Accuracy and precision are critical to the success of a technical communicator. Your goal is to get the material right. But when you’re drafting content, the desire to get it right can keep you from getting it written. Drafts are the time for experimentation, for getting the material out of your head and into the authoring software. Awareness of your natural writing process—either the introverted or the extraverted—allows you to make the most of the draft and revision stages of technical writing.
When preparing a first draft, you might find that you’re more effective if you turn off your internal editor and let yourself write according to your natural style. Everyone’s writing process is unique—there’s no right or wrong. The natural writing style of extraverts may be very different from the common image of the introverted writer alone at a computer shutting out the rest of the world.
Extraverts are energized by interacting with people. Spending too much time alone can leave them distracted and listless. But technical writing requires some degree of solitude. How can extraverted writers stay focused on the task?
Writing Style of Extraverts
Extraverts prefer to start a project without much advance preparation. They try different approaches to find one that works. Extraverts like to discuss their ideas to see how others react. Speaking their thoughts aloud helps them develop and hone their approach.
Writing in an active, noisy environment, such as an area with open cubes, can help keep extraverts energized while they write. During the final draft, though, they need quiet to keep from getting distracted. Frequent breaks to chat or to bounce their project ideas off others can stave off boredom.
Applying Extraversion to Technical Writing
Extraverted technical writers might benefit from beginning a writing project by meeting with the subject matter experts (SMEs) as a group. To make sure the needs of both extraverts and introverts are met:
- Gather and distribute the available preliminary information before the meeting
- Prepare an agenda
- Invite attendees to add agenda items or send you any additional information
- Communicate in advance what will be expected of the meeting attendees
- Assign someone to take minutes, including action items, responsible party, and due dates
- During the meeting, encourage brainstorming, but be conscious of time constraints
- About halfway through the meeting, go around the table to invite those who have been silent to add their thoughts
- Near the end of the meeting, summarize the progress made
- Go around the table one last time to see if anyone has something to add
- After the meeting, ask attendees to send any additional information before the minutes go out
- Distribute the minutes within one day of the meeting
- Follow up on action items to make sure you receive any needed information by the due date
This approach allows extraverted technical writers to prepare the first draft according to the collaborative process that works best for them, while at the same time respecting the needs of introverted team members to reflect on the information before discussing it and to provide their contributions in writing.
Rounding Out the Extraverted Style During Revision
The experimental and collaborative process of extraverts often leads to wide-ranging drafts. Chunk your material and delete information that’s not relevant to reader tasks.
Review the material to identify gaps. For instance, walk through the procedures to make sure every step is documented. Consider whether the reader might need to know in advance how long the task takes, or if specialized tools are needed.
During quiet periods of technical writing, try listening to music or even banging on the keyboard to keep your energy up. Take breaks as needed or switch to a more interactive task for while.
Introverts gain energy during the long stretches of solitude that technical writing requires. But if they spend too much time alone, they can fall out of touch with the needs of customers and SMEs. What can introverts do to make sure they’ve successfully communicated the material to others?
Writing Style of Introverts
Introverts like quiet so they can think through their ideas on their own. Once focused, they can become so absorbed in their work that they don’t notice external stimuli like a slamming door or someone calling their name. (It’s said that while Einstein was working on the theory of relativity, he went for a walk and was knee-deep in water before he realized he’d stepped into a pond.)
Introverts often begin a project by reflecting on the material or by reading to conduct research. They consider how the new information they discover relates to their existing knowledge base. They may compose an outline in their head, or simply write down ideas as they occur. Either way, before they begin writing, they generally have a plan for the structure as well as some of the content they want to include. While writing, they may take frequent breaks to mentally work through how to proceed.
Applying Introversion to Technical Writing
Introverts prefer to receive preliminary material in writing rather than from a group discussion. However, extraverted SMEs may have difficulty with this approach. Rather than holding a group meeting, interview SMEs one-on-one in a quiet environment as necessary to get the information you need.
When preparing a first draft, introverts might prefer to work without discussing the draft with the rest of the team until they’ve taken the material as far as they can go without additional input. At that point, they might email questions to specific SMEs or distribute a preliminary draft to the team to request missing material or seek feedback on the approach.
Once a draft has gone out, the project leader may suggest holding a team meeting to collect everyone’s feedback at once. Don’t resist, even though this may not be your preferred way of working. Team meetings can be an efficient way of reviewing a document, and group discussions may raise issues that individuals working separately might not consider.
Rounding Out the Introverted Style During Revision
Introverts tend to work out problems on their own rather than seeking help. This can be the sign of a self-starter, or it can be dreadfully inefficient. To fill the gaps in your work, ask others for feedback. If working on a subject or document type that’s new to you, get advice from someone more experienced. Too often, technical writers are afraid to speak up out of a fear of looking stupid, because they don’t have the same knowledge the SMEs have. Keep in mind that experts like talking about their area of expertise. It gives them a chance to demonstrate their value. If something in the text doesn’t make sense to you, there’s a good chance it’s wrong. And if it’s right, you’ll learn something by asking the question, which will make you better at your job.
Don’t try to perfect the work too soon. Remember, the delete key is your friend. Brainstorming or trial-and-error can lead you to new technical writing approaches you would never have found simply by thinking through your ideas.
Take a break from the computer every hour or two. Get a cup of coffee with a colleague, or take a quick walk. Time away will relieve the pressure and give your unconscious mind the chance to mull over the material.
Do What’s Right for You
The way you learned to write during your schooling might feel comfortable to you, or it might be holding you back. Explore new techniques to find your own personal style. You’ll probably be most effective if you follow your natural preferences during the first draft, then use your nonpreferred style during revision to fill the gaps.
Write from the Start by Ann B. Loomis
Writing and Personality by John K. DiTiberio and George H. Jensen
What Type Am I? by Renee Baron