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Technical Writing: Mistakes I've made.

Eugene Dorfling
Techno hippie, I enjoy adventures and love to share my experience. Intern technical writer. Noob Python developer. Creative writer and musician. #ForceNothing
・3 min read

I have been writing every day now for the past few weeks and I can honestly say that there were days that I wrote easily and somewhere I looked at a blank screen for hours only achieving a stiff neck.

At this stage of my writing journey, I am focusing on publishing every day so that I can get comfortable with publishing often while practicing to develop my writing skill. However this does not mean that I shouldn't care about the quality of my writing, but quality shouldn't stop me from practicing.

My mentor and I had a coaching session where we reviewed my writing. Focussing a little more on quality so that I can be aware of the mistakes that I have made and focus on improving them in my future writings.

I thought it to be a good idea to share my mistakes here so that fellow aspiring writers might learn from them and also improve on their writing.

I have written a few incomplete sentences and kept them company with some dangling participles to start off with the more rookie mistakes. A complete sentence, it turns out, is more than a couple of words with a capital letter at the beginning and a period at the end. A complete sentence actually consists of three components namely: a subject, a predicate (verb), and an object. A sentence also has to convey a complete thought.

A dangling participle is when an adjective is used to unintentionally modify the wrong noun in a sentence. Like this: "Walking through the kitchen, the smoke alarm was going off." This sentence literally means that the smoke alarm was taking a walk.

I have also littered my writings with comma splices. And probably, like most of these mistakes, still do. A comma splice is when you join two independent clauses with a comma and no conjunction. An example would be: "She’s an outstanding student, she’ll go far."

The main issue I would say is uniformity and having a single goal or message in mind while writing. I tend to flip flop between active and passive voice and also change the goal of the article a few times as I write.

A good tip here is to first before you start writing, answer these two questions:

  1. What exactly is your main message that you want to get across to your reader?
  2. Who exactly are you writing to? It really helps to think about a specific, real person that you can keep in mind while writing.

Once you have answered these questions, it is much easier to keep your content uniform and focus on transferring your message to your reader as clearly as possible.

Lastly, and this is one I struggle with the most, is to establish two modes: One for writing and one for editing. This is important because if you are like me you will write five words, then delete three, write a paragraph then delete two paragraphs, you will rewrite every second sentence three times and before you know it, two hours have passed and you are still busy writing the third paragraph.

This will kill you slowly if you don't force yourself to ONLY write when writing, focussing on the message or story you are trying to write. Once you are done getting the story part down, only then can you go back and edit your work. It is best to take a break in between the writing and editing of at least a day I would say. Otherwise, you are going to start changing the story again while you are supposed to be editing.

While editing, your brain is going to ignore some basic errors as you scan over your words for the 100th time. Because your brain does not see anything new there it is not going to pay attention, it has seen the same words before. So a few things you can do to help your brain look at the words with a fresh perspective is to:

  1. Read it out loud
  2. Read it in reverse
  3. Block everything out and read only one word at a time

There you have it, the mistakes I have made and still make today. Hopefully, you can learn something from my mistakes and work to better your writing with some of these tips as I try to do.

Discussion (1)

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dmbaturin profile image
Daniil Baturin

I'm not the biggest fan of comma splices, but I never criticize people for them. What are the sins of the "She’s an outstanding student, she’ll go far." sentence, if any? The meaning is clear. It's not hard to parse. Its only sin is that it's against some styles guides (but for every style guide, there's one that is equally respected and says the opposite ;).

Dangling participles really make sentences hard to read, or even ambiguous, no arguing there.

Anyway, I've read excellent articles that had not only style problems, they had grammar and spelling mistakes. But, they were very instructive.
My advice to a hypothetical novice technical writer would be: if you've got extra time, spend it checking facts first and style last.