Effective technical documents do not just happen; they are the result of a deliberate and comprehensive design and production process. Although writers may vary some of the steps they use to create a document, effective technical and scientific writing typically follows the same general procedures.
First, establish basic criteria. Five characteristics--accuracy, clarity, conciseness, coherence, and appropriateness--apply to all effective technical and scientific writing.
Identify the specific purpose of the document by clarifying both the reasons for its creation and its specific objectives. Often, technical and scientific documents are written as answers to a specific problem, which is articulated in a problem statement. Once you have identified the document's purpose, you should be able to determine the document's general type.
Technical documents are tools designed to be used by their readers. Accordingly, define your audience--the person or persons who will be reading the document. Then determine your audience's level of expertise and their purpose in using the document. It is also important to assess the attitude of the audience toward both you and the document's subject matter.
Once you have defined the purpose, the problem and the audience, collect, create, and assemble your information. Sketch out a preliminary outline to organize it. Keeping purpose and audience in mind, sketch out graphics and tables to display your important data.
Using your outline and preliminary graphics, write a first draft, a rough working version in which you get your ideas on paper. At this point in the process, do not be overly concerned about grammar, style, or usage.
If possible, put your first draft away for a day or two. Then revise your document in stages, saving stylistic changes for the last stage. Revise for organization; then revise the content for accuracy and appropriateness. Finally, edit your paragraphs and sentences to improve their clarity, conciseness, and coherence, and to fix any problems in grammar, spelling, punctuation, mechanics, or usage.
The last major step for most technical documents is one or more reviews. You may be too familiar with your document to see such things as gaps in information and inappropriate language. In addition, you may lack certain technical or managerial knowledge necessary for the document to achieve its purpose. For these reasons, writers of technical and scientific documents may ask peers to review their manuscripts for accuracy, clarity, coherence, and appropriateness. In many cases, a technical expert will review the document for technical content. A technical editor may review the document to ensure that it conforms to the organization's style and to correct any remaining problems. There may be legal reviews as well. Finally, a supervisor or a manager may review the document to ensure that it achieves the organization's purpose and is appropriate to the audience.
Just as most technical documents are reviewed by several persons, many documents are written collaboratively--that is, by several individuals. Collaborative writing often involves additional steps in document planning and management, drafting, and revision.