How to Embed Creativity Into Technical Writing

How to Embed Creativity Into Technical Writing

As a technical writer or someone studying Technical Communications, the major focus of your work is often put on writing professional genres, with accurate and precise content designed for immediate use. These qualities of technical writing are of great importance, but oftentimes are associated with being dense by its readers. In these cases, creativity is the answer. There is a way to maintain professionalism and the integrity of technical writing while including creative thinking, improving readability, and allowing for entertainment for its readers. These easy steps will help you to create pockets of creativity in technical documents and spice them up without losing their intent.

Part 1 of 3:
Evaluating Your Document

Image titled Be Friends with Everyone Step 16
1
Find your why. Embedding creativity is a great way to make a document more engaging and entertaining for its readers. What creativity will not do is make the content of a document more approachable. If you think your are struggling with a content issue, maybe think about rewriting your technical document in a way that feels more accessible to your desired audience.
Image titled Pick a Topic to Write About Step 5
2
Brainstorm your document. Think about what kind of document you are writing. It is important that you establish the "right kind" of creativity into your document. Creativity can help with the structure, readability, comprehension, and presentation of any document when used well. When doing this brainstorming think of yourself as an imagineer but instead of engineering Disney attractions, you're engineering a technical document. Depending on the genre, there are certain affordances that are offered and can drive the direction you may go with your piece. To get your creative juices flowing try to imagine the following things: Imagine your document section by section Imagine your audience Imagine readers interacting with your document
Image titled Think Step 6
3
Look deeper. Think more in depth about the things you imagined in step one and formulate questions around them. This is an important factor of technical writing because it has been shown that "both rhetoric and motivation affect creativity, we should not separate them when making inquiries about technical communicators’ creative behaviors. how they influence—for good or ill—technical communicators’ creativity." [1] X Research source Yuejiao Zhang & Karla Saari Kitalong (2015) Influences on Creativity in Technical Communication: Invention, Motivation, and Constraints, Technical Communication Quarterly, 24:3, 199-216, DOI: 10.1080/10572252.2015.1043028

Optional Questions

When imagining your document you could ask: does my format make sense? Do I like the way my content looks on the page? Where would my creative element fit best?

When imagining your audience you could ask: who is my audience? Where are they? What do they do?

When imagining readers interacting with your document you could ask: where do I want their eyes to go first? Does the document keep them engaged? What do you want them to take away from it?

Image titled Write an Argumentative Essay Step 3
4
Use strategy. Pinpoint an area of your document that is best suited for creativity. Depending on the document there may be only one area where a creative touch will do the trick to keep the reader engaged. It is your job to find the area(s) that your document will benefit from some creativity. Specifically, if there are areas where the text can come off as being too dense, or if you think that your audience could benefit from a visual to gain more clarity of a certain section.
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Part 2 of 3:
Picking a Creative Avenue

Image titled Be a Creative Thinker Step 17
1
Choose your avenue. This is where you decide what type of element of creativity you think is best for your document. What you choose is going to vary depending on what kind of technical document you are creating. You would not necessarily want to embed jokes into a research proposal, but you may include a cool example of how the proposal can relate to your audience. A joke may be more suited for technical documents like step by step instructions or a presentation. Something to keep in mind is "language embodies meanings that are controlled by culture, and... visual design is a means of creating credibility and of enabling usability." [2] X Research source Welch, Kristen Dayle. “Poetry, Visual Design, and the How-To Manual: Creativity in the Teaching of Technical Writing.” The English Journal, vol. 99, no. 4, 2010, pp. 37–42. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/27807164. Accessed 14 Oct. 2020. Depending on your document, you may find that one aspect (cultural vs. visual) is more important than the other when inferring about audience engagement and readability.

Tip: This may take some time, so don't worry if an idea does not come right away. Dedicating a part of your day to do some creative thinking is encouraged.

Image titled Think Like a Graphic Designer Step 9
2
Try a visual element. By using visual elements in technical documents, these are the areas for readers to have a break in areas where there tends to be blocks of text (the dense text we talked about in step 4) as well as a way to create another level of engagement with your document. Below you will find the benefits of using visual elements in technical documents as well as the six elements to produce effective visual design.

