Technical writing does not have to be boring.
Technical writing does not have to be difficult to read.
Architects, Engineers, and Contractors often write technical information. As an AEC marketer, you have the task of taking this technical writing and translating it so non-technical readers will understand it. Here are three improvements you can share with your technical writers to move from boring and difficult to interesting and easy!
That's it! Simple to advise, but maybe a tad difficult to execute. So let's practice.
Here's an example of a difficult to read technical scenario.
"The improvements included addition of additional dewatering and conveyance equipment, storage and load-out systems, SCADA improvements, and a new operations facility to include lab space, control stations, and restrooms. This project was executed by the Construction Manager at Risk (CMAR) Alternative Project Delivery Method to facilitate a completion date one year earlier than traditional project delivery approaches.”
This scenario has a Flesch-Kincaid Reading Ease score of "0"! That means the paragraph is virtually incomprehensible. Applying the three improvements, here's how this same information can transform from difficult and boring to easy and interesting.
"We improved several systems. These included;
We broke up two long sentences into four shorter sentences. We eliminated unnecessary words like, "addition, additional, systems, improvements, facility, project, executed, date one year earlier, project delivery." We took a list of seven items separated by commas and made a bulleted list of four items. By completing these three improvements the Flesch-Kincaid Reading Ease score jumped from "0" to "26." The grade level improved from "20.0" to "11.0."
If you want to take technical writing to the next level, consider how you can make the data tell a story. Using the same scenario above, consider the following improvement in creating a story from the data.
"The owner of the wastewater treatment plant needed many improvements in a short timeframe. We quickly joined forces with a capable contractor and suggested a Construction Manager at Risk (CMAR) Alternative Project Delivery Method. This method reduced the schedule by nearly a year. Together, our team delivered the needed improvements within the owner's tight schedule. These improvements included;
Notice how compelling and interesting a short story can be. In less than 100 words, we not only uncluttered boring data, but we made the data support what really matters. The owner's improvements were achieved in a shorter timeframe.
Here is a simple writing hack you can use in Microsoft Word. Follow these steps to enable readability statistics for your document.
To improve your writing, pay attention to the Readability section.
The Flesch Reading Ease is a score between 0-100. The higher the score the easier the document is to read. Scores below 40 become difficult to read and below 30 is very difficult.
The Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level is the average reading level for a specific grade. Ideally, a grade level between 8.0-11.0 is best. Grade levels of 12 or higher are difficult to read and higher than 15.0 is very difficult.
Finally, passive sentences are expressed as a percentage of your total sentences. In the sample, 7.2% of the sentences were written in passive voice. Passive voice writing means the subject of the sentence is the patient of the main verb rather than the subject being the active agent of the main verb. Good writing is predominately active voice.
“The tree was pulled down.” (Passive voice)
“Someone pulled down the tree.” (Active voice)
Use this simple writing hack to improve your writing.
Change Your Prepositional Idioms
A prepositional idiom is a phrase that can be condensed to one word or eliminated from the sentence. One of the most common problems in poor writing is prepositional idioms. The best way to define this writing issue is to give some examples. The following examples are common prepositional idioms I see in writing project descriptions, approaches, cover letters, etc.
Prepositional Idioms That Begin with a Preposition
In order to, In a timely manner, From day to day, Above all else, For this purposeLook for prepositional idioms like these and replace them with one word or delete them. For example, you can change the following sentence, “We will consider safety in design concepts above all else,” to “We will consider safety in design concepts first.”
One of the most common prepositional idioms I discover has to do with identifying that we are discussing the project. We often use idioms such as for the project, of the project, throughout the project, for this project. Most of the time, these can be eliminated. Consider the following examples.
Example for Condensing a Prepositional Idiom
“Our quality control and assurance measures are executed at every step throughout the project.”
“Our quality control and assurance measures are executed at every milestone.”
Example for Eliminating a Prepositional Idiom“After our scoping meeting, the design team will draft a final scope of work for the project.”
“After our scoping meeting, the design team will draft a final scope of work.”
The reader already knows you are discussing their project. There is no need to qualify your action as being “of the project” or “for the project” when the entire document is already discussing their project.
Watch for prepositional idioms in your writing and challenge yourself to condense or eliminate them for better writing.
Gabe Lett, FSMPS, CPSM, LPC