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Notes From Learning Technical Writing One


27 Jul 2020 . 8 mins : learning . Comments
#OpenSource #courses #tech #programming practices #notes #technical-writing #google

I recently did the Technical Writing One and below are my notes from the same. The notes are arranged in the topic wise manner as is the pre-class material for the course.


Words

  • Define new or unfamiliar terms; do not reinvent the wheel.
  • Collect definition of unfamiliar terms in a glossary if too many.
  • Use name consistently, do not change them in between the article.
  • If name changes are required, for ex. Protocol Buffers to protobufs, use something like “Protocol Buffers (or protobufs for short)…”
  • When using acronyms, bold the text with first writing full and acronym in brackers, for ex. Hyper Text Markup Language (HTML).
  • Don’t define acronyms that would only be used a few times.
  • Do define acronyms that meet both of the following criteria:
    • The acronym is significantly shorter than the full term.
    • The acronym appears many times in the document.
  • Pronouns are analogous to pointers in programming, avoid using them with below guidelines.
    • Only use a pronoun after you’ve introduced the noun.
    • Place the pronoun as close as possible to the referring noun.
    • If you introduce a second noun between your noun and your pronoun, reuse your noun instead of using a pronoun.

Active vs Passive

  • Active Voice Sentence = actor + verb + target, “The cat sat on the mat”.
  • Passive Voice Sentence = target + verb + actor, “The mat was sat on by the cat”.
  • Passive verb = form of be + past participle verb.
  • Imperative verbs, like open, set, etc., are active verbs where actor is implicit.
  • Use active voice more, passive voice less.
  • Active voice provides the following advantages:
    • Most readers mentally convert passive voice to active voice; readers can skip the preprocessor stage and go straight to compilation.
    • Passive voice obfuscates your ideas, passive voice reports action indirectly.
    • Some passive voice sentences omit an actor altogether forcing the reader to guess the actor’s identity.
    • Active voice is generally shorter.
  • Be bold, be active!

Clear Sentences

  • Comedy writers seek the funniest results, horror writers strive for the scariest, and technical writers aim for the clearest.
  • Choose precise, strong and specific verbs, rest of the sentence takes care of itself.
  • “The error occurs when clicking the Submit button.” vs “Clicking the Submit button triggers the error.”
  • Generic verbs may imply imprecise or missing actor or a passive voice statement.
  • Reduce There is or There are; generic weddings bore readers.
  • “There is a variable called met_trick that stores the current accuracy.” -> “The met_trick variable stores the current accuracy.”
  • Avoid using “There is” or “There are” to bypass creating true subject or verb; take the pain of creating one.
  • Creating real subjects or verbs make the sentence more clear and concise.
  • Unfortunately, adjectives and adverbs sometimes make technical readers bark loudly and ferociously.
  • Refactor adverbs and adjectives into objective numerical information, if possible, or omit them.

Short Sentences

  • Shorter documentation reads faster, is easier to maintain and reduces points of failure.
  • Focus each sentence on a single idea, thought, or concept just as a single statement of code.
  • Convert long sentences to lists, if appropriate and fitting.
  • Eliminate or reduce extranerous words; avoid junk words or exaggeration.
  • Reduce subordinate clauses.
  • Keep one sentence = one idea in mind.
  • Reserve which for nonessential clauses and that for essential clauses.
  • If you read a sentence aloud and hear a pause just before the subordinate clause, then use which. If you don’t hear a pause, use that.

Lists and tables

  • Technical readers love lists, convert prose into lists.
  • Avoid using embedded lists, and break into bulleted or numbered.
  • Keep lists parallel; parallel lists have items that “belong” together.
  • Avoid usage of different voices (active and passive) in the items of the list.
  • Start numbered lists with imperative verb.
  • Only use sentence capitalization and punctuation when list items are complete sentences.
  • Use tables to represent lists where properties and attributes are presented.
  • Keep in mind the following while creating a table:
    • header should be meaningful
    • avoid too much text in a cell
    • strive for parallelism between columns
  • Always introduce the table or list with an introductory sentence terminating with a column.

Paragraphs

  • Opening sentence is very crucial; people see it to decide if they should skim through or read.
  • First sentence should focus on the topic to be discussed in the paragraph.
  • A paragraph should represent an independent unit of logic.
  • Don’t keep paragraphs too long or short; 3 to 5 sentences is ideal.
  • Good paragraphs answer the following three questions in the given order:
    1. What are you trying to tell your reader?
    2. Why is it important for the reader to know this?
    3. How should the reader use this knowledge.

Audience

  • Documentation must be about bridging the gap between your audience’s knowledge and the knowledge required to do the task.
  • Understand the audience’s role and proximity to the knowledge, first and foremost.
  • Formulate a list of everything the audience needs to learn to do the task.
  • Following are key points to fit documentation to the audience:
    • match vocabulary to the audience
    • safeground from the curse of knowledge
    • choose simpler words
    • avoid personal metaphors, cultural idioms, etc.
  • If required, keep translation software effects in mind.

Documents

  • Define the scope and target of the document in the beginning.
  • Additionally, brief about non-scopes and assumptions.
  • The following three questions determine what document should contain:
    • Who is your target audience?
    • What do they need to know already?
    • What should they know or be able to do after reading the document?
  • Mention all key points up front in an outline, provide hyperlinks if possible.
  • Break the document into sections like writing modular code.

Punctuation

  • Following are some general rules of using comma:
    • wherever a reader would naturally pause
    • to separate items in an embedded list
    • between condition and consequence, for example “If the program runs slowly, try the –perf flag.”
  • Wedge a quick definition or disgression between pair of commas.
  • Avoid comma to paste together two independent sentences.
  • A semicolon unites highly related thoughts which should be complete sentences separately.
  • Em-dashes (“-“) represent a longer pause; a pair of them is used to enclose disgression.
  • Use parentheses to hold minor points or disgressions; keep them to a minimal.
  • Some standard rules regarding periods and parenthesis:
    • If a pair of parentheses holds an entire sentence, the period goes inside the closing parenthesis.
    • If a pair of parentheses ends a sentence but does not hold the entire sentence, the period goes just outside the closing parenthesis.

Summary

The course is fun to do and easy to understand. Examples and exercises are catered towards a technical writer; I would pause sometimes to wonder how a suggestion would look like in actual writing of documentation and find the following example emphasing the same.

I’m looking forward to do Technical Writing Two in the next few days.

UPDATE: Notes for Technical Writing Two


Me

Your typical geek; Shivam can be found toiling hard through books (away from library) to find what she means by her actions :wink: Hard at work, and harder at drunk dancing, he loves to skim through articles to increase his productivity so he can waste more time. Nonetheless, when he does get some time, and is in the mood, he writes few lines of code and more lines of rhymes :facepunch: