The more I write the more I learn about my style and how to effectively get my point across. I’m now also trying to get in a habit of writing more so that I can continue to hone those skills. I’m constantly learning. I recently read @hacks4pancakes blog post on reviewing CFPs submissions and started my thought process of what I go through when I write. I also just took a SANS course with @robtlee and he mentioned something about his writing experience. Hence this post.
I remember a time where my writing was so conversational that it was difficult to follow my thought process. I also thought that the more you wrote the better your writing. I still believe that this was a carryover on the public-school system which concentrated on word count and pages more than the content. I’m glad I’m out of that habit. Tools can help with some of the basic grammar mistakes. With the assistance of tools like Grammarly and others in the market then your writing can improve a bit, but you still must generate the ideas in the document.
One of the concepts that I try to abide by is “say what you’re about to say, say it, and then summarize what you said”. I feel that this is effective in normal writing but also translates well into technical writing. It is easier for someone to follow your thought process if you provide them with a lead-in.
Decide on the aim and audience. Just like doing a digital forensic report where you have a set of questions in which you are looking to address then your writing should be this focused. I try to write the topic or question I’m looking to answer at the top of the document during the draft, so I maintain my focus on the goal of why I’m writing. Also, knowing who is going to read your report/document is helpful so that you can tailor your writing towards that audience. If I’m writing for a technical audience, then I don’t have to explain some of the already assumed knowledge. For example, if the report/document is for another security professional then I don’t have to explain what an IP address consists of.
Feedback. Always try to get feedback from someone. If you cannot find someone to read your writing, then Microsoft Word has a dictate feature which can read back your document. This can help with using a different feedback method of hearing your own words read back to you. This can be an eye opener when you must hear your thoughts coming alive from your writing.
Use plain language. Again, this goes back to the public school system where having a wide vocabulary was graded on a higher scale. This goes with my mantra of keeping things simple. A dictionary and/or thesaurus is useful sometimes, but I try not to rely too much on those. If my 11-year-old daughter can understand what I’m trying to say, then in my eyes the writing is understandable for an adult (sometimes that’s debatable 😊). The added benefit with that is that she is being exposed to technology early.
Using a passive voice is the most common mistake that I make. This is something I continuously try to work on to get better. Having a review process has helped me with the active voice in my professional writing.
With the post, I just wanted to document some things that have helped me write better. I’m not where I would like to be so I will continue to get better and be open to feedback. I also hope that I can help others who might be struggling with their writing. Just keep on writing and seek feedback.