Sunday, November 16, 2014

Get Technical With Your Writing

One would think because I received my undergrad degree in English that I would be a good writer. But I’m not.  At least, I’m not a good technical writer. I tend to give too much information instead of getting right to the point.  So, when it comes to writing for training, I have to work doubly hard to be minimalist.
Technical writing can be used in several phases of training construction.  In the early developmental phases when you create outlines or instruction handouts, the idea to KISS (Keep It Simple Stupid) is ideal.  For those of us that are verbose, there is a time and place within training development to use that skill but, for now, let’s talk about why technical writing is so important.

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I’ve never met anyone who actually likes writing objectives. Of everything that gets written in the process of training, objectives are most likely the most technical you will get. It is easy to be vague and use non-descriptive language when writing, but identifying what the learner will be doing in a training is not the time to be vague. The best objectives will use descriptive verbs and avoid these seven: understand, know, learn, enjoy, appreciate, help, and master. Use technical writing in the objective to succinctly point out (1) what the learner will be doing, (2) when the learner will be doing it, and (3) how the learner will be doing it.

If you are conducting training, then you are most likely making an outline of topics you want to cover. Outlines can be sparse or they can be detailed.  For the purpose of training, an outline should fall somewhere in the middle.  It should detail steps the learners will need to know in order to perform a specific function - aka the training topic. Having a good foundation in technical writing will allow you to comb through the outline and delete any extraneous information. If technical writing is not your strong suit, then perhaps using a flowchart to distinguish actions that need to be taken to achieve the desired results will be easier.  

I don’t know about you, but when I see a recipe that has paragraphs worth of instructions, I don’t even bother with it. Similarly, any instructional handouts you give to learners should be very technical in nature.  Using bullet points or numerical cues for learners to follow will be less cumbersome if they need to refer back to the document later.  Putting the entire contents of the training session in the handout will result in paragraph text that could be a recipe for disaster. If the training was well planned out, the technical document will serve it’s purpose as a way to stimulate recall.

Instructor’s Manual
As a naturally long winded individual, myself, all this terse writing just has me itching to write - at length - an overly detailed manual of sorts.  Every training should detail what is being done and said by the instructor.  The purpose of this is to (1) know what you are planning to do and say during the training and (2) have a record of what was done for future training.  While the Instructor’s Manual will give you a little leeway, the more direct and to-the-point you can be, the better. The Instructor’s Manual should include all the objectives, any instructions and handouts you will be giving out, and a blow-by-blow account of each step you will take during the training.

If technical writing isn’t your strong suit, write from the heart and then from the head. In short, write as you normally would and then take a knife to it and cut out all the excess - your learners will thank you!

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