Are you a technical writer? Are you a profitable, reliable, and successful technical writer? Would you like to earn more, get more writing assignments, and grow your business?
I can help. I’m Joseph Phillips, and I’ve written hundreds of technical magazine articles and I’ve published 33 books for companies like McGraw-Hill, Pearson Education, and the American Management Association.
In this course I’ll guide you through the technical writing process – not how to write, but how to write effectively, quickly, and accurately. I will show you my exact approach to technical writing that I’ve developed over the past twenty years. You can adapt my technical writing system to your career to grow your technical writing demand.
This isn’t a gimmick, but an honest method that I’ve used in my writing career. There are no shortcuts to good, effective technical writing, but this approach will help you to streamline your writing and editing time, every time.
In this course we’ll also examine the revision processes, working with editors, and the importance of writing well. We will also discuss how to promote the book through web sites, blogs, webinars, and press releases.
Technical writing is more than just a nonfiction book. Technical writing is education through the written word. Readers look to technical books to help them achieve specific goals in their lives - and it's up to you, the technical writer - to write clear, concise directions for your readers.
Let’s get started today to begin growing your profitable technical writing career.
Welcome to Technical Writing: Master Your Writing Career course. This course is an in-depth exploration and explanation of technical writing. In this course we'll cover several topics:
Before we get too far into the course let's make certain you and I are clear on what technical writing is. Technical writing is a method to communicate technical information to readers. Technical writing is non-fiction, but it's written to educate, to inform, and to lead readers to their goals.
This overview defines the concept of knowing your technical writing topic. As the technical writer, there's an importance for you to be a well-informed authority on the subject matter you'll be writing about. The readers will look to you as the expert and trust you to lead them to their technical goals.
Technical writers need to ask themselves "what are you writing about?"
That's the focus of this lecture: questioning yourself from the readers' perspective to ensure that your writing goals and the reader expectations are in alignment. You want to lead, coach, and mentor the reader through your writing.
What are your writing goals? Are they the same as the goals of technical writing? Technical writing exists to teach, guide, inform, and mentor readers. Your technical writing should be concise, accurate, and approachable for the reader to trust your advice. This lecture explores these goals and how all writers can improve their writing approach by first understanding what the reader will expect from them.
Because technical writing isn't fiction, readers put their time, money, and trust in your abilities as a writer, but also in your expertise in the subject matter. Imagine a technical writer who's writing a book about Microsoft Word with very limited knowledge of Microsoft Word. The tone, approach, and content may be suspect to the reader if the writer's confidence isn't obvious. Mistakes and vague writing will shake the readers' trust in the writer.
Scoping out your competition (both writers and their books) is a great way to research the market and how other writers have tackled writing the assignment. Yes, you want to be original, creative, and better than your competition. Doing some market research let's you see what your competition is doing, and not doing, to best serve the readers of your books and articles.
Why should a reader buy your book? Why should a publisher purchase your book? Even if you're publishing articles and manuals, you'll still need to define why someone should buy your book. In this lecture we'll explore what you are selling readers and the trust readers put into you and your writing.
When you take a book proposal to a publisher they'll be most concerned about the possibiity of your book selling. Will your book sell? Why or why not? In this lecture we'll examine the factors that will affect your book's success.
We covered a lot of information in this section on knowing your book's topic. You've learned:
It's essential to know your audience to be a successful technical writer. While the most obvious participant in your technical writing audience is the reader, the audience also includes:
Knowing your audience and their goals for reading your work will help you, the technical writing, more accurately write to their goals.
Who is your audience? The readers of your books, magazines, and manuals are your audience, but you'll also need to know a bit of their background, what they expect from your materials, and how you can best reach your ideal audience. Technical writing must have a specific audience in mind when the writer creates the work; you don't want to be too broad or too narrow for sales and value to the reader.
Another important question that you must answer as part of your book planning processes is how the audience will use your material. Obviously, if you're writing and article as a opposed to a book, the utilization of the material will vary. Your book's tone, intent, directions, and value will all affect what the reader does with the work.
Readers also decide to purchase and read a book based on their goals: how-to solve a problem, improve a condition, or change something in their life. The technical writer's understanding of the readers' goals will help the writer to create a better book.
