Dr. Judith M. Newman

Technical Writing

The first step in any kind of non-fiction writing is to collect information—to do research. For the medical writer that can involve actually conducting experiments, or patient trials. It usually involves reading relevant research papers, clinical trials, and review articles. It can also include obtaining data from adverse event and other databases. Relevant information may come from interviews with researchers, discussions with colleagues, or from notes made at critical meetings....

It's a good idea to begin by asking yourself "What am I trying to achieve?" If you can't answer that question. the chances of writing a good piece are slim. If you can identify your global intentions, then you can evaluate your information, arguments, and recommendations against those intentions.

You don't have to wait until all of your "research" is done before you start sorting through the evidence/ information—start immediately to identify main issues, to think about how to organize them, to make some notes, to brainstorm, and so on.

By focusing your thoughts, you've started to think about what your readers might want or need to know.

Some Things To Keep In Mind When Doing Technical Writing

  1. Understand the type of report/memo/synopsis you are writing—find examples and notice the structure and organization other authors have used
  2. Write down your global intentions—a phrase or two that captures the gist of your potential writing
  3. Tentatively identify possible sections and subsections—this is a brainstorming or clustering activity
  4. Try writing some headings using strong verbs and specific nouns—it may be too soon for this activity; however, it will allow you to see where you need to do more research or identify where you have holes you'll want to think about later. You will certainly revisit headings and subheadings after you've got a draft
  5. Think about your readers' knowledge and needs—this is crucial! Try to imagine what the reader knows and expects from such a text
  6. Keep information specific rather than general—it's the details that pursuade, so be sure you've provided enough "data" for your readers to understand the issues as you see them
  7. Try beginning with lists in simple English—this will likely take several attempts, the lists may expand or become smaller on each successive go-around, items may be moved to other lists...
  8. Keep your list items or points short
  9. Turn your lists into prose—keep your language as direct as you can
  10. Use active verbs rather than passive voice constructions
  11. Vary sentence length
  12. Avoid jargon
  13. Keep technical terms to a minimum (or provide an explanation in the text itself)
  14. A helpful hint when you're drafting: If in doubt, PUT IT IN!
  15. Another helpful hint: When you quote from other writing or make an attribution, make sure you put the complete citation (including page numbers) in a separate file. This "references" file doesn't have to be in any kind of order at this point—it will be easy to order it later—but it's invaluable not to have to track down an obscure citation after you've forgotten where you got it from!
  16. A third hint: Instead of deleting passages from your evolving text, cut and paste them into a separate "out-takes" file—that way you can review what you've deleted and have it on hand should want or need it later
  17. Once you have a draft, ask some readers for feedback—at this point you're interested in what meaning they make, you're not interested in editing help, so be sure to let them know what information you're looking for
  18. Test your document with the intended audience
  19. Revise based on their feedback
  20. Remember that editing / revision isn't just about errors. You want to polish your sentences at this point, making them smooth, interesting, and clear. Watch for very long sentences, since they may be less clear than shorter, more direct sentences
  21. Pay attention to the rhythm of your writing; try to use sentences of varying lengths and patterns. Look for unnecessary phrases, repetition, and awkward spots
  22. When you're revising—if in doubt, TAKE IT OUT!
  23. Published authors usually have access to editors; if you have to edit your own work here are some things to think about: Effective Editing
  24. Think about layout
  25. Use examples and illustrations; consider tables and visuals that might explain your arguments
  26. Use diagrams, flowcharts, and graphs
  27. Don't forget to proofread: Checklist for a "Third" Read