Copywriting and editing
The central part of most documents is the text that it contains. The text carries the bulk of the information in the document, and its overall style can have a huge effect on the reader’s ability to understand and retain this information. The text is often the single most important component of a document, and its quality can have a major effect on the ability of the document to perform its task.
Technical writing is not a simple process and involves a complex combination of skills. It is writing for a purpose and, to be effective, writers must think carefully about the aim of the document, what it’s audience will be and the circumstances in which it will be read. The aim, above all, is to communicate, and this factor must sometimes override the writer’s own personal preferences and personality. In a sense, the writer is an actor who must be able to project themselves into the role of expert teacher. Although they may make use of many props, this fact must not be revealed to the audience.
How Technical Is Technical?
One question that arises (and is, incidentally, a hot topic among technical writers when they get together) is: How much technical knowledge is necessary to write technical documents?
The answer to this is that it depends on the nature of the document and the level of reader that it is aimed at. Particularly with product documentation, manuals and user guides are often for beginners, or will at least assume the lowest level of technical expertise.
Under these circumstances, a writer with a detailed knowledge of the subject can be operating at a disadvantage, and a writer with little or no prior knowledge of the subject could have the advantage. When you are very familiar with a subject, it can sometimes be very difficult to see where others may have problems grasping it. In contrast, the inexperienced writer’s “beginners mind” can often see where the difficulties lie, and this can help them to ask the right questions and decide which concepts need clarification.
The other end of this is when the document produced for expert readers. Experts in a particular field expect to be addressed by one of their peers, and if the writer isn’t an expert they will quickly become aware of it. In-depth knowledge of the subtleties of highly technical subjects can’t be faked.
In these cases, there is obviously a distinct advantage in making use of the services of an expert writer, assuming that one can be found.
If not, the requirement is for the writer to have enough technical knowledge to be able to understand the subject, combined with an ability to communicate with the general reader. Gaps in knowledge are filled by a Subject Matter Expert (SME), who is prepared to work closely with the writer during the production process. We have done this on many occasions, and the combination of our communication skills with the SME’s deep knowledge of the subject has produced excellent results.