Writing style defines how you speak to the reader. The readers' expectation of your book, magazine article, or manual will directly influence how you write for the reader. The style, your voice, tone, and conciseness, is all related to the reader expectation for your publication. By understanding the readers' goals and expectation you can write directly for the reader - and this means a better book and more sales.
Writing is a fascinating medium: you are speaking to thousands of people one person at a time with the same consistent message. In order to be an effective and successful writer, you need to define your writing audience.
We covered some important topics in this section. These topics are valuable to every successful writer, but the primary message is that as a good writer you must know what the reader expects from you. We discussed in this section:
Planning the technical book is one of the first activities a technical writer must do with a new book assignment. The technical writer will need to:
The technical writer must define the contents of the book in a logical way. A book must flow through a series of topics that makes sense for the writer, but more importantly, makes sense for the reader. Books also have boundaries of what the writer will, and will not include. Define the book can be a time-consuming activity, but it's an investment in faster writing and excellence in the final product.
Every book needs chapters to divide up the large concept of the book and organize the content for the readers. Chapters should stand independent from one another and help the reader logically identify topics and flow of the information. Within each chapter there are also headings to further dissect the work and continue the logical flow to the specific information the reader will need to reach their goals.
Writing is hard work: if it were easy everyone would do it.
In this lecture we'll walk through the technical writer's secret weapon - the book outline. The book outline defines exactly what the writer intends to say to the reader and in what order the information is written. A good outline helps the writer write faster as all of the book's content is pre-defined. Good outlines take time to create, but will help the technical writer write faster and with more authority of what to say.
The writer and the publisher must be in agreement on the length of the book content. Too much content and the profit margin can shrink for the publisher and writer. Too little content and the book isn't valuable to the reader. Based on the market demands, the topic of the book, and even the competition, the writer must create a reliable estimate for the length of the entire book and all of the chapters therein.
Writing, good, effective writing, takes time, but publishers and readers can't wait forever. The writer must create a realistic schedule to write the content of the book, revise the work, and allow the book to flow through the publisher's workflow for publication. Based on the schedule the writer creates and commits to, the publisher will create a schedule for the other stakeholders of the book production. It's imperative that the writer understands how to create a schedule and then commits to the schedule.
We covered many things in this section for the technical writer:
All of these items will help the technical writer become more successful and to write more books for profit.
You need a plan on how to write your book. It’s tempting to just “jump into” the writing activities, but without a plan of how to start, execute, and complete your book it can be a painful process. Writers need a defined approach to get from the first page all the way to the final page.
In this section we’ll discuss:
Sometimes one of the toughest activities for a technical writer is where to begin. Writers often want the first few words of a technical book to be perfect, to draw in the reader, and to establish the writer’s credibility on the subject matter.
This lecture discusses strategies for the technical writer to achieve those early goals and to get moving in completing the book. Until the first words are written the book isn’t progressing – and without progress the book will never reach its conclusion.
Publishers will say that it’s better to be fast and good than slow and perfect. Writers will say that quality writing, perfect writing, takes time. So who’s correct? Both! However, publishers and your competition are trying to beat your book to market and take away from your market share. You need to write quickly and accurately – and that’s what this lecture is all about.
Technical writing accomplishes many goals and this lecture describes each of the primary goals a technical book achieves. The goals of a technical book are based on the goals of the reader – and the technical writers works accordingly.
How you organize your book, that is how you tell the technical story, is directly related to the type of book you’re publishing and your audience goals. Writing with organization is a way to address readers’ goals for your book. Do it well and you’ll sell more book; do it poorly and you’ll have unhappy readers.
What’s that red squiggly line showing up in Microsoft Word? I am writing too passively? Should I trim this sentence? Add more descriptions?
The first draft of your manuscript is all about getting the words and ideas onto paper – not an editing session. Good writers, fast writers, even slow writers, can improve their word count, book organization, and overall communication by writing the book first and then editing. Editing in process disrupts the flow of the message.
It’s easy to start writing the book with lots and lots of pages, but then things can slow to a trot. The first surge of excitement and dedication can fade as energy drains with too much upfront activity and not enough sustained motivation to get the book done.
This lecture introduces some secrets to writing an entire book over a reasonable schedule. This lecture will describe how writers can best work towards completing their book in a steady, even approach.
