Ethan Banks On productivity.

Think Of Your Audience


One of the challenges technical authors face is that of peer respect. That is, technical people who took a lot of time to learn what they know want to be respected by their peers when they write. They want to be recognized for their knowledge, wisdom, and insights.

In that context, there’s often fear before pressing “Publish.” Was every detail correct? Was every scenario considered? Was the very latest information about a topic included?

The fear of hitting publish is well-founded for technical authors, because technical folks have a way of being nit-picky, pedantic, and annoying. One small detail wrong, one badly stated premise, and the angry comment and critical tweet claws come out, slashing at your ego.

Will they like me? I just want everyone to like me.

One solution, of course, is to have a thick skin. If you view criticisms as a way to improve a piece, that’s the best route to go, especially when the commenter has a good point. Being able to ignore critics is another useful skill, because there are plenty of folks who say a lot while adding no value whatsoever.

However, I think the most important point to keep in mind is this. As a technical writer, you’re not writing to impress your peers–those people who already know what you know. Rather, you’re writing for your audience. Think of them.

In technical writing, your audience contains those who haven’t been there before. They are those folks who are trying to learn what you know. Those folks who are on the quest you’ve already completed.

Therefore, forget your peers. I know, I know. You want the praise of your peers, because that feels affirming. “Will they like me? I just want everyone to like me.” Of course you do, and there’s no warmer and fuzzier warm & fuzzy then someone you admire telling you your latest post was #awesomesauce.

But again, forget that. Write for the audience of people who need to understand from a point of ignorance what you’re writing about. Yes, you want your information to be accurate, current, and relevant. You don’t want to make mistakes, even small ones. But you do want the piece to help someone complete their quest.

That means…

  • You might not include all the extraneous bits of detail that you could.
  • You might put some constraints and scope around what you’re writing.
  • You might err on the side of assuming less knowledge and explaining concepts that are more basic.

That approach might make you appear to be less knowledgeable, as if you yourself are just learning these things. In fact, you might have had mastery of the concepts you’re relating for a long time.

That’s okay. Why? Because you’re thinking of your audience. You’re writing a piece that someone will benefit from because it has clearly provided context. You’re anticipating what your audience will be wondering about and answering those questions.

In the end, you’ll be creating something that will educate people, because you’re arming them with everything they need to know to benefit from the technical knowledge you have to share. That’s more important than impressing your friends with obtuse wizardry.

By Ethan Banks
Ethan Banks On productivity.

You probably know Ethan Banks because he writes & podcasts about IT. For example, he co-authored "Computer Networks Problems & Solutions" with Russ White.

This site is Ethan on productivity--not tech so much.

Find out more on his about page.