Benefits of Visual Elements - When looking at websites, brochures, or flyers we as readers tend to skim through these documents quickly, using visual elements as anchors to look for a source of reliability and/or practicality. It is not until after this brief overview do we decide if the document is really worth the in depth read. There are six elements that we unconsciously base this decision off of; Below I have highlighted each of these six elements that are important to the execution of constructing visual design. [3] X Research source Welch, Kristen Dayle. “Poetry, Visual Design, and the How-To Manual: Creativity in the Teaching of Technical Writing.” The English Journal, vol. 99, no. 4, 2010, pp. 37–42. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/27807164. Accessed 14 Oct. 2020. They include: (1) Arrangement - balance and symmetry should ensue, as well as a discussion of how like elements are grouped together. (2) Emphasis - prominence or intensity of expression. (3 & 4) Clarity & Conciseness - not just an impetus for minimalism but also a goal for writers to weigh each word and each visual element, asking themselves what is necessary and what impedes the document's usefulness. (5) Tone - Just like in a written text, how would you describe the attitude of the document?. (6) Ethos - trying to establish credibility with an audience, but also in terms of efforts made to communicate ethically by not giving more space to one choice if there are two options to be considered or by misrepresenting data by using a skewed chart.[4] X Research source Welch, Kristen Dayle. “Poetry, Visual Design, and the How-To Manual: Creativity in the Teaching of Technical Writing.” The English Journal, vol. 99, no. 4, 2010, pp. 37–42. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/27807164. Accessed 14 Oct. 2020.

Heads up: Visual elements are not the best route of creativity for every technical document. This section is intended for people using or thinking of using visual elements only, if this is not you then feel free to disregard this information until a later date when you may need it and skip ahead.

Image titled Think Big Step 3
3
Practice thinking big. There are endless creative ideas to choose from. Do not limit yourself to the things that you know and have seen before. Brainstorm ideas that are outside of the box and keep in mind the things that grab your attention. Those things most likely will grab other people's attention too. Some examples are: Adding color or images to your document Alluding to a film, song, or popular pop culture reference Including a pun or a joke (test it out first to make sure it's funny)
Image titled Not Care What People Think Step 8
4
Rein things in. Now that you have had a chance to be an abstract thinker and let creativity have its way, it is time to pull back a little. Though it would be fun to try to embed all the creative ideas you had into one piece, you have to narrow them down. Choose a few of your favorite ideas and see how each of them work within your document. Then pick the best one when it is time.
Image titled Think Step 3
5
Think formally. You want to think about how formal the document of technical writing you're creating is. You want to make sure the creative element you choose does not take away from its formality and make the document come across as unprofessional. To do this you want to ask yourself: Is this creative element appropriate for my document? Will my audience appreciate this "comic relief"? Should I get creative with my format and/or delivery?
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Part 3 of 3:
Designing Your Creative Element

Image titled Write Good Captions in Photojournalism Step 22
1
Execute. When crafting your technical document, choosing to be creative can have great payoffs. It can also be a letdown if it is not executed properly. The first example below is an inventive way to try to use creativity into a scientific report that ultimately misses the mark. Whereas the second poem is more successful in readability and feels approachable to readers outside of the specific technical field. Now while poetry is not the only means of creativity that you can use as a technical wittier, I want to show that there is no limitation on how creative you can be.

Example 1:

Reactions of potassium amide
With halobenzenes in ammonia
Via benzyne intermediates occur.
Bergstrom and associates did report,
Based on two-competition runs,
Bromobenzene the fastest to react,
Py iodobenzene closely followed,
The chloro compound lagging far behind,
And fluorobenzene to be quite inert at reflex. [5] X Research source Edens B. Readability and Creativity in Technical Writing. Journal of Technical Writing and Communication. 1980;10(4):329-336. doi:10.2190/FDXC-J28W-GLC1-CCUN

Example 2:

A technical writer in Blighter
was trying to sell a typewriter.
He did all he could do
And when it struck two
He was really a typewriter lighter. [6] X Research source Edens B. Readability and Creativity in Technical Writing. Journal of Technical Writing and Communication. 1980;10(4):329-336. doi:10.2190/FDXC-J28W-GLC1-CCUN

Hopefully, these contrasting examples serve as a reflection of why it is important to not overcomplicate things when you are executing your creative element.
Image titled Brainstorm Step 1
2
Edit then edit again. Now that you have an element of creativity it is time to look at it from all the angles you possibly can. Though you initially may love the creative element you have chosen, it is always good to walk away from it and come back to it with a fresh mind. The goal here is to try to do a self critique of this creative element just as you would a technical document. The same drafting process and peer reviews that you would normally do in the Technical Communications field (or any field involving writing for that matter) can also be applied here. It has been said that, "the technical writer needs more personality... The better the intrapersonal communication, the mixture of internal and external stimuli, internal and external feedback, the better his ideation, the better the result-in our case, the technical copy." [7] X Research source <p class="mw-empty-elt"></p>Edens B. Readability and Creativity in Technical Writing. Journal of Technical Writing and Communication. 1980;10(4):329-336. doi:10.2190/FDXC-J28W-GLC1-CCUN,
Image titled 135695 1
3
Remember your readability. If you have gotten this far that meant that by now you have crafted your creative element and had a few (or a lot) of people read your document. This is the end of the process. Here are a few words to leave you encouraged as you go on your creative journey,

