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Why you’d want an expert technical writer on tap …and how to write like one in the meantime

By an Elysium EPL Technical Writer

I stood, eyes on the paper my 12-year-old dutifully delivered, but my mind already split between dinner prep and monitoring children’s activity: homework, showers, laundry and devious handheld devices. I’m holding the school’s badly-crafted forms: A swim carnival permission form, a double-sided student medical history form, a tidy two-page list of IT apps that teachers will use in class, and for each app, a web address to the school privacy policy, and terms and conditions (each characterised by a full line of random characters).

I mumble to myself, ‘how do I fill these forms in with spaces too small for human handwriting? Crikey! If I actually researched all these apps, I’d lose a weekend!’

Modern life is drenched in written words. Some words energise us with exciting ideas – like that fascinating article my sister sent. Some words steal precious time and energy – like the many times I mentally flip a coin: read these T&Cs or do I just click Accept, and return sooner to things that make me go mmm?

As a technical writer, I now find myself oddly delighted when I read important information, thoughtfully written for the needs of all.

I switched to this work when it was highlighted, I possessed sought-after skills in plain, accessible writing. Unglamorously, these skills are born from needing to edit text so that dummies like me could understand very clever people’s written ideas.

In doing so, I discovered organisations are hungry for technical writers, since they excel at transforming complicated, specialty text into easily readable information for diverse situations, and people.

So here, I offer some basic hacks for you to transform yawn-worthy text into save-the-day information.

Here’s how we do it…

Full disclosure, I love the Australian Government Style Manual. It is an excellent resource.

1. Let’s face it, we’re mostly skim-reading – let’s get behind that.

2. Keep your readers’ needs in mind.

Imagine the diverse folk in your audience and ask yourself, why would they care enough to read this?

What holds their attention and why?

Mostly, it must answer their questions, and respect their time, expertise and intelligence.

For readers who are:

  • new to this subject; describe industry terms and complex concepts in plain language.

  • expert in this subject; protect accuracy and complexity with links to reliable source‑information.

3. If in doubt, cut it out

As a technical writer, I believe that ‘every word should earn its right to stay in the sentence and every sentence must earn its right to stay in the paragraph.’

Finally, did you know 13 October is International Plain Language Day?

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