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Stephen King Can Make You A Better (Technical) Writer

Scott, over on Words on a Page, says, “If you want to improve as a writer, you not only need to write. You need to read. Writing and reading are two sides of the same coin. You need to do both to achieve your potential.”

I head downtown most weekends and buy 2 or 3 books, mostly business, history and some fiction.

Every so often I run out of options (we’re in Beijing) and get something I usually wouldn’t buy, for example, Iain M Banks. Reading outside my comfort zone stretches me. I encounter writing styles, opinions, and  information that I usually side-step.

Scott adds that by reading, ‘you’re exposing yourself to different voices and viewpoints. And you can pick up some new techniques. Not only that, you get a great opportunity to see what other writers are doing well and what they’re doing badly.’ This brings me to dear ol’ Stephen King.

How Stephen King Made Me A Better Technical Writer

I’ve read Stephen King (on and off) since I was a teenager-almost 30 years. After going through Jack London, King Arthur and HG Wells, he was the first modern author that I read.

What did I like most?

The tension, crisp writing and little details that sucked you right in. You had to read on. Would Cujo eat the small child? Most of this was horror, something I grew out of after high school.

But he also wrote another book, On Writing.

If you’re interested in the mechanics of writing, get your hands on this. For me, it’s his best book — and I wish he’d go back and read it.

Why?

Because it teaches you how to write tight prose, remove the waffle, and stay focused. All the things I try to do as a technical writer.I hope he’ll turn a corner someday which is why I give him so many second chances…

What am I reading now?

I tend to mix and match. I have a stack of books next to my bed and dip in and out.

Some are:

  • Groundswell, Social Media book
  • Built to Last – what makes companies success over the long term
  • Stephen King – Duma Key, really lame, especially after his early stuff
  • Graham Greene is always a pleasure. Our Man in Havana is a favorite
  • Plato’s Apology
  • Genghis Khan bio, life in ancient Mongolia
  • Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale
  • Iain M Banks – pretentious drivel! I had such high hopes. Philip K Dick is the best sci-fi writer for me.
  • Catch 22 – ok, bit dated
  • Al Ries, Focus and the 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing
  • Tom Peters, Peter Drucker and Seth Godin are all there too.

Seth’s writing style is, for me, the best out there right now, at least in the business world. Tight, crisp, and funny. No words wasted.

I rarely buy magazines anymore as most are close to 5 euro in Europe. Instead I pony with the difference and get some books.

How about you? What are you reading?

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Technical Documents: 3 Ways to Improve Quality

Who do you write for? This is a problem for many technical writers, especially if you don’t get to meet or interact with your readers. Essentially, you’re writing in the dark. But, that doesn’t mean you can’t improve the usefulness of the documents. Far from it.
Lovehearts Springtime in Beijing, China

Technical Documents: How to be more accurate

For example, you can work on improving the accuracy of the document in the following three ways.

  1. Provide Context – have you provided enough background information for the reader to understand the concept you’re about to describe? Context provides direction. Think of signposts on a map. Give sufficient information so that the reader can find their bearings and know where this piece of information fits into the bigger picture.
  2. Remove Ambiguity – check if each phrase, term, and defintion is clearly explained. In addition, clarify any points, for example, a type of network setting, that for you is obvious, but for the reader needs to be clarified.
  3. Complete – make sure that you’ve included all items that need to be explained. It’s easy to overlook one item if you’ve focussed too heavily on another area. For example, if the focus during peer reviews was on specific parameter settings, you may have overlooked the database table settings.

These are three ways to get started. What else would you add?

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Does your technical writing have an accent?

Maybe you don’t hear your accent, but others do. When you read their documents, does the accent come through? Continue reading Does your technical writing have an accent?