Sometimes we writers need a kick in the seat of the pants! I know I occasionally do. Writing is hard work and I have some hands-on good tips on how to complete your manuscript. These are lessons that I’ve learned from over 20 years as a technical writer.
These are my secrets to keep the manuscript pages piling up!
This section focused on getting the writing assignment completed. We discussed how you can get started and keep the momentum going throughout the book. We also talked about how to write quickly and accurately. As a writer you know you need organization in your book – both for you and for your readers.
We also discussed the concept of writing the manuscript first to get the heart of the book onto paper and then returning to the materials for a revision and reworking of the words. We also discussed some strategies to keep writing and my tips to get writing done.
Writing is a craft. Like woodworking, painting, or even masonry, the more you do the craft, polish your work, and stay dedicated to the process the better you’ll become as a writer. In this section we’ll explore the elements of good writing and some techniques you can use to immediately improve your writing. Here’s what’s covered in this section:
Good technical writing centers on using the language properly, writing clearly for the reader, and staying on topic of each chapter. Writing that has wrong words, a choppy tone, or rambles too much will only anger the reader and block the message of the writing.
While this isn’t a course on the mechanics of writing and language, there are some essentials that you should know to be a good writer. This lecture will examine these fundamentals and then dive deeper into some tips and tricks to make your technical writing even better.
I’m assuming you’re not using a typewriter to create your manuscripts. While there's something magical in the keys smacking typing paper, there's something more wonderful in technology. If you’re using a word processing software, such as Microsoft Word, I am going to share with you some of my favorite tips for writing better and faster.
If you don’t have Microsoft Word these tips may not be as effective for you, but you can always download a sample copy of Microsoft Word and try them out. Or explore these tips in your favorite word processing software.
Mark Twain said that writing and grammar have little in common. Well, that may be true for fiction and Huck Finn, but in technical writing grammar can have huge effects on how the reader uses your work. Technical writing is written for education, not entertainment. A simple grammatical mistake can change the entire meaning of your message.
Words, the primary tool for writers, can also affect the message and understanding of readers. This lecture discusses the words we use in our craft and how our word choice directly influences readers.
It seems like at least once a week a budding writer will ask me what book on writing should I read. The best answer is to read your competition and see what they’re up to. The second best answer, the answer that aspiring writers really want to know, is which book will help improve my writing.
While I’m an advocate of not reading too much about writing, but rather writing instead, there are three books which have greatly influenced my career and writing approach. In this lecture I’ll share these three books with you. They are all you need, in my humble opinion, when it comes to reading about writing.
Are you ready to dig into your manuscript? Did you learn anything special in this section? I sure hope so; do me a favor and add a comment to our course discussion. Share your insight with other writers!
In this section we discussed the fundamentals of good writing; the power a writer has to influence readers in their day-to-day work. Technology can also help us improve as writers by leveraging software to write smarter, faster, and more efficiently. We also discussed your tone, grammar, and my three favorite books for writers.
Way to go! Keep going!
It's a necessary component of technical writing: rewriting the manuscript. Rewriting the manuscript doesn't mean that the writer has to type the entire book again, but rather, the writer will revise, edit, massage, and perfect each line of the manuscript. Is it time consuming? Yes. Is it really worth the trouble? Absolutely!
Rewriting the manuscript will help you develop your voice, confirm direction, and adhere to the book's outline. Here's what we'll cover in this section:
Congratulations! You’re written the final word in your book and you’ve a big stack of pages that represents all of your hard work to complete your manuscript. Now what? Now comes the next stage in the publishing process: the rewrite.
Rewriting the book doesn’t mean you have to type every word over, but rather you’re revising and massaging the message for clarity, accuracy, and brevity. You’re making the work shine a little brighter and that will help readers and your sales.
Ideally, once you’ve committed to a book outline there’s no deviance from the content. In reality there will likely be changes to your book’s content once you’re in motion. A technical writer can’t, however, just add topics and chapters on their own accord. Changes to the book’s content can have ramifications on cost, overall structure, schedules, and other people in the publishing process.
This chapter examines the possibility of changing the book’s content and what a technical writer must do should a change be proposed or needed.
