Technical Writing – Characteristics

Knowing the characteristics of technical writing is very important if you are a person that is interested in writing professionally. There are many different types of writing and each type has a purpose. Technical writing is different from other types of writing in that it is more informative. The purpose of this type of writing is to explain a variety of topics to other people. Technical writing is commonly seen in how to manuals and other pieces that provide direction. Learning the characteristics of technical writing is essential if you want to build a successful writer career.

Purpose of Technical Writing

Every type of writing has a goal. There are some forms of writing that are geared to telling a story and there are other forms of writing that are geared to expressing opinions.

The main purpose of technical writing is to provide sometimes complex information. This is the type of writing that will:

  • Assist a person with understanding more about a particular item, such as a computer or a new drug or a new piece of technology.
  • Explain how an object works or how to complete a project.

Technical writing is targeted to readers who are looking for information on a particular topic. The goal in targeting this group is to make sure that the information provided is clear, concise and easy for anyone to understand.

This type of writing is somewhat difficult for some people as it requires that you are able to translate information that is sometimes hard to comprehend into terms that anyone will be able to read and follow along with, without an issue. While there are different types of writing that are informative, technical writing is the type that most clearly focuses on presenting information in a specific way so that people can use the information for a variety of purposes.

Characteristics of Technical Writing

Technical writing, just as any other form of writing, has certain characteristics which distinguish it from other types of writing. It is very different from writing opinion pieces, essays, prose, non-fiction or fiction.

  • It is clear and straight forward. If you are interested in technical writing for professional purposes, it is very important to know that this type of writing require that the writer stick to the subject matter and relay information in a clear and concise manner.
  • The language is very direct and straight to the point. The writing will avoid words that people do not understand and will avoid an eloquent writing style.
  • It is very detailed and informative. The perfect example of technical writing is a textbook. The written contents of most textbooks is geared to providing information by describing the subject matter as fully as possible.
  • It is very structured. This type of writing has a very obvious composition that makes it easy for the reader to follow along. Solid structure is needed with technical writing as it allows the audience to easily access the information as needed.

Uses of Technical Writing

With understanding the characteristics of technical writing, you can better comprehend how this type of writing is used. Technical writing is found everywhere. There are a variety of different types of writting which use a technical style.

For example, instructions of all sorts are a perfect example of technical writing.

  • When you open up an instruction manual, as the reader, the goal is to be informed about the product so that you can use it as efficiently as possible.
  • Lab reports are another example of technical writing. The main purpose of a lab report is to explain the occurrences in a lab so that others will be able to gain information.
  • Driving directions can be considered a type of technical writing as the goal is to clearly and efficiently provide instructions on how to go from point A to point B.

Overall, technical writing is a very useful form of writing that is encountered by everyone almost every day.

10 Kickoff Questions for Managing E-learning Development

What information is critical at the kickoff of an e-Learning project? To help, I suggest you utilize a project kickoff agenda when managing e-Learning development at the beginning of each and every project. I have learned many lessons, (sometimes the hard way), which have contributed to my kickoff agenda. For example, 6 years ago I would never have thought to ask if the course is going to be viewed on an iPad. Or even better, I wouldn’t have thought it important to find out if the course will be viewed on a smart phone. So as technology changes and your experience grows, so will your kickoff agenda.

Here are 10 questions, (most certainly not all), that must be asked when starting your project.

Roles and Responsibilities:

1. Who are the project contributors?

2. What are each project contributor’s distinct responsibilities?


3. Who are the Subject Matter Experts and what is their availability?

4. Will the course ever need to be translated?


5. How big is the course – what is the required seat time?

6. How many knowledge checks/interactions/animations etc.?


7. What browser(s) will the audience be using? (Very important for QA purposes)

8. Will the course ever be viewed on an iPad or mobile? (This impacts course design, development, and QA)


9. What are the major milestone dates?

10. Are there any holidays, vacations etc. that will impact our required launch dates?

I would like to hear from you! Tell us what items you feel are critical to know from the very start of your project?

Becoming an Instructional Designer (ID)

In the past few months, I’ve been thinking on what an instructional designer does and how to get into the field. The growing field of instructional design presents a plethora of job opportunities for those looking to break into the field. I love instructional design because it is a field where I am constantly learning and I have a great variety in what I do. I use so many different skills—writing, web design, graphics, collaboration, planning, plus of course how people learn. I thought it would be useful to collect all the information and post it here.

The first step can be to get more instructional design experience at your current job, if possible. For example, if you’re offered the technical writing part of a project, you might ask about other training and support materials that the project requires and what the larger business need for the project is, and suggest that you could design those other materials to meet that need.

My job was a combination of support, technical writing, and training, so I was in a good position to identify ways to improve the organization’s performance. By volunteering to improve processes and create training and support materials beyond my official job description, I created items for my portfolio and eventually transitioned into a more “pure” instructional design role.

Another approach is to politely offer to overhaul an existing course or other learning intervention that isn’t working or that people complain about, even if has nothing to do with your job description. That way you can show what you can do, save your colleagues from suffering, and learn how to redo others’ work without stepping on toes, which is a valuable skill in our field.

Hopefully you can do this sort of thing while still employed and build a portfolio, which will be your key to getting ID work.

If you want to do instructional design and not just e-learning development, be sure to explain the instructional decisions you made for each sample in the portfolio. The most common mistake is to simply show the material without discussing the strategy behind it or linking it to any larger need in the organization. IDs with that sort of portfolio give the impression that they view their job as putting information online, which is unlikely to lead to fulfilling work.

If you just do design and not development, put your design ideas in the portfolio. For example, describe the performance problem and the solution that you designed, explaining your reasoning and describing the results.

Learn the theory

If you aren’t doing it already, I’d recommend that you also do some independent reading to get the vocabulary and basic theoretical background that’s expected of IDs. Cammy Bean lists a lot of recommended books and sites that traditional IDs use. I got the most help from Michael Allen’s Guide to E-Learning, Ruth Clark’s research-based books, David Merrill’s First Principles of Instruction, the research-into-practice info from Will Thalheimer’s site.

Since many people in our field like to discuss theory, it’s good to be able to talk about Bloom’s taxonomy, Gagne, constructivism, etc., much of which is described for free online. However, I think it’s equally important to remember that most of it is just theory, and that experiments that seem to support a theory were likely done on students in school, not adults in the business world.

Consider a degree

Compared to other instructional designers, I seem to be less enthusiastic about degrees. I worked with several recent graduates of ID degree programs and usually found that they learned a lot of theory but had little knowledge of business needs and no experience applying the theory to real-world situations with tight deadlines. So if you want a degree, I’d recommend that you consider programs that give you real-world projects in addition to the theory.

Decide: design or development, or both?

As you get more experience, identify what gives you the most satisfaction. Do you love analyzing a performance problem, figuring out a solution to it, and outlining a training program that you know will be effective? Or do you love to create the media for content that already exists, making it more interesting and interactive?

Most jobs that I hear about seem to require both sets of skills, which mean neither gets the time it deserves. If you like both the instructional design and the media creation, there are jobs out there that will give you the chance to do both, keeping in mind that you probably won’t have time to do your best work. The number one complaint I hear from solo instructional designers is that they’re not given enough time for strategic instructional design and are expected to just put existing information online.

If you prefer strategy and design over production, look for a position in an organization that’s big enough to have a separate production team or that outsources the production. Also make sure that your possible employer will view you as a performance consultant included in training strategy and not just as someone who converts information into a course.