common example of the difference between formal and informal styles is reflected in the use of contractions. The formal example is, “should not.” The informal example is, “shouldn’t.” Consider your audience and the style your organization dictates to determine the writing style of your training documents. Selecting the appropriate writing style can make or break the effectiveness of your written materials.
What practices have you found successful in writing technical content or developing your training materials? Please share. I’d love to hear your thoughts!
This article was first published February 19, 2018.