The Writing Process for Technical Instructions Video

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  • 0:01 Technical Writing
  • 0:49 Prewriting
  • 3:16 Writing & Revising
  • 5:29 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Natalie Boyd

Natalie is a teacher and holds an MA in English Education and is in progress on her PhD in psychology.

Technical writing, like other writing, follows an orderly process. In this lesson, we'll examine the writing process for technical instructions and manuals, including steps that are unique to the technical writing process.

Technical Writing

Jeff is a writer, and his friend Dennis is an engineer. Dennis has come up with a new vacuum that can be controlled from a smartphone, and he wants Jeff to write the user's manual, including instructions on how to set the vacuum up and link it to your smartphone.

What Dennis is asking Jeff to do is called technical writing. This is the process of composing user's manuals or instructions for technical products, like Dennis' vacuum. Like most other types of writing, technical writing includes a writing process that is centered on prewriting, writing, and revising.

Let's look more closely at the technical writing process and examine the steps involved for Jeff to write the user's manual for Dennis' vacuum cleaner.

Prewriting

So, Jeff's trying to write a technical manual for a high-tech vacuum cleaner, but he's not sure exactly what to do. He writes other things, but he's never had to deal with something like this. How can he write a user's manual? Where does he even begin?

The first step Jeff will want to undertake is called prewriting, which is the process of gathering and organizing information to prepare for writing. Prewriting is done in most types of writing. Novelists may outline their stories as part of prewriting, textbook writers may choose their headings and subheadings before writing, and poets might brainstorm images or words that work with the theme of their poetry.

In technical writing, there are three things that need to be done during prewriting:

1. List all steps briefly.

The writer should know exactly what the steps are for the instructions they're writing. For example, Jeff will need to know all the steps required to set up the vacuum cleaner and to link it to a smartphone. During prewriting, it's fine to just jot down a note or two about each step; Jeff will actually write the steps out later, but here, he just needs the information for himself.

During prewriting, it's especially important that engineers and writers consult with each other. They need to make sure that the writer understands the ins and outs of the product and how it works. For example, Dennis might want to sit down with Jeff and take him through the steps for setting up the vacuum cleaner. And, though ideally engineers and writers will be in touch throughout the writing process, this is most important during the prewriting stage.

2. Figure out safety warnings.

In the U.S., companies are required to provide a warning if there is a 'reasonably foreseeable' hazard. For example, Dennis' vacuum cleaner could overheat and even cause a fire if it got caught on the edge of a curtain or other material. Jeff will want to include a warning not to leave the vacuum running unattended and explain the hazard of overheating.

3. Identify the audience.

Who your audience is will impact how to communicate. For example, will Jeff be writing his instructions for an audience of engineers? Probably not. He will likely be writing it for busy non-engineers with a novice level of understanding of technical things. Thus, he will want to make sure that his instructions are clear and simple.

Writing & Revising

Okay, Jeff has the prewriting thing down. He's talked with Dennis and has managed to jot down the steps he needs to convey in his instructions, figured out the safety warnings he needs to include, and identified his audience.

Now, Jeff is ready for the writing step of the process, which involves composing a first draft. During the writing stage, Jeff won't try to get everything perfect, but he will try to explain everything as clearly as possible. If that means spending half a page on how to plug the vacuum cleaner in, that's what he'll do.

Of course, this is just a first draft, so when Jeff is finished, he'll want to change it to make it better. The revising stage of the writing process includes making changes to a piece of writing to improve it.

During the revising process, Jeff will want to do several things:

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