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.” If this resonates with you, consider the following advice on becoming a better technical writer.
Technical 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:
- Strong Communication Skills: 10 Tips for IT Professionals
- Balancing Brevity and Verbosity in Business Communications
- Tips for Troubleshooting Human Communications
- Technical Writing Tips for IT Professionals (a cheat sheet)
The articles above outline advice based on my own experiences. The feedback I received indicates that others found these tips useful. However, sometimes enrolling in a technical writing course is the best way to acquire and expand your writing skills. Your local college probably such a course. Several writing courses are available freely online.
And if you’re in cybersecurity, consider my course SEC402: Cybersecurity Writing: Hack the Reader, which you can take online via SANS Institute.
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 beyond a few grammar-focused modules, you can use its SAT reading and writing program to learn and practice these skills.
For another learning opportunity, spend 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.” (Thanks for the pointer, Slava Frid!)
You can also finetune your writing skills by enabling spelling and grammar-checking capabilities in your word processor, such as Microsoft Word. A nice third-party tool for accomplishing this even within a web browser is Grammarly, as long as you’re OK with their cloud-based approach to analyzing your content. Keep in mind that automated spelling and grammar checkers are sometimes wrong, though.
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. On Writing Well also looks promising (thanks for the tip, Juan Rodriguez).
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:
- The Grammar Girl Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing blog and podcast by Mignon Fogarty
- The Way with Words radio program and podcast by Martha Barnette and Grant Barrett
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. Ask others for feedback. Set time aside to make revisions. Practice. Getting better at anything takes time and energy, so be patient.