On Technical Writing

Very recently, I was looking for some technical articles and scholarly papers on Augmented Reality. While searching, I came across a few very interesting articles, which ranged from personal blog entries and semester research papers to PhD thesis. I wondered, when we write in blogs and we write in a semester thesis paper, we have different type of mindsets, totally different objectives. Interestingly, I have seen the thesis paper becoming more interesting than the blog for the same topic in one scenario.

Technical writing is something that cannot be achieved overnight. Your first technical article, no matter how much expertise you have on the subject, is bound to be the least interesting article for the readers if you have not done your home work. Because, in technical writing you not only have to concentrate on subject matter (otherwise no point writing the article, isn’t it?) but also, have to maintain the balance of reader interaction, punch in some humor, balance the information presentation style and many more things. But how will you achieve those? Only through experience. I am not discouraging the idea of reading books on technical writing, having some courses too, in fact I recommend those and do that myself. My point is that- do not wait until you know everything about writing. Just start it!

In Bengali culture, there is a very popular idiom which means “sometimes the preparation of a work exceeds the effort needed for the work itself” and I believe it’s very true for writing, be it technical or nontechnical.  But sometimes we spend the effort on wrong things, like searching for the perfect word processor, choosing the right font, finding a lot of articles- downloading them- and not reading them etc. Here’s a small quotation from Mark Pilgrim from Google who is a writer of 4 books and a great advocate of open source software:

 I’m a three-time (soon to be four-time) published author. When aspiring authors learn this, they invariably ask what word processor I use. It doesn’t fucking matter! I happen to write in Emacs. I also code in Emacs, which is a nice bonus. Other people write and code in vi. Other people write in Microsoft Word and code in TextMate+ or TextEdit or some fancy web-based collaborative editor like EtherPad or Google Wave. Whatever. Picking the right text editor will not make you a better writer. Writing will make you a better writer. Writing, and editing, and publishing, and listening – really listening – to what people say about your writing. This is the golden age for aspiring writers. We have a worldwide communications and distribution network where you can publish anything you want and – if you can manage to get anybody’s attention – get near-instant feedback. Writers just 20 years ago would have killed for that kind of feedback loop. Killed! And you’re asking me what word processor I use? Just fucking write, then publish, then write some more. One day your writing will get featured on a site like Reddit and you’ll go from 5 readers to 5000 in a matter of hours, and they’ll all tell you how much your writing sucks. And most of them will be right! Learn how to respond to constructive criticism and filter out the trolls, and you can write the next great American novel in edlin.


So, as he rightly points out, if you are interested in writing, don’t want for the perfect moment to come, just start writing! Happy writing!


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