​When people hear the phrase technical writing, they often hear something like:
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 incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis
        nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat.
The phrase is a bit of a black box—it seems to suggest specialized knowledge, in-the-know readers, and complicated style.
But the real purpose of technical writing is to clarify
to clearly and efficiently transfer information to readers (see, for example, the inimitably easy-to-read Nikon D7000 User Manual):
​For most businesses, technical writing is obligatory work. Because few departments employ a dedicated technical writer, the task of writing guidelines, manuals, specs, directories, releases, and other informational or action-oriented material typically falls on the shoulders of the (collectively recognized) best writer on staff.
Best writer on staff? We’re here to help.

Successful execution of technical writing depends on five general principles: committing to the process, articulating the purpose, identifying the audience, determining the organizational schema, and using precise and concise language to convey the content.
Let’s fill that out:

  • Process: Technical writing is multistep and collaborative. The best writer on staff approaches the job as a project manager—​identifying a team of contributors, setting a schedule, managing the team, and assembling the final piece.
  • Purpose: Technical writing transfers information. The best writer on staff determines what (exactly) readers need to know or be able to do after the transfer.
  • Audience: Technical writing is intended for particular readers. The best writer on staff knows whether readers are new or experienced; whether they need a little or a lot of context; whether they need to absorb or to execute.
  • Organization: Technical writing is purposefully organized. The best writer on staff knows that if the purpose is to simply inform, a chronological or cause-and-effect schema is best; if the purpose is to also instruct, a sequential schema may be better.
  • Language: Technical writing is formal but not flowery, concise but not cryptic. The best writer on staff knows that language should (usually) be active, precise, accessible, and consistent.

Technical writing can be intimidating—there can be reams of information to condense, and the stakes can be relatively high. (And then, of course, there are the not-at-all-insignificant elements of style and format.) But keeping these five principles in mind ensures that the best writer on staff approaches the project with confidence.

In our last post, we talked with Susan Bordson about the pivot to video and the importance of using video in communications as a magnet, not a megaphone.
Today, we want to explore what exactly makes a video like the one for Children’s HeartLink capable of such intense attraction.
When we worked as teachers, we taught our students to read media using the tools of rhetoric. The concepts of pathos, ethos, and logos date back to Aristotle, but because they create the distance so necessary for critical viewing, they’re just as important for the digital age.
Pathos describes an appeal to emotions, logos, an appeal to logic and reason, and ethos, an appeal to the credibility of character. If we view Susan’s HeartLink video through the lens of these appeals, we can begin to see how and why it draws us in.
The video opens with appeals to both pathos and logos. The first images fill the screen with the grayscale urban grittiness of Chengdu, China, and a spare, violin-based melody cuts through the scene. A statistic appears onscreen to mirror the starkness of the city: “90% of children with heart disease live where care is inadequate.”
The next line signals a shift: “Children’s HeartLink is working to change that.” The music also takes a hopeful turn, and we next see the hustle and bustle of a brightly lit city and then the crisp antiseptic colors of a hospital. Here, the appeal to our emotions is made the more intense. In the hospital, we see a gurney wheeled by doctors; the image slows to focus on the still image of a child’s—clearly the patient’s—bare foot. Next, an image of a woman wearing a surgical mask appears, her eyes welling with tears, and we are told in a translated voiceover that “parents everywhere are the same.”
In this moment, Susan matches rhetorical appeal with video technique. The slow-mo hospital gurney and the still frame on the bare foot stretch out the appeal to our emotions. We are given the space to consider a time (in the past or to come) in which a hospital gurney holds not just a patient but a person, someone we ourselves love.
At this point in the video, pathos has done its job—the audience can now intimately relate to material it actually knows very little about. The video thus shifts to more balanced appeals: pathos in the children’s faces and actions, logos in the story of the program’s founding, and ethos in the clear expertise of the doctors.
Susan uses video to execute powerful rhetorical appeals that draw in and convince readers of the importance of HeartLink’s work. But she also makes video an extension of the nonprofit’s mission: just as HeartLink connects experts in heart disease with medical teams in underserved parts the world, its video, too, is a magneta tool of connection.