Unapproved changes to the book’s content can cause problems throughout the entire publishing process:
You are the most important person when it comes to publishing your book. And there’s only one person stopping you from completing your book – and that’s you! What can you do to ensure that the manuscript is completed? This lecture will discuss the responsibility of technical writers and how you can work to get the book done.
We’ll discuss some proven strategies you can use to hold yourself accountable to the promises made to complete the book.
Don’t hate your work! You’ve done something many people only dream about: writing a book. You’ve invested hours and hours, brainpower, and energy into this book project. While it’s okay to not be happy with where your writing may be now, it’s not okay to hate your work – that’s just hating yourself.
In this lecture we’ll discuss why your work is valuable and why you shouldn’t hate what you’ve created. We’ll talk about polishing your work and making it shine.
In this section we discussed the book revision process. It can be a little painful, but it’s a necessary pain. You’re taking your raw work, cleaning it up, massaging the words, and making it significantly better for the publisher, the reader, and your career. The goal is to make your work a bit better, to stand out from the completion, and to help the readers achieve their goals. It’s the rewriting work that achieves your goals to be a fantastic writer.
Polishing your book is a little bit different than just rewriting and revising your book. It’s the final actions and processes you’ll take to make your book shine. This means it’s the actions you’ll take as a writer, but also the actions you’ll do with others, such as editors and proofreaders. In this section we’ll discuss:
Can a technical writer really edit their own work? Maybe. I find that it’s tough to edit my own work because I already know it’s perfect. Kidding! I find it tough to self-edit because I am so familiar with the work that I often overlook simple errors like missing articles, punctuation, and incomplete thoughts.
Copy editors, technical editors, and proof readers are the saving grace in much of my writing. These people can quickly identify the errors and keep me from looking ridiculous to my readers. In this section, however, we’ll first discuss the process of self-editing and how you can dig into your manuscript and edit your work.
If you have doubts about self-editing, then you should seriously consider hiring an editor for your work. But how does a technical writer go about hiring an editor?
In this section we’ll discuss the concept of hiring an editor, what the editor can do for the writer, and setting expectations for both the editor and the writer. It’s important for both parties to have an agreement on what’s to be accomplished with the manuscript and who’ll do what with the writing.
You are the expert to write your book, but even experts sometimes make mistakes. You don't want those tiny mistakes to slip out into the readers' world - and cause bad reviews, poor sales, and damage to your writing career. You want to prevent the mistakes from ever making it to the printing press.
It’s expected in technical writing that a technical editor will edit the manuscript after the writer. But what does a technical editor do exactly? What are the expectations, responsibilities, and boundaries for the technical editor? In this lecture we’ll dive into the role of the technical editor in traditional technical writing and publishing.
Copy editors edit the manuscript writing. They seek out the tiny edits, such as punctuation and grammar, and can edit the bigger stuff too: continuity, message flow, and incongruous thoughts. Copy editors have a focus on the writing, not the technical content, and make assumptions that the technical business of the manuscript is accurate. Based on that assumption, technical editors focus solely on making the writing sound and making the technical writer look more and more like a genius.
Proofreaders are the final stakeholder in the writer’s involvement with the manuscript. Proofreaders take the galleys of the publication – that is the actual layout of the book before the printing press – and proof it for complete accuracy. They examine the headline, headers, footers, page numbering, page breaks, and all the content for typos, weird text, and other anomalies that can distract the reader from the writer’s message.
In this section we discussed the possibilities of a technical writer editing their manuscript. Self-editing a manuscript can be challenging, even for the most prolific writer, and that’s why most publishers rely on technical editors and copy editors. Recall that technical editors review the writing for technical accuracy, while copy editors review the work for the quality of the writing.
We also discussed the hiring an editor for your work and what the editor will do for your writing. Finally, we discussed the role of a proofreader and how a proofreader can finalize the accuracy of the book’s layout. Much discussed in this section – but still more to go!
Marketing the book is an ongoing activity for the technical writer. While some publishers do commit some advertising and marketing dollars to the book’s success, the truth is that most publishers have very little budget for marketing technical books. It’s up to the writer to carry some of the marketing weight.
