What Makes an Effective Procedures Writer? (Part 3)

Last post, we focused on the first aspect of effective procedure writers, knowing the value you (can) bring to the organization. Think of your role in much broader terms than as just the guy or gal who puts words on paper.

Today, we will look at, if you will, the mechanical side of the writing, the nuts-and-bolts. In the original poll question that sparked this blog series, two of the options were:

1 . Technical writing and interview skills.

2. Professional Procedures Writing training.

I will leave the interviewing portion of option 1 for a later post, but let’s look at the writing skill. This one has always puzzled me, because (for those with bachelor’s degrees) we have presumably spent 16 years perfecting (or at least optimizing) our writing craft. It amazes me that at the conclusion of those 16 years, people (and in most cases very smart, capable people) walk away with a sheepskin representing acquired knowledge in some field while having inadequate ability to describe that knowledge verbally. But I take this fact with a grain of salt because it makes my specialty possible.

So does an effective procedure writer have to have excellent writing skills? It goes without saying. The basics such as spelling, grammar, punctuation and sentence structure are essential; the procedure writer must master these, and have such a grasp of the language that he or she rarely has to search for the right word.

Let me give you an example. I am a very poor handyman. You want something in the house fixed? Don’t call me! But on occasion I have to perform some home fix-it. Usually, I can get the job done to some degree of usefulness, but I always take much more time (and make many more trips to the hardware store) that I should have. Now, a professional carpenter or plumber comes to the same job, assesses the situation, instinctively reaches for the exact right part and the exact right tool, completes the job in (for me) record time, and I hand over a check for far more dollars per hour than I make.

Could I have gone to the hardware store and bought the same parts and tools? Sure, but I would lack the experience, practice and know-how the plumber has, making my use of the tool much less effective.

A good procedure/technical writer has to be similarly skilled. While the dictionary and thesaurus are equally availabe to anyone, we must through experience be able to quickly pull out the exact word we need and “install” it into the documents we are preparing.

Courses in writing (I took Technical Writing as an elective in college some 30 years ago) are good places to start. However, there is no substitute for developing your writing craft than actually doing serious writing. That is the only sure way to develop the ability to quickly and effortlessly pull the right word, fashion the right sentence, and construct consecutive paragraphs that transfer knowledge to the reader.

I do take pride in my writing. Some have called it a gift; maybe yes and maybe no. But like any gift, the gift will never be manifest unless it is exercised. Someone once asked me, how did you become such a good writer? I told them, I did it by getting all of the bad writing out of my system! And that is the honest truth. And there is still bad writing I need to work on reducing and eliminating.

In the next post, I will discuss the concept of “professional procedure writer training,” because it is an excellent question.

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About Tim James "Mr. Procedure"

A communicator; all-purpose capability in writing, designing and presenting training for all facets of organizational function. While my focus has been manufacturing, my training/development experience includes supervisory and lead person development, audit processes, continuous improvement and Lean, and Quality Management System implementation.
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