Technical Writing Understood BelievedThat’s UBER Fantastic Enjoyed Remembered10 Myths, 10 RulesPaul F. StregevskyTechnical Writer,Corporate Communications DivisionDHS Science and TechnologyDirectoratepaul.firstname.lastname@example.org
Myth 1: I was always taught… “Never use the passive voice!” “Never use pronouns!” “Do not use contractions!” But which passage is more effective? This? Or this? DO NOT LITTER. If you’re caught littering, you’ll be fined and jailed. Nothing can break The new the new multiband multiband radio radio. Nothing can can’t be broken. It hack it. Nothing can’t be hacked. It can jam it. can’t be jammed.
Myth 2: Nothing is wrong with my style. “We are all so inclined to think that our own writing is clear that if our readers struggle to understand it, the problem must be not our deep writing but their lazy reading.” Joseph M. Williams, Style
Myth 3: By writing densely, I’ll impress everyone.“We listen to cops, firemen, and—”No, too plain. Accio Obfuscation!There: “Our customer-centric focus…”Much better!
Myth 4: If I write vividly and clearly, I won’t be taken seriously.“Deleting an ‘I’ or a ‘we’doesn’t make a scientist’sthinking more objective. Weknow that behind thoseimpersonal sentence areflesh-and-blood researchersdoing, thinking, andwriting.”Joseph M. Williams, Style
Myth 5: My readers have to read what I wrote. “But it’s so BORING! And DENSE!” “Shad-dup!”
Myth 6: Clear writing is fine and good, but not for my audience. We are too august to be addressed“What we write always in the common tongue!seems clearer to us than itdoes to our readers,because we can read into itwhat we want readers toget out of it.”Joseph M. Williams, Style
Myth 7: I’m writing about technology.Fact: It’s not about tools…. It’s about people!
Myth 8: It’s my report, to write as I see fit. Tara says: “Don’t waste my time with gobbledygook. Write everything clearly. No exceptions!” Plain Language Act of 2009: Use common, everyday words. Use you and other pronouns. Use the active voice.
Myth 9: My chief goal is to inform.Be clear.Be compelling.Be credible.Because…Your chief goal is to persuade!“What really counts, after all,is not what we understand aswe read, but how well weremember it the next day. “Joseph M. Williams, Style
Myth 10: My readers care only about facts.“Clear and graceful “Spare me your pronouns,writers are so few, analogies, and metaphors, for I am a DHS stakeholder, withthat when we find no use for the human touch.”them, we aredesperately gratefulfor them. They donot go unrewarded.”Joseph M. Williams,Style
Your technical writing can beUBER Fantastic!Understood Believed Enjoyed Remembered Marc antony eulogizes Julius caesar
UBER Rule 1: Keep it human.Instead of this: Write this:The cause of our schools’ failure at Teachers fail to teach basic skillsteaching basic skills is not understanding because they don’t “get” howthe influence of cultural background on cultural background affects howlearning. kids learn.Personnel…personnel who need People…people who needpersonnel…are the luckiest personnel… people…are the luckiest people…We, the personnel of the United States… We, the people…will assist the law enforcement community will help police officers (or cops; our men and women in blue)government of the stakeholders, by the government of the people, by thestakeholders, for the stakeholders… people, for the people…
UBER Rule 3: Don’t confuse. “Write not so that you can be understood, but so that you cannot be misunderstood.” —Francis Bacon “Whatever can be written can usually be written more clearly, with just a bit more effort.” —Joseph M. Williams, StyleInstead of this: Write this:The camera records imagery. The camera captures a continuous movie or 1 photo every 15 seconds.ROW-B will enable PTT calls on broadband At the push of a button, a citizenmobile devices to connect to Project 25 LMR can use her Blackberry, iPhone, orsystems, allowing LMR users and broad- Droid to talk with responders whoband users to be on the same group call. use radios.
UBER Make the doer your subject;Rule 4: make action your verb.Instead of this: Write this:Dear National Management Dear NMA,Association: This member no longer I quit.wishes to maintain his membership.Decisions in regard to administration of When a patient comes to a traumamedication despite inability of an center and behaves so irrationally thatirrational patient appearing in a Trauma he can’t legally consent to treatment,Center to provide legal consent rest only the attending physician canwith the attending physician. decide whether to medicate him.An understanding of the causal factors If we understood why some studentsinvolved in excessive drinking by drink too much, we could treat themstudents could lead to more effective more effectively.treatment.
UBER If your writing bores you,Rule 5: it will bore your readers.
UBER Rule 6:Favor the singular.Instead of this: Write this:Using LED Incapacitators, law Using the LED Incapacitator, aenforcement officers can take police officer can take down adown rioters without injuring them. rioter without injuring him.TechSolutions: Where first TechSolutions: Where a firstresponders with ideas can be responder with an idea can beheard. heard.
UBER Lose the PR/Rule 7: Management-speak.Instead of this: Write this:We are committed to engaging our To protect Americans better, we’restakeholders to enhance the Nation’s listening to firefighters, EMTs, cops,security. bomb squadders, and hazmat crews.S&T leadership has instructed Our Under Secretary, Dr. Tara O’Toole,management to … has enjoined each division manager…Our customer-focused portfolio has We’re finding affordable ways to helpeffectively facilitated a plan to leverage you work, and talk, with your fellowresponders’ resources, fusing disparate heroes, from fellow agencies, districts,systems at the National, state, regional, and states.local, and Tribal levels.It is a collaborative effort between DHS We’ve teamed up with people who write,and the standards community. use, and rely on standards…
Explaining the benefits of S&T’sairflow tests in the Boston subway With PR-Speak Free of PR-Speak (WCVB News) (WBZ News)
UBER Use “metadiscourse”Rule 8: to provide guideposts.Use more qualifiers like this:As we shall see,Ironically,For the most part,However,To put these numbers in perspective,In other words,By comparison,
UBER Rule 9: Use pictures liberally. ’Nuff said.
UBER Rule 10: Heed the Golden Rule of Style. “We write well when we would willingly experience what our readers do when they read what we’ve written. That puts the burden on us to imagine our readers and their feelings.” Joseph M. Williams, Style •Write to others as you would have others write to you. •If we don’t want others to impose carelessly complex writing on us, then we ought not to impose it on others.