Technical Writing as Problem-Solving

             

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Most of us are very adept at problem-solving--we solve problems every day, from small problems such as figuring out the best route to take to work to larger issues, such as dealing with difficult people. In fact, most of us are so good at solving problems that we may not even realize when we're actively involved in that problem-solving mode! If we are so good at solving problems, why are there so many of us who feel that we aren't good at writing? This may sound like a strange pairing--writing and good problem-solving skills--but the reality is that they are inextricably linked! In fact, we can safely say that effective writing is problem-solving at its finest! Let's discuss the components of the problem-solving puzzle.

For us to put the pieces of the writing puzzle together, we first have to understand what those pieces are. Today I'm going to discuss three writing tips.

Puzzle Piece 1: Who are our readers? This may sound like a simple question and many of us are apt to answer it based on the profession or role of our readers. So, for instance, if you readers are primarily engineers, you may be apt to say that your readers are engineers, and leave it at that. And while engineers are your readers, simply leaving it at that isn't helpful in solving the puzzle. 

In fact, when we don't go beyond grouping readers in terms of their jobs, we risk making assumptions about our readers that may, in fact, lead us to write a document that doesn't meet their needs and/or expectations. So, the first part of the puzzle we need to solve is this: What do we know about our readers in terms of what they're looking for in the document, how they'll read the document, and what they expect from the document? What do they know about the topic, what do they need to know and why? The more we can know about our readers the better. When writing a technical or scientific document, understanding as much as we can about our readers is essential.

Puzzle Piece 2: Why are we writing? Again, on the surface, this may seem like a fairly straightforward question. We're writing because we have to report, we have no choice, we have to relay important findings, etc. However, to put this piece of the puzzle in its place, we have to have a greater understanding of purpose; that is, what is it you wish to accomplish via the document? This goes beyond simply saying that you wish to relay findings, etc.; in fact, accomplishment can extend to how you wish your readers to view you and your competence, your ability to do the work, and your ability to understand and solve problems. Think carefully about what you wish to accomplish before you start to write.

Puzzle Piece 3: What kind of message are you sending? In this case, we have to think carefully about a couple of things: how the reader will view the message (positively, negatively, or neutrally) and what medium is the best to use to deliver the message. Many people, for instance, deliver all messages via email when email may not be the best medium, and many writers give little thought to how to organize a message based on the reader and how s/he will perceive the message and/or the kind of message that's being sent. Believe it or not, there are strategies that writers can use to soften the blow of a negative message, enhance the positivity of a positive message, and emphasize a neutral message. But the writer first has to understand the kind of message s/he is sending.

Writing technical and scientific documents can be difficult; however, if we approach writing these documents as though we're putting together a puzzle, we can garner our problem-solving skills and make writing these documents easier.