Everybody dreads having something to do that they're not comfortable with. Unfortunately, this fear manifests in most of us in the tech industry when we sit down in front of a computer to type down something that makes perfect sense in our head – but doesn't appear that way when put on the screen using words and letters.
It is not our fault that some of us hate writing. We face these issues because we have been taught a lot of bad habits in school, and we fail to break out of them when we get older. Here are a few examples of such bad habits.
- Unnecessary wordiness to fill a word count
- Lack of focus and a clear goal when writing
- The overuse or underuse of prepositions and pronouns like on, as, in, it, a, the, etc.
- Personal time limits for when you want to write and not letting yourself make the changes required later on
One thing, however, is very common. Many of us fail to understand how we can get better and are unable to properly use criticism to improve. For example, it was rare in school to see the difference between an essay that got a 10/10 and an essay that got a 2/10 because we never got proper feedback. It often felt like the scores depended on the teacher's mood. So, we never learned how to write better – only to cater specifically to that teacher.
The painful memories end here. Writing doesn't have to be so difficult anymore. Remember that you are no longer writing to impress a teacher. You are writing to convey information and express yourself. You can definitely get better at this over time.
Writing With a Purpose
All writing fulfils a purpose. Whether you are practising jotting down ideas on paper or explaining to someone else how to do a particular task, everything you write has a reason to exist. Identifying the reason for your work will considerably help your structuring and clarity.
For example, let's say I want to write an article about how to use a specific coding algorithm to add a bullet count system in a game. I can go about it in two ways.
- I could sit down and type everything I know about the process in one sitting, or
- I could make a skeleton of the key steps and explain each one separately
If you are writing for yourself, your choice of the two doesn't matter (In fact, you can ignore this entire article if you only write for yourself). But, if you want to instruct someone else or if you are writing for a tech blog, typing down a constant stream of thought will only confuse those who want to learn.
Realizing what kind of article you want to write will help you find the purpose of your writing. Tutorials should have simple but distinct steps. Opinion pieces need to be clear about what your stance is. A story requires structure and a plot. Get these details down first, and the writing part will become much easier.
Using Paragraphs, Sentences, and Words
Like how your entire written work needs a purpose, everything inside it also needs a reason to exist. Each paragraph, sentence, and word should have something to do with what you are trying to convey.
Paragraphs are the first thing you should pay attention to. If your goal is to be clear, a single paragraph needs to deal with only one idea or concept. Multiple ideas should be turned into multiple paragraphs if possible. I have listed a few questions you should ask yourself whenever you deal with paragraphing issues.
- What is this paragraph trying to say? Does it do its job without any bloat or irrelevant information? Is there anything I can cut out or add?
- Does this paragraph try to say two things at once? If so, can I split it into two without losing integrity?
- Do I want to say what I say in this paragraph at this exact moment in the article? Can I say it later or earlier for better effect?
If you can find satisfactory answers to these questions and address them in your paragraphs, you will find that your written work becomes easier to understand and follow.
Now come the sentences that make up the paragraph. Like everything else, each sentence you have should be there for a reason. Long sentences are easy to get lost in. You should be efficient with sentence space.
A common solution for complex sentences is to break them into two or more pieces. For example, you might have a sentence that looks like this.
This is a long and complex sentence that deals with multiple things: renaming objects, the quality of the naming scheme, and the reason you rename things. Let's rearrange the sentence by adding a few full stops and see how it reads.
The sentence we started with is long and very bloated, while the latter is divided into short sentences that are easier to read. I hope you can see how breaking that sentence into three separate sentences helps the reader understand your point better.
Articles are made of paragraphs, paragraphs are made of sentences, and sentences are made of words; yet, the importance of choosing the right words are often neglected. Words convey tone. Difficult and complex wording may confuse instead of inform.
One of the worst habits we pick up in school is using big words and flowery language to try to sound bombastic. You have to break this habit if you want to convey information efficiently.
Tech writing also deals with a lot of Jargon – there is no way around not using it. But, you should never expect everyone who reads your article to understand your specific tech phrases or acronyms immediately. Here are a few tips to help you use jargon better.
- If you are using a less common acronym, always make sure you use the full form with the acronym in brackets in the beginning. For example, if you are writing an article on Hardware Security, type out Trusted Platform Module (TPM) the first time you use it, then use TPM to refer to it in the rest of the article.
- When you use niche tech terms, you should define them early in the article. In an article that discusses the use of complementary colours in Photoshop, not everyone will know what a "colour gamut" is. So, you will have to define it at some point to make for a better reading experience.
You should also look to use as few words as possible. If you say something like "... is going to achieve this in the near future", all that phrase really means is "will shortly achieve". Try to cut out stuff that does little but adds to the word count of your article. Your article will get shorter, but it will also increase the quality of what remains uncut.
Improvement is a lengthy process. You should not be discouraged if something you write is faced with criticism. Constructive criticism is not punishment – it is an opportunity to learn and get better. Writing with purpose and direction will not only help the readability of your written work; it will also make you feel better about your own abilities as a writer. Typing up articles does not have to be a painful experience. Over time, you can find it to be quite liberating instead.
Thus concludes the first part of a long multi-part series that is designed to help you write better in tech, as well as expedite your own journey towards being a better writer. Stay tuned for more!