So how can a technical writer market their book? In this section we’ll discuss:
Everybody has a blog nowadays. Is blog writing still a valid method to connect with readers? Blogs, frankly, are overrated for marketing. Blogs are, however, a good way to support your book with news, updates about the book’s topic, and to share announcement about other writing you’re doing.
I don’t mean to sound discouraging about writing a blog, but there’s so much competition for people’s time that it’s tough to compete with all of the Internet for attention on your blog. Still, in this lecture we’ll discuss blogs and how you can use them to market your book.
Do you have an author page on Facebook? What about a specific author Twitter account? And how’s your LinkedIN profile doing?
Social media is an excellent way to communicate directly with your readers, garner attention about your book, and make announcements related to your area of expertise. There is some caution with social media, however, and we’ll discuss that in this lecture.
Webinars are lives talks online. Big companies host webinars, often free to the attendees, and have writers, such as yourself, into to get the talk. It’s a win-win-win scenario. The company hosting the webinar gets contact info and exposure to all of the attendees for their product or service. The writer gets to speak about their book’s topic and hopefully garner some sales. The audience gets an hour or so of free information from you.
While hosting a webinar doesn’t isn’t always a huge bump in book sales, it can help you by gaining book exposure, public speaking experience, and connecting with new readers. In this lecture we’ll discuss the pros and cons of hosting or speaking at a webinar.
Do press releases work anymore? They sure do, if they are well-written and land on the correct editor’s desk. Editors and publishers of newspapers, magazines, and blogs are always on the lookout for relevant content for their publications. Press releases, if they aren’t too much of a sales pitch and if they are relevant, make for excellent content for their readers.
In this section we’ll discuss the contents of a good press release and why the technical writer should craft a press release for the correct audience of their books.
Marketing your technical book can be a long process, but it’s a valuable process if it’s done correctly. Publishing a book is only half the battle, and sometimes even less than that, when it comes to good book sales. The technical writer needs to take the charge and market, market, market their book.
Publishers want your book to be successful, but often they rely on the whims of the market rather than the strategies of marketing. In this section we discuss why you need to market your book and some strategies for successful marketing.
When I first started as a technical writer I followed the lead of my editors and publishers; they’d been in this game long before me. While this approached worked somewhat, I quickly learned there were better ways to get the book done, to be more successful as a writer, and to write better material quicker.
In this lecture I’m going to share with you the five truths I’ve learned in my technical writing career. These are the five things I wish I knew a long time ago.
First, thank you for your time, attention, and involvement in this seminar. It’s always tough to speak to people you’ve never met before – kind of like writing. As I developed this course I tried to speak directly to you, a fellow writer, and share with you my insights into technical writing. I hope you found it valuable and worthy of your time.
Second, we covered much in this seminar. I encourage you to return to the content over and over – whenever you need a little boost. As a recap, here are the highlights of what I covered in this course:
Thanks again! Do let me know if you’ve comments or questions about the contents of this seminar. All the best in your successful technical writing career!
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Joseph Phillips has more than 15 years’ experience as a project management consultant, educator, technology consultant, business owner, and technical writer. He has consulted as a project manager for a range of businesses, including startups, hospitals, architectural firms, and manufacturers. Joseph is passionate about helping students pass the PMP certification exam. He has created and led both in-person and web-based seminars on project management, PMP certification, IT project management, program management, writing, business analysis, technical writing, and related topics. Joseph has written, co-authored, or served as technical editor to more than 35 books on technology, careers, project management, and goal setting for MacMillan, McGraw-Hill, Pearson Education, and AMA Press.
Project Management Professional (PMP)
PMI-Agile Certified Practitioner (PMI-ACP)
CompTIA Project+ Professional
CompTIA Certified Technical Trainer+
PMP Project Management Professional Study Guide, McGraw-Hill
CAPM/PMP All-in-One Exam Guide, McGraw-Hill
PMP Project Management Lab Book, McGraw-Hill
The Certified Technical Trainer All-in-One Exam Guide, McGraw-Hill
IT Project Management: On Track from Start to Finish, McGraw-Hill
Project Management for Small Business, American Management Association
Software Project Management for Dummies, For Dummies Publisher
The Lifelong Project, Amazon CreateSpace
Vampire Management: Why Your Job Sucks, Amazon CreateSpace