How to Become a Better Technical Writer

It’s hard to excel in any IT field without strong writing skills. Jake Williams highlighted this point when he wrote, “No matter how smart you are, if you can’t communicate coherently it doesn’t really matter. People, especially those who hire you because they lack your technical skills, will judge the quality of your work based on the quality of your writing.”

Writing Tips and Courses

No one is born with exemplary writing abilities. Fortunately, like most professional attributes, communication skills can be strengthened with deliberate practice. Here is some advice I’ve shared over the years on becoming a better technical writer:

In addition to reading the articles mentioned above, consider enrolling in a technical writing course. Your local college probably offers one. Several writing courses are even available freely online.

Online Tools and Mobile Apps

Another free tool that might help improve your writing is Khan Academy. Though the site doesn’t have a formal writing program, you can use its SAT writing module to practice identifying and fixing sentence errors.

fix-sentence

Better yet, spent time with the mobile app Elevate, which positions itself as a “personal brain trainer.” Its mental workout routines include writing exercises, such as those that help you “concisely articulate your thoughts by avoiding redundancy in communication.” Below is a screenshot of one of its exercises. (Thanks for the pointer, Slava Frid!)

elevate-brevity-exercise

Books, Podcasts and Blogs

It’s also a good idea to look through a few books on the topic. The Elements of Style is a classic reference. The book Clean, Well-Lighted Sentences seems like a nice starting point as well, though I haven’t read it myself.

Lastly, consider keeping up with podcasts and blogs that discuss grammar and language. In addition to exposing you to new rules and concepts, these resources will help you remember to pay attention to your writing. For this purpose, I recommend:

These books, articles and podcasts might help you get started, but you won’t get far unless you discipline yourself to examine every email and report that you produce with a critical eye. Remember to spelcheck. Use grammar-checking tools, such as Grammarly. Ask others for feedback. Set time aside to make revisions. Practice. Getting better at anything takes time and energy, so be patient.

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About the Author

Lenny Zeltser is a seasoned business and technology leader with extensive information security experience. He presently oversees the financial success and expansion of infosec services and SaaS products at NCR. He also trains incident response and digital forensics professionals at SANS Institute. Lenny frequently speaks at industry events, writes articles and has co-authored books. He has earned the prestigious GIAC Security Expert designation, has an MBA from MIT Sloan and a Computer Science degree from the University of Pennsylvania.

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