Information gathering


Information gathering in the context of technical writing is the process of collecting and organizing the information you would want to share in your technical document.

It is focused on acquiring specific knowledge about a particular technology, process, or software you want to write on.

In this Module, you will learn how to:

  • Define your audience and purpose.

  • Identify your sources of information:

    • Subject matter experts (SMEs)
    • Technical documentation (e.g., user guides, white papers, API documentation)
    • Industry publications and blogs
    • Online forums and communities
  • Develop a research plan

  • Gather information.

  • Evaluate and synthesize the information you have gathered.

  • Review and revise your information.

Define Your Audience And Purpose

The first step in information Gathering is defining the scope of your document, which will guide your information selection and presentation.

To correctly do this you need to define your audience and the purpose of your document.

Defining your audience and purpose will help you accurately define your document’s scope, guiding you while gathering information or refining your information gathering.

Defining Your Audience

Defining your audience involves determining who you are writing the technical document for and the knowledge gap you want to fill.

You need to understand your audience’s technical knowledge, background, and expectations to do this.

You can check out Module 2 of this course to learn more about defining your audience.

Determining The Purpose Of Your Document

This involves answering the question: “What do I aim to achieve with my technical document?”.

Here are some steps to take to define the purpose of your document:

1. Identify the Goal:

Identify the primary goal of your document. Are you informing, instructing, or persuading your audience? Your goal will determine the structure and tone of your document.

2. Define The Outcome:

After reading your document, what should your user be able to do? Would you want them to be able to implement a specific Technology? Or would you want them to understand a complex concept? Or do you want them to be able to make an informed decision based on the information gained from your document?

3. Content Scope:

With your goal and outcome clearly defined, you can draft out the scope of your document’s content based on the technical background of your audience. What information should your audience have already, and what information do you want them to gain from your document?

Formula for a good documentation

According to Google’s Technical Writing course:

A Good documentation = knowledge and skills your audience needs to do a task − your audience's current knowledge and skills

Aligning your information gathering with your document’s purpose ensures your technical document’s relevance and effectiveness.

Identify your sources of information

The scope of your documentation will determine the sources you can gather information.

There are various information sources, each having its unique strengths and limitations.

Here are some key sources of information:

1. Subject Matter Experts (SMEs):

A subject-matter expert is a person with deep knowledge, experience, and prowess in a particular field called “the subject”. They are a valuable and reliable source for:

  • Accurate and insightful information,
  • Best practices, and
  • Everyday solutions to real-world problems, etc.

Within that subject/field. You can get information from SMEs through:

  • Interviews,
  • Meetings, and
  • Consultations.

Apart from being a source of valuable information, SMEs can also help validate the accuracy and relevance of your content.

Here are some helpful tips when engaging with an SME:

  • Ask open-ended questions. This way, you are giving the expert room to provide detailed explanations.
  • Follow up the discussion with a summary of your thoughts to be sure you didn’t miss anything and confirm you got everything right.
  • Build a collaboration with the SMEs to help with future support and review.

2. Technical Documentation:

Technical documentation is a document that provides instructions, explanations, and reference materials for a specific technical product, system, or process. It helps you understand how to use, debug, and learn more about the technical subject matter.

You can refer to already existing technical documentation that is current and relevant to your subject matter, such as:

  • User guides,
  • White papers,
  • API documentation,
  • Research Papers,
  • Technical Specifications,
  • Glossary of Terms,
  • FAQs, etc.

While gathering information from these sources, a good practice is to cross-reference across multiple documents to verify the consistency of information.

You can always use Technical documents as a starting point and then complement their information with other sources, such as SMEs, as discussed above.

3. Industry Publications and Blogs:

You can also get valuable information from credible industry publications and blogs to supplement your content.

When extracting information from this source, here are a few things to note:

  • Ensure that the authors of these publications are from reliable sources.
  • Remember that most blogs and publications reflect the trends and state of the art at the time of publication. Use this to assess the relevance of the information to your document’s objective.
  • Blogs mostly reflect people’s personal opinions and experiences; you can always verify and cross-reference these different views to have a balanced perspective in your writing.

4. Online Forums and Communities:

Online forums and communities relating to your Subject matter are great places to get different opinions from fellow community members on real-life experiences, fixes to common challenges, and feedback.

You can also get to ask questions and gather insights from community members. Again, you should verify the credibility of the information before using it to supplement your document.

5. Additional Sources of Information:

Other sources of information include but are not limited to:

  • Social Media and Podcasts,
  • Competitor Analysis,
  • User Feedback and Reviews,
  • Tutorial Videos, etc.

