Technical Writing Workshop

Better writing skills help technical staff cut down on the time they spend writing and rewriting technical reports.

Tools Used: MS Word, MS PowerPoint, MS Visio, Adobe Acrobat

A metals-processing company generated hundreds of technical documents every year. Unfortunately, many of their engineers and technical staff lacked the skills required to produce quality written documentation.

    They struggled with:
  • Identifying what information to include in documents.
  • Structuring documents logically.
  • Presenting information clearly and concisely.

The result was documents that took far longer to write than the authors could afford to spend on them, and that required extensive reviews and rewrites before they were ready to release.

The entire documentation process was bogging down the technical staff who had to write the documents and the supervisors and managers who had to review them.


Poor writing costs real money

    In this company, as in many others, poor writing skills have a direct negative impact on productivity:

  • Poorly structured, unclear information causes misunderstandings and mistakes, which take time and money to resolve.
  • Technical staff spend more time than they should on documentation, limiting their ability to take on new projects or more value-added endeavours.
  • Supervisors lose time reviewing and editing poorly written documentation.
  • Low-quality documents give an unprofessional image to the team or individual that produced them, impeding the acceptance of ideas presented in the document.
  • Great ideas are overlooked because staff cannot present them clearly to decision-makers.


Writing is a learned skill

Unfortunately, writing skills are often under-emphasized in technical education programs. Engineering students might take one or two courses in technical communications; their technical project course or co-op work term might include a requirement to produce a report.

Beyond some very basic training, many technical education programs offer little incentive to develop and practice writing skills. Consequently, engineers and technologists often arrive in the workplace ill-prepared to manage the documentation tasks required of them on the job.

My client was experiencing first-hand the significant consequences of this skills gap.


Training workshops help address the skills gap

I developed a series of workshops designed to help the company's staff develop solid technical writing and editing skills. The workshops focused on technical reports, but the principles covered are applicable to all types of technical writing, including emails, memos and presentations.

    The workshops were highly interactive, making use of in-class exercises and on-the-job assignments to teach participants how to:
  • Analyze the audience and content requirements of a document.
  • Prepare an outline and organize a document.
  • Present information effectively in lists, tables and diagrams.
  • Write clear, readable paragraphs and sentences.
  • Use MS Word’s built-in tools to make the job easier.
  • Edit quickly and efficiently.

Participants in the workshops ranged in age and experience from new hires, fresh out of university, to senior engineers who had been with the company for decades.

As a follow-up to the writing workshops, I also developed another series of workshops designed to develop an in-house team of peer reviewers. These peer reviewers would then have the skills to efficiently review a document and provide constructive feedback to help authors further hone their writing skills.

The editing workshops provide participants with a top-down approach to editing that starts with a structural review of the whole document and works successively to a detailed review of sentence structure, grammar and punctuation. At each stage of the process, participants learn to identify common problems and provide suggestions for resolving them.

Throughout the workshop, the focus is on editing efficiently: resolving the big problems before dealing with details, and recognizing when the best course of action is to stop the review process entirely and return the document to the author for revisions.

This Can Work for You, Too

Written communication is a critical part of every business, and the costs of doing it poorly are staggering. One study of writing skills in American businesses set the cost of bad writing at over $1 billion a year.1

Training your technical staff to write effectively is just good business sense. It is an investment in your people that has long-term benefits for your team and your company.

When documentation is done right the first time, your team avoids unproductive cycles of editing and rewriting. They spend less time on writing and more on value-added activities. You avoid embarrassing and costly miscommunications. Your team is perceived as more professional and more competent.

I offer training workshops designed to help your staff develop solid technical writing and editing skills. The workshops address the specific needs of your team, with the goal of rapidly improving the writing skills of your staff through in-class exercises and on-the-job practice.

I also offer one-on-one consulting to provide additional training for individuals who need assistance refining specific technical writing skills, or editing and proofreading services to polish documents for distribution.

If you or your team is struggling to produce quality written materials in a reasonable amount of time, give me a call. I can help.



1. "Why Dick and Jane Can't Write on the Job…and How to Help Them," by Janet Van Wicklen, published in American Society of Training and Development, 2000.