Often, writers must simplify difficult topics for readers. Technical writers often do this when writing manuals and training materials. However, it can be challenging to make complex topics accessible and easy to read. Luckily, there are some strategies that you can use to effectively break down difficult or technical content.
Clean up visual clutter
Too much visual clutter can complicate your document and distract the reader. Princeton Alumni Weekly’s article “Psychology: Your Attention, Please” states, “The more objects in the visual field, the harder the brain has to work to filter them out, causing it to tire over time and reducing its ability to function.” If the reader struggles while reading your document, this increases the chance that they will lose attention or simply stop reading. The simpler the document, the less complicated it seems to the brain. The content is complex enough, so there is no reason to make your document more complicated than it needs to be.
Practice “teaching” your content
When transferring your knowledge from your brain to the page, it can be helpful to “teach” your topic before writing it down. This can include explaining it to another person or pretending that you are teaching the content to someone else. Speaking out loud allows you to process the information differently and may give you some ideas on how to teach the concept in other ways. In addition, teaching your content helps you break the larger topic into smaller parts. As you go over each step, you may find parts that need more clarification than you previously thought.
Your role as the writer is to explain. The reader looks to you to clarify anything and everything, even if it seems obvious to you at first. Therefore, if you use technical jargon, you must provide definitions. It is not helpful to the reader if you explain the term two paragraphs later. You should provide the definition immediately after you introduce any technical term.
In other words…
Put simply, this phrase will come in handy. Explaining jargon and concepts in other words is the simplest, most direct way to clarify content for your readers.
Include comparative examples
Another way to explain technical terminology is through comparative examples. Comparing something complicated with something simple and familiar helps the reader connect former knowledge with what they are learning. Therefore, you should use examples that most readers would be familiar with, instead of comparing two technical or complicated things.
For example, if you were writing a manual on how to use Photoshop, comparing it to another design app like Canva would not be helpful. Saying, “Using the Photoshop cropping tool is like using Canva’s cropping tool” would not clarify anything because readers are probably not familiar with either application. Saying “Using Photoshop’s cropping tool is like using a virtual pair of scissors to trim your picture” is clearer. It compares using the tool to using a pair of scissors, which is a tangible experience that is much more common than using an app like Canva.
From teaching your content to providing comparative examples, these strategies will help your readers understand complicated topics more easily. The next time you are writing technical documentation, look to these strategies for inspiration.
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