How technical writing sucks: The five sins

I was commenting to my friend Rob recently that I think one of the things I need to really improve at is my technical writing. It’s something I think Rob is quite good at as are Ian and Justin and it really is kind of cool having those guys around to learn from. I do find myself reading a lot of their work … not surprising given that we work together…

It does frustrate me when I read something they’ve written, or others outside of work like Alan, and I wonder whether I could have made the same point as succinctly or eloquently or even as effectively. Now, rather mischievously, I could just say that those guys are way older than me and have had far more practice and experience at it … but I think that would be … disingenuous at best … a lame excuse for not trying harder myself … but hey I’m definitely younger and better looking than them 😉 I just know that I’m not as a good at writing. I think it’s because, just with any skill, you have to work at it, you have to practise at it in order to get better, and I haven’t really been doing that.

I’ve been having a relaxed weekend so far and have been catching on some reading. Came across this wonderful little article by Amy Hoy, whose blog I’ve been following for a while. Amy very succinctly describes herself as a designer-turned-interface-developer, which rather belies how good I think she is at it. Amy has a wonderfully engaging style of writing and whilst I don’t always agree with what she says (sorry!) whatever she writes is almost always great food for thought! 😉 She often makes me laugh, for example when I read here blog entry entitled “Are writers better women?

Her article about the five sins, is a fun read but I think what she identifies as the sins [losing the reader, making the reader feel stupid, failing to stick , being a total bore and not providing much needed context] are all indicative of some of the kinds of problems my own technical writing often suffers from. Anyway I think it provides a useful set of criteria for me to try to assess my work with, I think I’m going to try and use it like that to see if it begins to help me evolve my own style … one that I feel more comfortable with. If its an area you think you need to improve at then do read her article, who knows you might find it useful too.

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