"Writing is only readable when it is creative"[8] X Research source <p class="mw-empty-elt"></p>Edens B. Readability and Creativity in Technical Writing. Journal of Technical Writing and Communication. 1980;10(4):329-336. doi:10.2190/FDXC-J28W-GLC1-CCUN,

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Part 1 of 3:
Evaluating Your Document

Image titled Be Friends with Everyone Step 16
1
Find your why. Embedding creativity is a great way to make a document more engaging and entertaining for its readers. What creativity will not do is make the content of a document more approachable. If you think your are struggling with a content issue, maybe think about rewriting your technical document in a way that feels more accessible to your desired audience.
Image titled Pick a Topic to Write About Step 5
2
Brainstorm your document. Think about what kind of document you are writing. It is important that you establish the "right kind" of creativity into your document. Creativity can help with the structure, readability, comprehension, and presentation of any document when used well. When doing this brainstorming think of yourself as an imagineer but instead of engineering Disney attractions, you're engineering a technical document. Depending on the genre, there are certain affordances that are offered and can drive the direction you may go with your piece. To get your creative juices flowing try to imagine the following things: Imagine your document section by section Imagine your audience Imagine readers interacting with your document
Image titled Think Step 6
3
Look deeper. Think more in depth about the things you imagined in step one and formulate questions around them. This is an important factor of technical writing because it has been shown that "both rhetoric and motivation affect creativity, we should not separate them when making inquiries about technical communicators’ creative behaviors. how they influence—for good or ill—technical communicators’ creativity." [1] X Research source Yuejiao Zhang &amp; Karla Saari Kitalong (2015) Influences on Creativity in Technical Communication: Invention, Motivation, and Constraints, Technical Communication Quarterly, 24:3, 199-216, DOI: 10.1080/10572252.2015.1043028

Optional Questions

When imagining your document you could ask: does my format make sense? Do I like the way my content looks on the page? Where would my creative element fit best?

When imagining your audience you could ask: who is my audience? Where are they? What do they do?

When imagining readers interacting with your document you could ask: where do I want their eyes to go first? Does the document keep them engaged? What do you want them to take away from it?

Image titled Write an Argumentative Essay Step 3
4
Use strategy. Pinpoint an area of your document that is best suited for creativity. Depending on the document there may be only one area where a creative touch will do the trick to keep the reader engaged. It is your job to find the area(s) that your document will benefit from some creativity. Specifically, if there are areas where the text can come off as being too dense, or if you think that your audience could benefit from a visual to gain more clarity of a certain section.
Advertisement

Part 2 of 3:
Picking a Creative Avenue

Image titled Be a Creative Thinker Step 17
1
Choose your avenue. This is where you decide what type of element of creativity you think is best for your document. What you choose is going to vary depending on what kind of technical document you are creating. You would not necessarily want to embed jokes into a research proposal, but you may include a cool example of how the proposal can relate to your audience. A joke may be more suited for technical documents like step by step instructions or a presentation. Something to keep in mind is "language embodies meanings that are controlled by culture, and... visual design is a means of creating credibility and of enabling usability." [2] X Research source Welch, Kristen Dayle. “Poetry, Visual Design, and the How-To Manual: Creativity in the Teaching of Technical Writing.” The English Journal, vol. 99, no. 4, 2010, pp. 37–42. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/27807164. Accessed 14 Oct. 2020. Depending on your document, you may find that one aspect (cultural vs. visual) is more important than the other when inferring about audience engagement and readability.

Tip: This may take some time, so don't worry if an idea does not come right away. Dedicating a part of your day to do some creative thinking is encouraged.

Image titled Think Like a Graphic Designer Step 9
2
Try a visual element. By using visual elements in technical documents, these are the areas for readers to have a break in areas where there tends to be blocks of text (the dense text we talked about in step 4) as well as a way to create another level of engagement with your document. Below you will find the benefits of using visual elements in technical documents as well as the six elements to produce effective visual design.

Benefits of Visual Elements - When looking at websites, brochures, or flyers we as readers tend to skim through these documents quickly, using visual elements as anchors to look for a source of reliability and/or practicality. It is not until after this brief overview do we decide if the document is really worth the in depth read. There are six elements that we unconsciously base this decision off of; Below I have highlighted each of these six elements that are important to the execution of constructing visual design. [3] X Research source Welch, Kristen Dayle. “Poetry, Visual Design, and the How-To Manual: Creativity in the Teaching of Technical Writing.” The English Journal, vol. 99, no. 4, 2010, pp. 37–42. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/27807164. Accessed 14 Oct. 2020. They include: (1) Arrangement - balance and symmetry should ensue, as well as a discussion of how like elements are grouped together. (2) Emphasis - prominence or intensity of expression. (3 & 4) Clarity & Conciseness - not just an impetus for minimalism but also a goal for writers to weigh each word and each visual element, asking themselves what is necessary and what impedes the document's usefulness. (5) Tone - Just like in a written text, how would you describe the attitude of the document?. (6) Ethos - trying to establish credibility with an audience, but also in terms of efforts made to communicate ethically by not giving more space to one choice if there are two options to be considered or by misrepresenting data by using a skewed chart.[4] X Research source Welch, Kristen Dayle. “Poetry, Visual Design, and the How-To Manual: Creativity in the Teaching of Technical Writing.” The English Journal, vol. 99, no. 4, 2010, pp. 37–42. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/27807164. Accessed 14 Oct. 2020.

