When you have a highly technical subject to write about, you are faced with a serious dilemma that you need to sort out before you write anything.
- Are you trying to convey highly complex processes and obscure technology to technically savvy individuals who simply need to extend their already heady knowledge?
- Or, are you trying to describe some sort of technical procedure or process to someone who has little technical know-how, but who needs to understand what you are writing about?
High Tech Writing for a Technical Audience
In the first case, where your consists of technical gurus, if you are not totally competent with the technology you are to write about, beware! It is all too easy to make a fool of yourself when you are in unchartered territory like this.
It might sound like fun to consider writing about “string theory”, but Wikipedia defines this as: “an active research framework in particle physics that attempts to reconcile quantum mechanics and general relativity.” So, if you are an expert in particle physics, quantum mechanics AND general relativity, go for it. If not, then what are you doing writing about it (if your audience consists of people who are already experts in these fields)? You might just get laughed off stage…
No – in this case, get a “real” expert to write the technical article or manual. Then, if you want to be involved and you do have some skill with words, you could “wordsmith” the material after the fact. Just make sure the gramma is correct and that the basic writing rules have been followed; you know:
- Short sentences
- Short paragraphs
- Side headings
High Tech Writing for a Non-Technical Audience
OK – this you can handle, assuming you do know enough about the subject to translate it into language your non-technical audience can follow.
Your job here is to take the tech-speak and convert it into more easily understandable language. But that’s not all. You also have to take the technical processes and descriptions and present those in a simpler way that the layman will comprehend. Oh, and don’t forget to include lots of illustrations, pictures, etc. These always help to clarify things.
Your challenge here is to firstly make sure you really do understand the technical material you are presenting. You have to get right inside that data so you can know it so well that you can then turn around and write about it in ways that are more easily digestible. Remember, you are presenting this to non-technical people, so you can get away with a lot that the high-tech audience would choke on.
I’m not saying you should give them incorrect or badly researched data, of course. If, however, you want to use analogies that the technical geniuses would laugh at, but which do convey the ideas to novices really well, by all means go ahead and use them.
A final tip for the high tech document is to use lots of white space. If your low-tech audience sees pages that are tightly-packed with lots of text in heavy blocks, they will tend to put up some barriers before they even start to read. So, lots of space, liberal use of side headings and number or bullet lists and plenty of illustrations and graphics. That will all help to make the medicine go down very nicely indeed.