Technical writing is different from blogs, fiction, or articles written for the general public, in that the target audience for industry-specific subjects can be counted on to understand and be familiar with the terminology associated with a particular discipline. All professions employ jargon, and they all do it for two basic reasons:
- As a form of shorthand, so that those ‘in the know’ can immediately understand complex concepts without a lot of wordiness or backstory, and
- To keep outsiders at bay.
The medical field is rife with this sort of language, followed closely by the legal profession and the computer sector. Acronyms are also popular, especially in the military, as they can be used to compress a large amount of data down to a handful of letters. They can also be funny, intentionally or otherwise. For example, ‘Trojan Air Transportable Electronic Reconnaissance System’ is referred to as TATERS. A ‘Soldier Minus Ability, Coordination and Knowledge is known as a SMACK (“Awright you SMACKs, get moving!”). Some wags have postulated that VISTA stands for ‘Viruses Intrusions Spyware Trojans Adware‘, as anyone who has used this unfortunate operating system can attest.
A Secret Language
In any event, unless an introductory piece is called for, say, ‘Investing 101′, an industry specific article will sound like pure gibberish to the lay public. And that’s if we do our job right. The mission of a technical writer is simple:
- Understand the ‘secret language’, of every known profession, and
- In a readable manner, tell the reader everything he wants to know as succinctly and briefly as possible. The people reading these things are not looking for amusement (although it sometimes happens). This is their job.
The Politics Of Web Search
Do a web search of almost any subject and you will be presented with thousands, sometimes millions of ‘hits’. Almost without fail, what you are looking for will be found in the top ten. This does not happen by accident, it is a perfect example of market forces at work. A worldwide legion of search bots, sifting through reams of results, insure that only the most relevant make it to the top. All codified and classified by Google Analytics. This is why content (not to mention SEO) is so important.
A Taste, All I Want Is A Taste…
As an example, here is an article written for investment professionals that analyzes an exotic option position known as a ‘Jelly Roll':
(Originally a PowerPoint presentation, this article has been converted to PDF format. Click on ‘Modeling the Jelly Roll’, and set the document size in your Adobe Reader to 70% for best viewing.)
Technical Writing In Reverse – Making the Complex Understandable
Explaining a technical subject to a layperson, especially a field rife with numeric labels and acronyms, is no easy task. But I think we’re up for the challenge! In this article, we demystify the world of high-tech routers: