Whether you are brand new to technical writing or have been in the field for a while, there are a handful of best practices you will want to follow. I hope these tips help you to improve communication with your Subject Matter Experts (SMEs) and audience!
1. Learn Microsoft Visio
Visio is one of the most fun and helpful diagramming tools I have ever used. I was asked to learn this program when I started working at Moser, and I learn new things every time I use it. The network diagrams and flow charts you create will look great and will add immense value to your documents! Though some diagrams require further explanation, these visuals often allow the reader to learn the concept(s) you are trying to convey at a glance.
2. Become familiar with the language your SMEs are using.
Schedule both one-on-one and group interviews with experts on the subject you are writing about. Prior to these interviews, you will want to prepare a list of as many questions as you can think of. It is sometimes easy to assume that we understand a process, only to learn later on that we were wrong. This is why it is so important to delve deeper into each part of the process until you have the complete picture.
3. Check your work over!
And over and over. This is a habit I carry with me from my days as an editor in the Educational Publishing industry. Read your document from top to bottom. Repeat. Do this as many times as necessary until you are satisfied with your document, not only in terms of spelling and grammar, but also when considering clarity.
Ask yourself the following questions: - Is this easy to understand or does it need to be reworded? -Are the steps in the correct order? -Are the numbers of the steps in consecutive order?-Are all of the steps accurate? -Could the document be better organized?
4. Peer Reviews
As a best practice, one or more SMEs should review your work before it is published or distributed to its target audience. You might feel more comfortable having someone edit your work before it reaches the SME for final review, however, this is a personal preference.
5. Version Control
Use links whenever possible rather than sending out hard copies through email. This will ensure that everyone reviewing the document will be viewing the most recent copy. And depending on the application in which you are storing your document, you may have the ability to access previous versions of your documents.
6. Remember Your Audience
Write and edit your documents as if the person reading it has never performed this task before. That way, if a new hire is trying to navigate your standard operating procedure (SOP) (or process manual or other document), he or she will be able to follow it step by step without any assistance.
7. Use Plain Language
One of the most important ways to make your documents easy to follow and understand is to write in plain language. Use the least amount of words possible in each sentence while still getting your points across. Another good rule of thumb to follow is to use words at or below a fourth grade vocabulary.
Once you have mastered a skill, continue to challenge yourself to learn a new ones and to set new goals. Good luck and happy tech writing!