7 Tips for Easy-to-Read Technical Content

In general, good technical writing sounds natural and conversational but also professional. You want to be clear and concise, so make sure you provide enough information, but as efficiently as possible. Here are 7 tips for creating readable technical content:

Use the active voice1. Get active! Use the active voice, not the passive voice. Having the passive voice used in your writing is what makes readers work harder and tire out.

2. Step it up. If you’ve got more than one step in your task, use a numbered list so the steps are easy to follow at a glance. DON’T use bulleted lists for a process.

3. You are better than the user. Er, that is, use the second-person pronoun. Don’t say, “The user can do a thing with the thingdoer.” Say, “You can do a thing with the thingdoer.” Write like you’re talking directly to your customer.

4. Live in the now. Don’t say, “Click the Start button. The window will display the progress.” Say, “Click the Start button. The window displays the progress.”  Unless otherwise necessary, keep everything in the present tense.

5. Omit needless words you don’t need to be using. The shorter the better—as long as it’s still clear.

6. Junk the jargon. Remember your customers’ background knowledge. They didn’t develop your product and they’re probably not experts. Don’t use unnecessary jargon, and never use it without defining it.

7. Avoid run-on sentences to explain a complicated concept, or two closely related concepts, by joining several phrases together with commas (or parentheses), and thus leaving your reader confused and wondering where this was going in the first place. Instead, keep it short and sweet. Break long sentences apart to keep your message clear.

Bonus: If you’ve only got one subsection, you don’t have any subsections—you’ve got a section. Only use subheadings for two or more subsections. (The same goes for bullet points.)