Always verify the credibility of the information obtained from these sources and cross-reference them to get reliable and accurate content.

Taking a deeper approach to gathering information from various sources can significantly increase the quality and credibility of your technical writing.

Check your knowledge:

Question 1:

Which of the following is NOT a recommended source of information for technical writing?

Question 2:

What are the two key factors to consider when defining your audience for a technical document?

Develop a research plan

You can maximize your information-gathering process by developing a research plan. Your research plan should generally have:

  • The Document’s objective,
  • Information Sources,
  • Timelines and Deadlines.

Setting Clear Objectives

1. Be Specific:

Clearly outline the goals and objectives of your technical document by answering the question: “What specific information(s) do you want to deliver to your audience?” This will serve as a roadmap in your information-gathering process.

An example of a general and specific goal:

1 General goal:
3 Understanding Programming Principles
1 Targeted goal:
3 Understanding SOLID principle in Kotlin

This way, you have mapped out what software principle and programming language you will show examples.

2. Prioritize:

Based on your audience analysis, you can prioritize what topics are most important, thus focusing your research efforts on areas that will have the greatest impact on your audience. In our previous example: “Understanding SOLID principle in Kotlin”, you don’t need to research what Kotlin programming language is and its history because your audience is expected to be already familiar with Kotlin programming language.

3. Use the Question-Driven Approach:

Create specific questions that your audience should be able to answer after reading your document. This will act as a guide and help your technical document to stay focused and relevant.

Time Management

1. Set Deadlines:

Break down your research process into different phases and allocate realistic deadlines for each phase.

2. Balance Depth and Breadth:

From your audience analysis, allocate time based on how important and complex a topic is.

3. Schedule Reviews:

Have review sessions to assess your progress against the roadmap and timelines you set and make adjustments when needed.

Gather Information

After creating a research plan, the next step will be to gather information from the various sources you mentioned in your research plan.

There are various methods and techniques you can employ when gathering information, some of which are:

1. Systematic Data Collection:

i. Follow your Research Plan:

Your research plan already includes the goal of your document, the specific topics you would cover, and the questions your document should answer. Follow these systematically, collecting information according to them. This will help you stay organized and on track, ensuring you cover all the necessary areas.

ii. Adapt:

Information is always evolving, so be prepared to alter your research plan as new information emerges.

iii. Have a Documentation Strategy:

There are various ways of documenting your findings. Choose one and stay consistent with it. This will make it easier and quicker to recover and reference information later.

2. Note-Taking and Organization

i. Effective Note-Taking Techniques:

Implementing the Cornell method or mind mapping can make your note-taking process more efficient. You can even choose to combine them, whichever works best for you. This will help you in documenting and retrieving information effectively.

ii. Categorization and Tagging:

Using categories, tags, or labels to organize your notes will make it easier to find information, identify knowledge gaps, and connect information.

3. Cross-verification and Fact-Checking

Cross-verification confirms the accuracy of information obtained from a particular source by comparing it with different sources.

It is best practice to cross-verify your information to ensure consistency and highlight inconsistent areas for further research and investigation. When in doubt, you can also contact SMEs for further clarification.

This can help resolve ambiguities and ensure the accuracy of your information.

4. Active Learning

When writing about software or a tool, use them yourself and try out different use cases or scenarios with them.

This will give you firsthand experience and a deeper understanding of the subject, which will help you to write valuable insights that supersede theoretical research.

Doing this may expose you to questions and challenges your audience might face.

Evaluate and synthesize the information you have gathered.

Information Evaluation

After gathering information for your technical document, you must read through the technical document and critically analyze its:

1. Accuracy and Credibility:

By ensuring the information is correct, reliable, current, and error and bias free. Also, evaluate that your information source is reliable, from an expert, or a reputable publication.

2. Relevance:

Confirm that the information answers the questions you stated your document should answer in your Research Plan. This ensures that your document satisfies its purpose and objectives and is suitable for your audience. You can remove irrelevant information from your writing to maintain the focus of the writing.

Synthesize your Data:

After evaluating, you must organize your technical writing in a logical and orderly manner that is easy to read through and understand. You can do this by:

1. Connecting the Dots:

Identify the key themes and concepts and extract the central and unifying ideas. Look beyond the individual bits of information but see how they relate. One way to do this is by linking theoretical concepts with their real-world application or comparing the new technology with a technology your audience is familiar with.

2. Organize the information into a logical structure:

Structure your document so that each piece builds to the next. Highlight important points and findings while ensuring an uninterrupted flow of information in your document. Identifying repeating concepts in your documents can help you structure complex information in an easy-to-understand way.

