I often hammer away at this thought, but coming to the close of 2021 and heading into another year of technical writing, closing out the first year of a new decade, it seems like it’s time to revisit.
The KISS approach has worked in many other areas of life – Keep It Simple, Stupid.
It’s a bit like the slogan Bill Clinton used to keep in mind: It’s Always the Economy, Stupid. Not that any of us are stupid – quite the opposite, in fact. Many of us are so smart that we naturally assume that those reading our documentation are equally bright. While that may be the case, often our consumers are bright and talented in other areas. Alas.
In technical writing, a few factors drive change and demand a better strategy. We, as writers, call for more user-friendly tools in our writing. Along came Confluence and SharePoint, along came markup, we got to use DITA.
Our managers expected measurably consistent outcomes and cost control in the content we produced. End-users required more user-friendly content. The evolution continues.
Each of these demands is the consequence of expecting easy-to-use methods and tools. Technical writing, the product, is a tool for everyone. What used to be in the rare air is now at everyone’s fingertips in a highly mechanized world. We used to refer to a revolutionary “plain language” style of writing, and now it is merely dubbed “Simplified Technical English,” the demand for which keeps growing.
There is even a dictionary of Simplified Technical English, and it comes with its own acronym, STE, so it looks as if the trend is here to stay. This way of writing improves clarity and quality, but along with those improvements come some difficulties. Any time there is a standard, there are rules. Can we commit those rules to memory as we have grammar and our beloved Strunk & White? Likely, no.
Instead of rote memorization, we look to tools that incorporate STE for us – again, back to those easy-to -use methods to help us out. We want to lessen the cognitive burden, freeing up more so that we can understand the technologies about which we write. Microsoft helps every time it incorporates a spell- or grammar-check into Word, and Grammarly or Acrolinx are to our benefit, to be sure. All of us in the writing game have a love/hate relationship with authoring tools designed by developers, but until we hybridize our own talents, here we remain.
It is key to remember that a great deal of our output is targeted at an international reader. Adopting STE, or Plain Language, is truly beneficial when we localize content. While we should stay far, far away from idiom, trending toward casual writing is in our favor. Using STE as a guide, and truly standardizing our technical writing across all documentation in a given organization is the single best way to ensure that our technical content is to-notch all the way around.
It may seem as though I am beating the proverbial dead horse in this writing, except that end-of-year is precisely when companies are looking to evaluate the cost, quantity, and quality of content produced. Measuring will help improve overall performance and delivery, and will help create harmony among writers and consistency between texts. Why does that matter overall? Because the team that can write with one voice, and that voice is Plain Language, STE, will project to the end user that the company, and its products, are synchronized in performance and quality. And that, my friends, is the penultimate achievement of any writing team.
Best of luck at year-end, and on into 2022 we go.