Keeping the writing fresh

VegetablesWorking as a technical writer, it’s easy to focus on the tools we use. Learning new tools and implementing new processes is fun and exciting.

But often we have to update the same manuals, write the same documents, produce content using the same branding and styles over and over. And our writing can become dull and lifeless.

I was thinking about this the other day when I was out for dinner. I was eating a salad, picking around some particularly limp lettuce. I wanted to toss this salad in the garbage and make my own. The vegetables in this salad were not fresh.

But there’s a reason I like to eat restaurant salads. It’s because I’m always looking for new ingredients to add to my salads at home. Take jicama, for example. I discovered raw jicama in a salad in California.  In it’s natural state, it’s nondescript, a bit like a wrinkly potato, and does not look very appetizing. But peeled and sliced, it’s sweet and crunchy, and the perfect addition to a fresh salad.

Which brings me to the point about technical writing. How do we do the same thing with our writing? How do we keep it fresh?

1. Look for the cool

When I find myself doing a mental eye roll – oh no, not this again – I know it’s time to step back and take a fresh look at the piece I’m writing. By fresh look, I mean, I look for what’s cool about this new feature. Why would a user want to use the feature? How will the feature help the user? Is there anything about this feature that will make the user say “Wow, cool!”? Once I’ve found that cool thing, the writing seems to flow easily.

2. Look for ways to simplify the writing

One of my goals as a technical writer is to make tricky things easy to understand. One way to do this is to keep the writing simple. Use short sentences. Use short paragraphs. Use the active voice. Use the present tense. Look through the piece of writing you’re working on now. Could you simplify it?

3. Rediscover your passion for writing

Many of us became technical writers because we like to write, but when our writing becomes dull, we can lose interest in the work. To rediscover your passion for writing, offer to work on a writing project for another department – perhaps a piece of marketing writing, a proposal, a requirements document.

Or start a personal blog. The blog could be about technical writing, a hobby, or something you’re passionate about. Blogging makes you consider your audience and work on your writing craft.

Or write an article for your local paper, a short story, a piece of fiction, or morning pages.

Your turn! What do you do to keep your technical writing fresh?


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Photo via Flickr user Charles Haynes

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