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Playing to Your Strengths
2010, Q2 (July 07, 2010)
By Andrea Wenger, Carolina Chapter Vice President

photo of a writer lying on the floor next to a laptop
The life of a frustrated writer

Fiction writers can speak at great length about their writing process. Some prepare detailed outlines; others just start writing and follow their Muse. But the technical communicator’s work is tied to doc plans and project schedules. Personal preferences don’t play a role.

Or do they?

On July 14, I’m presenting an STC webinar called Personality and Writing Style: Playing to Your Strengths. I’ll explore how the four dimensions of the Myers-Briggs personality types can affect how we write. In this article, I discuss one of the dimensions: Thinking vs. Feeling.

Writing According to Your Natural Style

Thinking and Feeling are the two rational decision-making functions. Thinking types prefer to use objective, impersonal logic; they generally begin a writing project by looking at the facts. Feeling types prefer to consider the effect of a decision on people; they generally begin a project by exploring the reader’s needs.

Follow your natural style while developing content … Get it written, then get it right.
Preference is not the same as ability. Both types may be equally capable of performing accurate technical analysis and audience analysis. But they approach the work from opposite directions.

Most of the time, we work best when we follow our natural writing style. However, each approach has different strengths. If we write only according to our preferred function, our work will lack rigor. Consciously drawing on our nonpreferred function helps us fill in the gaps.

During the drafting process, it’s inefficient to edit as you write. Instead, follow your natural style while developing content. Then, during revision, turn to your nonpreferred function. Get it written, then get it right.

The Natural Styles of Thinking and Feeling Types

The Thinking and Feeling preferences can affect us as technical communicators in a variety of ways. Below are some generalizations about the different approaches of Thinking and Feeling types. Each individual is unique, however, so some traits typical of your type may not apply to you.

  • Thinking types focus on clarity and organization. They tend to develop an idea methodically but may not consider audience reaction. During revision, they may benefit from examining the work from a reader’s perspective. Feeling types, on the other hand, focus on expression and flow. They tend to be even more interested in audience reaction than in content. During revision, they should work to tighten the structure and ensure accuracy.
  • Feeling types tend to use people-oriented language. Thinking types tend to use object-oriented language. A Thinking type might naturally write, “Document properties can be entered” rather than “You can enter the document properties.” If that’s true for you, go ahead and use passive voice while drafting the procedure. During revision, change task-based instructions to active voice where appropriate. (A quick way to find passive voice is to search on the words “be” and “by.”)
  • Thinking types tend to be clear and direct in their communication. Feeling types are more indirect. Their message is designed to convey facts while creating a sense of empathy. So a Feeling type might be inclined to write, “If you want to get more information, you can click the Help button.” During revision, make this more concise: “For more information, click the Help button.”
  • Editing others’ work raises challenges for both types. The natural tendency of Thinking types is to offer constructive criticism but not positive feedback. If you’re a Thinking type, make an effort to point out things you like about the document you’re reviewing. This will make the negative comments more palatable. Conversely, Feeling types may worry that the most well-intentioned critique can damage relationships. (A technical communicator I know once inadvertently made a writer cry with the comment, “incorrect logo.”) If you’re a Feeling type, you might find it helpful to think of editing as a mentoring opportunity. Instead of just offering written markups, schedule a meeting or teleconference where you can ask probing questions that show an interest in the choices the writer made—for instance, “Is there a reason you wrote this procedure in future tense?” Taking this approach might better align with a Feeling type’s desire for collaboration.

With practice, our natural writing style becomes subordinate to knowledge and skill. We get better at writing in a style suited to the final product. The key is to write in the style that works best for you, rather than according to how you think you ought to write. Then revise, applying the strategies of your nonpreferred function to help you compensate for your natural blind spots.


Andrea is a senior technical writer at Schneider Electric. She blogs about writing and personality at andreajwenger.com. She can be reached at andreajwenger at gmail dot com. End of article.

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