I’ve written over 2,750 of these blog posts, and before that tens of thousands more technical news articles for websites and magazines. If I’d made a note of everything I’ve learned about technical writing while going along, I’d have a book by now. A pity that it never happened. If it had, my top tips would probably fall into two camps: those I do, and those I wish I’d got into the habit of doing.
In the latter category, the big one is certainly planning. Whatever you’re writing, if you jot down an outline before you start, you’ll end up with a more effective piece. This applies as much to a 500-word news announcement as a 5000-word white paper.
The novelists’ traditional ‘three-act structure’ is an easy approach that – surprisingly – can be as applicable to a technical article as it can to a novel. The three acts are the setup (background), the confrontation (problem) and the resolution (solution). Draw a box for each before you do anything, make some notes in each one, and use this as the guide for your article. You’ll then end up with some proper structure, rather than something that just meanders around …like most of mine probably do.