3. Storytelling and Engagement Strategies:

An example of a storytelling approach is relating abstract concepts in your document to physical, relatable things or systems. Including real-world examples or hypothetical scenarios to illustrate important points will also help to make your document more engaging.

Review and revise your information.

The final step in information gathering is to review and revise your document to ensure that it is:

  • Clear, Concise, and free of unnecessary details.
  • Based on facts and not personal opinions.
  • Consistent and complete, having all the information that satisfies the purpose and objective of the document.

Here are some review techniques you can employ:

1. Self-Review

You should read through your technical document as a first-time user and assess technical terms’ logical progression and accuracy. Look for complex terms and sentences that can be simplified too.

Also, try to answer the questions you listed when setting your document’s goals and objectives to ensure your writing is relevant.

2. Peer Review

Share your technical document with peers that suit your audience description or SMEs for review and feedback. While doing this, you can make specific feedback requests by asking your reviewers how engaging or clear your technical document is to get more focused and useful feedback. You can make specific feedback requests by asking your reviewers how engaging or clear your technical document is to get more focused and useful feedback.

You can also ask them if your document answers the questions you listed when setting the goals and objectives to ensure that it is relevant. To get a thorough view of your document’s effectiveness, you can share it with reviewers having different perspectives or expertise levels.

Make sure to address any gaps or inconsistencies identified during the review process, boosting the quality of your technical document.

3. Incorporating Feedback and Revision:

Analyze the feedback from your reviewers to determine which feedback will be implemented and revise your document based on this.

You can employ a revision strategy. An example may be addressing vital structural changes before moving to more detailed grammar changes.

While analyzing and incorporating feedback, keep track of the changes you have made in case you need to revisit previous versions.

4. Consistency Check and Final Proofreading

Pay attention to the voice and style of your writing and ensure that you are adhering to a specific style guide like APA, MLA, or Google’s writing style guide.

Ensure that the format for the headings, lists, etc in your document is consistent throughout the document.

When proofreading, be on the lookout for grammatical errors and typos. You can use Grammar checkers, but be careful not to rely entirely on them.

5. Practical Testing and Validation

If your technical document includes hands-on instructions or coding, follow through with them yourself to ensure they work as expected.

You can also have your peer reviewers test the hands-on instructions or coding to be sure it’s simple and easy to follow.

Be ready to revise the document, as this may reveal issues you might not have anticipated.

Complete the following exercises before proceeding to the next module.

Exercise: Develop a Research Plan


In this exercise, you will practice your knowledge in information gathering and research on an emerging technology relevant to your field.


1. Choose an Emerging Technology:

Select a technology within your field of expertise that is still in its early stages of development but has the potential for significant impact. Ensure it is a topic that requires gathering information from various sources.

2. Define Your Audience and Purpose:

  • Clearly identify your target audience for the technical document: Determine who would benefit most from understanding this technology. Consider factors like existing knowledge, potential applications, and decision-making power.
  • Define the purpose of your document - whether it is to inform, instruct, or persuade.

3. Research Sources:

  • Identify at least four different sources of information for your chosen topic. These can include SMEs, technical documentation, industry publications, online forums, etc.
  • Explain why each source is relevant and how it will contribute to the overall understanding of the topic.

4. Develop a Research Plan:

  • Clearly outline the goals and objectives of your technical document.
  • Prioritize the topics based on their importance to your audience.
  • Formulate at least five specific questions that your document should answer.

5. Time Management:

  • Break down your research process into different phases.
  • Set realistic deadlines for each phase.
  • Balance the depth and breadth of your research, allocating time based on the importance and complexity of each topic.

6. Gather Information:

  • Use systematic data collection methods following your research plan.
  • Implement any effective note-taking technique (Cornell method, mind mapping, etc.).
  • Cross-verify information obtained from different sources for consistency.

7. Evaluate and Synthesize Information:

  • Evaluate the accuracy, credibility, and relevance of the information gathered.
  • Organize the information into a logical structure, identifying key themes and concepts.

8. Review and Revise:

  • Conduct a self-review of your technical document.
  • Share your document with a peer or SME for review and feedback.
  • Incorporate feedback into the document and revise accordingly.

9. Final Proofreading:

  • Conduct a final proofread, checking for clarity, consistency, and correctness.
  • Ensure you follow a specific style guide.

10. Reflection:

  • Write a brief reflection on the challenges faced during the information gathering process and how you addressed them.
  • Highlight any adjustments you made to the research plan based on evolving information.



  • Host your developed research plan and a brief reflection on the challenges and adjustments made during the process on our blog or any other blog you wish to.
  • Make a post and tag us on Twitter at @TechnicalWriti6


Answer the following questions.