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    Fat-Free Writing (Part 3)

    When determining an audience, the technical writer should think of themselves as a teacher and the reader a student. As such, you, the technical writer, must determine your reader's background.

    You should always explain your product or procedure at the basic reader's level of understanding. You can make all the difference to a document that gets read or a document that gets tossed in the trashcan.

    As a technical writer, you expect your writing to be used. However, if your document doesn't make sense to your intended audience, it won't be used.

    You should be constantly asking yourself the following questions when you develop your technical writing.

    Basic Questions to Determine Audience

    1. Who is the audience? Who is my basic reader?
    2. What is the technical level of the reader?
    3. Will the audience be multi-level?
    4. How much does the reader currently know of the subject?
    5. What exactly does the reader need to know?
    6. When should the reader know this information? When is my project due?

    Three Basic Technical Levels

    Once you've answered these questions you can see that readers are grouped in three basic levels of technical knowledge: High, Medium (or semi-technical), and Low or No Technical knowledge.

    Engineers, programmers, and others with specialized training make up your highly technical group.

    Readers with some technical knowledge will want to know more about why they must perform a task rather than the actual steps. They're interested in more background information.

    Finally, we come to the non technical reader. These are your basic end users. They may have no specialized knowledge of the product and in most cases are first time users. They want to know exactly what they're supposed to do without any long explanations or "boring" background details.

    Yes, I said, "boring." Remember, what makes sense to you, may not make sense to your reader. Always consider your audience when completing your documents.

    Keeping Your Writing Lean

    Remember, technical writers must be as direct and specific as possible. Stick to the subject. As a technical writer you are showing your reader as well as telling your reader about the product or procedure. It's important that you choose high information words that show exactly what you mean, rather than make the reader guess.

    For example, if you want the reader to press a lever. Don't use the following sentence: "Press the red thing on the left of the machine." The reader may get confused. They may second-guess your instructions. Did you mean to have them press the red lever or the red switch, both of which are on the left side of the machine?

    Lighten Up on the Verbs

    "Replacement of the weak battery should be effectuated."


    Wouldn't it be more direct and exact if we said, "Replace the battery." ?

    We all know technical writers are smart and technically knowledgeable. But, we're not writing for ourselves, we're writing for our readers. Keep it simple and direct. Avoid using complicated action verbs when you want to direct the reader to perform a function.

    The chart below indicates how to replace "overweight" complicated verbs with leaner, lighter verbs.

    Overweight Verb

    Lighter Verb

    Utilize, employ













    End, stop, finish


    Increase, brighten, decrease


    Turn, shift


    Do, carry, run, make

    Is aware




    Tighten Up Flabby Statements

    Sometimes, as writers, we get caught up in the flow of words from our fingertips that we lose sight of the audience. We spew forth words at a rapid rate, letting them flow endlessly from our minds through our fingertips, to our pages, covering massive amounts of white space.

    What we should be doing is writing as simply and clearly as possible so that our reader will understand our instructions.

    Look at the chart below and see how we can replace fatty and flabby statements with leaner, lighter words.

    In this day and age


    The fact of the matter is that I'm hungry.

    I'm hungry.

    At that point in time


    There is no doubt but that

    No doubt

    He is a man who


    He is a man who


    A person who is credible

    A credible person

    There are many girls who

    Many girls

    They were there in person>

    They were there

    Personally, I think

    I think

    Surrounded on all sides


    Blue in color


    Repeat again


    Two different kinds

    Two kinds

    Free gift


    Very unique


    Past history


    End result


    The field of astronomy


    That's it. Everything you would ever need to know about cutting the fat from your technical writing. I hope you've enjoyed this three part series on Fat Free Writing.

    Remember, ask yourself these questions as you write:

    1. Can my readers understand me?
    2. Is the focus right?
    3. Are the import points clearly visible?
    4. Is my information correct, accurate, and complete?
    5. Is my language good? Is it clear, definite, and unambiguous?
    6. Have I cleaned up all grammar, punctuation, and spelling errors?
    7. Have I used fatty or flabby statements where leaner words would be better?

    If you can keep your technical writing lean, your users will thank you and maybe even refer to your document now and again.

    Copyright © 2001 Vicki M. Taylor

    Vicki M. Taylor writes thrilling fiction with strong women characters. You can find out more about her at

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