Heads up: Visual elements are not the best route of creativity for every technical document. This section is intended for people using or thinking of using visual elements only, if this is not you then feel free to disregard this information until a later date when you may need it and skip ahead.

Image titled Think Big Step 3
3
Practice thinking big. There are endless creative ideas to choose from. Do not limit yourself to the things that you know and have seen before. Brainstorm ideas that are outside of the box and keep in mind the things that grab your attention. Those things most likely will grab other people's attention too. Some examples are: Adding color or images to your document Alluding to a film, song, or popular pop culture reference Including a pun or a joke (test it out first to make sure it's funny)
Image titled Not Care What People Think Step 8
4
Rein things in. Now that you have had a chance to be an abstract thinker and let creativity have its way, it is time to pull back a little. Though it would be fun to try to embed all the creative ideas you had into one piece, you have to narrow them down. Choose a few of your favorite ideas and see how each of them work within your document. Then pick the best one when it is time.
Image titled Think Step 3
5
Think formally. You want to think about how formal the document of technical writing you're creating is. You want to make sure the creative element you choose does not take away from its formality and make the document come across as unprofessional. To do this you want to ask yourself: Is this creative element appropriate for my document? Will my audience appreciate this "comic relief"? Should I get creative with my format and/or delivery?
Advertisement

Part 3 of 3:
Designing Your Creative Element

Image titled Write Good Captions in Photojournalism Step 22
1
Execute. When crafting your technical document, choosing to be creative can have great payoffs. It can also be a letdown if it is not executed properly. The first example below is an inventive way to try to use creativity into a scientific report that ultimately misses the mark. Whereas the second poem is more successful in readability and feels approachable to readers outside of the specific technical field. Now while poetry is not the only means of creativity that you can use as a technical wittier, I want to show that there is no limitation on how creative you can be.

Example 1:

Reactions of potassium amide
With halobenzenes in ammonia
Via benzyne intermediates occur.
Bergstrom and associates did report,
Based on two-competition runs,
Bromobenzene the fastest to react,
Py iodobenzene closely followed,
The chloro compound lagging far behind,
And fluorobenzene to be quite inert at reflex. [5] X Research source Edens B. Readability and Creativity in Technical Writing. Journal of Technical Writing and Communication. 1980;10(4):329-336. doi:10.2190/FDXC-J28W-GLC1-CCUN

Example 2:

A technical writer in Blighter
was trying to sell a typewriter.
He did all he could do
And when it struck two
He was really a typewriter lighter. [6] X Research source Edens B. Readability and Creativity in Technical Writing. Journal of Technical Writing and Communication. 1980;10(4):329-336. doi:10.2190/FDXC-J28W-GLC1-CCUN

Hopefully, these contrasting examples serve as a reflection of why it is important to not overcomplicate things when you are executing your creative element.
Image titled Brainstorm Step 1
2
Edit then edit again. Now that you have an element of creativity it is time to look at it from all the angles you possibly can. Though you initially may love the creative element you have chosen, it is always good to walk away from it and come back to it with a fresh mind. The goal here is to try to do a self critique of this creative element just as you would a technical document. The same drafting process and peer reviews that you would normally do in the Technical Communications field (or any field involving writing for that matter) can also be applied here. It has been said that, "the technical writer needs more personality... The better the intrapersonal communication, the mixture of internal and external stimuli, internal and external feedback, the better his ideation, the better the result-in our case, the technical copy." [7] X Research source <p class="mw-empty-elt"></p>Edens B. Readability and Creativity in Technical Writing. Journal of Technical Writing and Communication. 1980;10(4):329-336. doi:10.2190/FDXC-J28W-GLC1-CCUN,
Image titled 135695 1
3
Remember your readability. If you have gotten this far that meant that by now you have crafted your creative element and had a few (or a lot) of people read your document. This is the end of the process. Here are a few words to leave you encouraged as you go on your creative journey,

"Writing is only readable when it is creative"[8] X Research source <p class="mw-empty-elt"></p>Edens B. Readability and Creativity in Technical Writing. Journal of Technical Writing and Communication. 1980;10(4):329-336. doi:10.2190/FDXC-J28W-GLC1-CCUN,

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