Certain characteristics of technical writing permeate the whole genre, even though technical writing is a diverse field. Being specific, concise, simple and thorough are key.
The characteristics of technical writing vary greatly depending on the piece. Technical writing is essentially the genre of writing that includes how-to manuals and other explanatory documents. Instructions on how to install computer software and the assembly manual for a bookshelf are both examples of technical writing. Since the field is so large and diverse, it is hard to list a complete set of characteristics, but there are certain adjectives that describe almost all technical writings.
Specific: Whether the document is explaining how many pills you are supposed to take and how often you are supposed to take them or giving you instructions on how to assemble your new office chair, any vague or misleading text can be dangerous. If the recommended dosage is "twice daily at least six hours apart" and the technical writer simplifies this to "a few times a day," the lack of specificity could be harmful.
Concise: In order for the consumer to utilize the document, it must be condensed into a manageable size. The fewer steps the better, and the shorter each step is, the better. The writer must find the proper balance, making sure it is brief enough to be manageable but still outlines every necessary step or detail.
Simple: Obviously depending on the topic, simplicity is not always a realistic goal. The purpose of technical writings, however, is to create a text that laymen can understand and implement. Making it as simple is possible is necessary to achieve this goal.
Thorough: Every detail must be outlined and each step clearly described. A missing step, as trivial as it may seem, could render an otherwise perfect piece of technical writing worthless.
The hardest aspect of a technical writer's job is balancing these four characteristics. It is hard to be truly specific and thorough when creating a concise and simple document. Finding the right wording to explain a complex task in a way that someone with little to no background knowledge in the subject will understand is difficult enough. Doing so in as few words as possible only serves to make it more difficult. Though there are other characteristics that may pertain to certain sub-genres of technical writing, these four permeate the whole field and help to guide the job of a technical writer.
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