13 tips for sounding smart as a new technical writer

Mister Technical Writer
3 min readAug 15, 2022

We technical writers are communicators. Often the best communicators. And I don’t only mean writing. I mean by listening and responding in speech, email, and chat.

If we communicate poorly, how can technical colleagues trust we can help them with documentation?

If you’ve just become a technical writer, these tips may help you sound smarter than you feel. ;-)

Note: Unless otherwise noted, these observations are based on my direct experience.

  • Don’t generalize. But if you do, admit you’re generalizing. “This may be a generalization, but I’ve noticed…” You’ll command respect from people who are careful about how they communicate. Technical people tend to be careful about how they communicate (of course, I’m generalizing :-)).
  • If you’re speaking of facts, be able to cite facts. If you’re speaking of rumors as if they’re facts? Don’t. There’s enough gossip and innuendo in the world. It will not make you sound smart.
  • If you’re speaking of your experience, try to say so. “In my experience” or “I’ve noticed” or “My impression has been” Try to avoid expressing spontaneous, random opinions unless you’re trying to be funny. (See next item on humor!)
  • Humor? You may be misunderstood. Be very careful about humor. (I tend to keep my mouth shut for the first few weeks to get a feel for a company’s culture, including humor.)
  • Never, never presume. Presumption is the kryptonite of technical writing. Start to presume and you’ll be taken less seriously.
  • If you don’t know, say you’ll look into it. Then investigate it. “I’m not certain, but I’ll look into it and let you know.” (Research is a vital part of technical writing.)
  • Don’t say stupid things. Things you know are factually untrue.
    (Go to a bar and listen. You’ll find many stupid things said.)
  • Be direct by using indirection.
    (It’s impolite to say, “You’re wrong.” But you can say “I believe that’s an incorrect statement.”)
  • Never respond with pique or small mindedness to rude or immature people. (I used to tell my kids to imagine rude classmates were “throwing up on themselves.”)
  • Don’t be hypocritical or use double standards.
    If you’re accustomed to seeing people solely in categories or tribes, you’re bound to express bias in some unfortunate fashion. How much worse will this be if you believe yourself tolerant, accepting, and kind?
    (Your colleagues may not buy your self-image!)
  • Don’t be a “nativist” to speakers of English as a foreign language.
    (They typically speak more languages than you! Remember Joseph Conrad and Vladmir Nabokov, two of the greatest writers of the 20th century, did not speak English natively.)
  • When reviewing others’ work, lead with empathy. Start with the positives, even when there are few positives to note. Imagine you’re relating to your clone. How would you like your clone to feel? Especially: Don’t play power games when reviewing to soothe your hurt ego. (There’s typically someone better than you are out there.)
  • Always strive to be consistent, concise, and clear. This is whether you’re writing a document, responding to an email, or typing a chat. Don’t accept typos because you’re in a hurry.

    Hold yourself to the highest standards of written and verbal communication. And you will sound smart.

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Mister Technical Writer

Bobby B. Kennedy. Tech Writer for > 22 years. Founder, Become a Technical Writer (becometechnicalwriter.com). A hands-on, real-world technical writing course.