Active Listening in Technical Writing -Listen Better to Write Better

'Celebration of Engineering'
4 min readJun 10, 2021


Hearing vs. Listening

Have you even wondered why you know the lyrics to certain songs by heart and can’t recall that of some others to save a life?

It is the simple difference between hearing and listening that imprints these words on our memory.

One of the most essential skills in effective writing and communication is the soft skill — active listening. It helps in problem solving, process improvement, and comprehension (retaining and understanding instructions and other narrated information).

In our trade, when technical writers work with SMEs, it typically begins with identifying the audience, product walkthrough/demos, use-case discussions, design studies, and so on. Given how complex this information can be, especially due to a shorter turnaround time, writers must develop active listening skills to be able to produce quality content efficiently.

What is active listening?

It is the act of focussing on a speaker to comprehend their message to then be able to respond thoughtfully. On the other hand, passive listening is the act of hearing a speaker without retaining much of the information shared.

Active listening results in enhanced engagement and interaction, and enables you to recall important details in the future. Hence, it is a critical skill for technical writers — to understand and translate complex product knowledge into consumable, easily understood chunks of information.

The most important technique to listen well is to train yourself to keep your attention on the speaker and their spoken words instead of being distracted by prematurely formulating a response in your mind.

The benefits of active listening

Because active listening helps you retain information, it also helps you to better understand new topics and retain what you have learned so that you can apply it in the future.

Due to the high level of engagement with the speaker, active listeners are capable of deep learning and recalling specific details. This is especially important during training or knowledge transfer sessions on a new process/product for which you are responsible to later relay this knowledge accurately to others.

Most importantly, it helps you detect critical information missing from the drafted content.

If it is so important, why aren’t more of us listening?

Are you listening?

Unfortunately, even the best of us tend to mentally rehearse our response to the speaker even before they are done!

But, it is a skill that can be learned over time.

How to listen better?

If you want to listen better:

  1. Carefully consider the speaker’s words.
  2. Commit the information to memory.
  3. Paraphrase. Or, ask again to confirm if you have understood the speaker correctly.
  4. Pause, if necessary, and process the information. Formulate your thoughts.
  5. Respond.

It sounds like a lot, but in practice, it only takes a few additional seconds and the results bear long-term positive implications.

Your active listening toolkit

A few basic skills and tools will help you listen, comprehend, and retain knowledge better. Here they are:

  • Have empathy and respect for the speaker
  • Ask open-ended or probing questions to learn in depth
  • Recall and connect new information to previously acquired knowledge
  • Borrow from “Improv”. Use the “Yes, and…” technique to learn more about the topic of discussion: Listen ➜ Agree ➜ Enquire

Expert Speak

William Ury, one of the best known, highly regarded negotiators of our time says,

“Listen not just to words, but to what’s behind the words. We were given two ears and one mouth for a reason.”

Experts also believe that the biggest communication and comprehension issue is that we listen not to understand, but to reply. We need to unlearn that to try to listen better, to understand better, and to write better as a result.

Start listening

These courses on Udemy can help you get started. Time to start listening!

Author: Monami Bhattacharya



'Celebration of Engineering'

Engineering adventures and the stories from the trenches