Finding a balance, and the two-way street

Internal and external communications

Whether your audience is internal and well-defined, such as staff working the night shift, or external, such as members of the public, or academics, or buyers in a specialised market, two fundamental elements need to work effectively together in your communications: the facts, and the way you marshal them.

Of course you need to be persuasive, compelling and engaging, with all the right rhetorical devices. But there are a lot of elements to balance, and how well your communications can pull that off will make all the difference.

Underdo it, and the result can be bloodless and wooden. Overdo it, with an excess of panache or verbal derring-do, and your messaging will start to be off-putting. No one wants to feel like they’re being sold to or steamrolled.

Striking the right balance—for instance, by listening and by writing empathetically—can help make your communications effective. Set yourself up like De Gaulle on the radio, and you can kiss that effectiveness goodbye. But even if the channel you’re engaging your audience through is officially one-way, making clear it’s part of a back and forth can help keep them engaged—and persuadable.

To see examples of my communications work, check out the samples page. And feel free to get in touch–I’d love to hear from you.

Technical writing

Technical writing can make for the most boring reading ever—until you’ve got to fix a technical problem in a software application or a production line, or follow a detailed set of installation instructions. Then the procedure you’re reading becomes the most devilishly interesting thing there’s ever been.

The best technical writing cuts out as much fat as possible and focuses on getting the reader where they want to go—to the end of the procedure.

There are a lot of less than helpful ways to do this, such as chatting away idly to the reader. For instance:

Idle chatter:

“The first thing to do once you’ve opened the application is choose the standard installation, and then go to the next button and click on it to go to the next screen, where you can decide where to install Linguation.”

Fat-free focus:

  1. Click Open. The installation wizard opens.
  2. Click in the Standard installation checkbox.
  3. Click Next. The Choose a Location screen opens.

Now don’t get me wrong. We don’t need to be all Calvinist. But there’s a big difference between being user-friendly and being needlessly chatty.

There are a whole slew of elements that will need to be decided on in any piece of technical writing: How are bulleted lists to be handled? Are sublists acceptable? What about capitalisation of each bulleted item? Are sentences and fragments allowed in the same list? (The general answer should be no.)

If all or most of these decisions have been made, it can simply be a matter of implementing them. But if standards are out of date, or if none have been established, a style guide may be needed.

For more on styles guides, please visits the style guides and training page.
To see examples of technical documentation, check out the samples page.