How to improve your technical and scientific writing


This seems to be an age-old question and one without a really good answer. There seems to be a plethora of people who believe that you're "born" to be a good writer, while there are others (and believe me, I've worked with them!) who are of the mindset that technical, scientific, or business writing skills can be taught in one day. And while people can make great strides in a one-day writing course, real progess depends on several things: the willingness of the participants to actually apply the concepts discussed in such a writing course, the willingness of the organization to give writers the time and freedom to apply the concepts, and patience on the part of the both participants and the organization. It's unrealistic to expect that participants will wake up the next morning after a writing course and scream, "Eureka! I now know how to write! I can write that technical or scientific report without any problem!" I liken writing to learning to play an instrument: we wouldn't expect that we could learn to play an instrument well enough in one day to play in an orchestra, and we certainly can't expect that participants in a day-long writing course will be experts when the course concludes. What we should be able to expect from writing training is that participants will gain the tools they need to begin to progress toward writing usable, readable, user-friendly documents. This won't happen overnight, nor should we expect it to. Rather, just as we don't expect to learn to play an instrument in a day or two, we should acknowledge that while participants in a scientific, business, or technical writing course can learn some great concepts that they can use, we should also understand that their ability to apply them takes time. An organization that understands this is more likely to see long-term results and less likely to see poorly written documents and writers who feel ill-prepared to write.