Technical ghost writing services
for instruction manuals & reports.
By- Mike Branom
Technical writing isn’t catchy, witty, or tear-jerking. Technical writing does not get a Pulitzer Prize. Technical writing doesn’t make the New York Times’ bestseller list.
Yet technical writing is absolutely essential in this modern world, covering instruction manuals, reports, grant applications, press releases, one-pagers, speeches, and infographics. In every one of these instances, someone must translate high-level concepts, often conveyed in impenetrable languages, for diverse audiences in varied mediums.
If I’m hired for your project, let me explain how the job will be done. Insights into Technical Writing Theory, if you will.
Some play the piano, others move the piano
Technical writing is not art. It offers text and copy, not prose. For your needs, you want a writer who knows to stay out of the way — and has the discipline to do so. Which, to be fair, goes against why many writers write! We like playing with words, making them dance like ballerinas, deftly dealing them out like a magician manipulating a deck of cards. But when your customer is shuffling through your product manual for how to turn the dang thing on or what to do if there’s the smell of burning rubber, the last thing they want is fancy writing making things any harder than they need to be. Neither comedy nor drama have any place in technical writing.
Before the data dump
Essential to address up front is a simple question — Who will be reading this? — because so much of the writing depends on the answer. In a scientific paper destined for peer review, there doesn’t need to be much set up for jargon, acronyms, and obscure concepts. But if that same content is being digested into a press release or blog post, the delivery must change to meet the audience’s level. Same for a manual: Is this meant for knowledgeable professionals, or does it need to teach someone pulled off the street?
A past client of mine was a civil engineering firm hired to do a major repiping project some 50 feet beneath Lankershim Boulevard in North Hollywood, Calif. During their months of work, the work crew invented many systems — yet never wrote anything down. When I was brought in, this is how I presented the project manager and engineers the issue of writing for the proper audience:
“I can give you directions from this job site to my house that starts with, ‘Get on the 5.’ I also can start the directions with, ‘This is a car key.’”
If the writer doesn’t understand, the readers don’t stand a chance
You’ve handed all the information off to the writer, had them speak with your experts, and pointed them toward source materials. Should be the last you hear from them for a while, right?
No — at least, not if the writer wants to get everything correct. Sometimes, the writer needs you to clarify whether a paraphrase makes the point without sacrificing accuracy. Other times, the raw material is incomplete, erroneous, or conflicting. Maybe during a debriefing, an engineer dropped an unfamiliar bit of jargon. In all of these cases, the last thing you want is for the writer to guess. Rather, it’s better to sacrifice a moment of time if the alternative will live forever as a glaring error or confusing text. As I learned at my college paper, it’s not a mistake until it’s printed. And so, I have emailed the following to a client:
Footnote to Table A2.3:
Regressions include demographic controls — age gender race ethnicity and highest education achieved dummies — labor force status dummies and household income.
Are what’s listed after “demographic controls” _all_ considered demographic controls? Or, as it could be interpreted, only age, gender, race, ethnicity, and highest education achieved the demographic controls? Also, are dummies referring only to highest education achieved and labor force status? Or, in the demographic controls, are age, gender, race, ethnicity, and highest education achieved _all_ dummies?
(A word to the readers of this page about the above use of the word “dummies”: In regression analysis, “dummies” is shorthand for “dummy variable.” Wiki’s description: “…A dummy variable [also known as an indicator variable, design variable, Boolean indicator, binary variable, or qualitative variable] is one that takes the value 0 or 1 to indicate the absence or presence of some categorical effect that may be expected to shift the outcome.” So don’t misunderstand the term as an insult. And if you’re wondering how we cleared up the confusing passage, here’s how the final text read: Regressions include demographic controls (age, gender, race, ethnicity, and highest education achieved dummies), labor force status dummies, and household income.)
With instruction manuals, sometime this involves the writer getting hands-on experience with the product, which I have done. For a major university in Southern California, I was given the project of taking an app’s manuals, written by an engineer whose native language was not English, and editing to increase accessibility. And that, ladies and gentlemen, is why I learned to code. Because it was only by doing the coding myself did I learn an example given in the sysadmin manual had been truncated for space, but without noting as such to the reader.
One foot in front of the other
Speaking of manuals, you’d be surprised how many blow it by failing to put their instructions in a linear manner. You know, “Put Part A (the round thing) on Part B (which looks like a crooked metal stick). Then take the Parts A+B combo and attach it to Part C…” Oh no, they’ll have you attaching Part B to Part C — but only after you take Part A….
Spilling alphabet soup all over the page
Acronyms are unavoidable in technical writing. Almost any writing, to be honest. In my time, I’ve written about TBMs (tunnel boring machines), SRBs (solid rocket boosters), and an athlete who twice led the NBA (National Basketball Association) in PPG (points per game).
The general rule of thumb: It’s never a bad idea to spell out an acronym’s source words on first reference. It will be unobtrusive to a knowing audience, but to readers coming in cold, now they know — and you’re not mucking up the copy. After that, then use them sparingly: In a sentence, a maximum of two; try to keep it to no more than three in a paragraph. If necessary, use synonyms and rewrite the copy. Once I held up the publication of a Big Three automaker’s annual report because the acronyms (literally scores of them) rarely were spelled out on the first reference, yet after “CAFE” had been used a dozen times from the get-go, a random “Corporate Average Fuel Economy,” would be thrown in.
It was a painful lesson for me to learn, but a technical writer can’t assume the subject matter experts got everything correct. A pollster will state 1 in 9 people responded with “None of the above” but a quick look at the table shows it’s more accurate to say 1 in 12. Of course, in some technical documents the content is outside the writer’s fields of knowledge, so verifying facts may be difficult to the point of impossible. But you do what you can with math, names, titles, and other low-hanging fruit.
Chop it up
Discrete sections work to the benefit of readers’ understanding because the pauses in between help with “digestion,” so to speak, as well as signaling a new concept is coming. In an instruction manual, the end of a section should represent for the reader a moment when it’s safe to take a break. (But make sure it IS a moment when it’s safe to take a break.)
If you need technical writing services, call Ghostwriters Central
If you’re in need of technical writing, you most likely generated that content through your expertise in your chosen field. But no one is assumed to be an expert in everything. That’s why you should choose Ghostwriters Central for your white papers, conference presentations, how-to guides, and more. The copy we return will be clean, clear, tight, and usually delivered well before your deadline. So while your content may be technical, we give our assurances that getting it all written down will be easy.
Pricing information for our technical writing services can be found on our ghostwriting rates page.