Writing technical documents such as engineering reports are meant to provide answers. Organizations face serious problems when these reports fail to provide necessary information or obscure the subject. Recipients are unhappy, projects can face delays, and funding can be lost.
Usability is the key to writing effective technical documents. Although technical experts have a deep understanding of their subject matter, they don’t always have the necessary writing skills to translate that knowledge into a usable, reader-friendly document.
A document created with usability in mind helps readers achieve specific goals: understanding data, for example, or seeing why a particular solution makes sense.
When a document is produced without considering usability, it’s often redundant and results in reader dissatisfaction. If the message isn’t clear, readers will have trouble finding critical information and taking action.
Highly usable documents make information easily available, as they’re straightforward, clear, and uncluttered. A successful document gives readers a sense of purpose and a clear path toward that purpose. When experts write with usability in mind, they save time and reduce effort for their audience.
Analyze your Audience
How do you design documents for usability? Start by writing for an audience. When writing for an audience, start by asking yourself these questions:
- What do they need to know? Are they looking for an explanation of a concept or a report about an event?
- How do they expect the information to be organized?
- What are their expectations in terms of detail?
Take a fresh look at your technical documents, keeping usability in mind. Teaching technical experts how to analyze audience and purpose and how to make those analyses part of their prewriting strategy can go a long way toward helping them write clearer, more readable technical documents.