DEFINITION OF TECHNICAL WRITING
Technical writing is difficult to define. Researchers in the field simply have not agreed on a definition. To help Yolk( though, this section proposes an operational definition and then explains technical writing’s purposes and characteristics.
An Operational Definition of Technical Writing
Technical uniting is the practical writing that people do as part of their jobs. Whatever their position – from executive to middle manager, from specialized
research scientist to secretary – people generate documents as an expected part of their responsibilities. These documents enable businesses; corporations; and public agencies, including governmental units, schools, and hospitals, to achieve their goals and maintain their operations. Some documents may be brief a memo on the progress of a project could be one page long” Other documents are lengthy a report on the feasibility of a certain site for a new plant could be hundreds of pages long; some military manuals are thousands of pages Regardless of the type of type of produced or its or its length technical writing is a is medium that transmit the knowledge of people need to full fill their role in origination.
Purposes of Technical Writing
Although technical writing occurs in many places and takes many forms, it has two basic purposes to inform and to persuade Most technical writing informs. To carry out their functions in the workplace, people must supply or receive information constantly. They need to know or explain the scheduled time for a meeting, the division’s projected profits, the physical description of a new machine, the steps in a process, the results of and experiment.
Technical writing also persuades. On the job, people must persuade others to follow certain courses of action. A writer not only describes two sites for a factory but also persuades readers to accept one of them as the best. Another writer describes a problem. in a certain situation – perhaps a bottleneck in a production process – then persuades readers to simplify the solution he or she proposes. In a slightly different vein, persuading is teaching or instructing ..Someone must tell consumers how to use their new purchase, whether it is a clock.radio or a mainframe computer.
Someone must tell medical personnel exactly how to react when a patient has a heart attack in a hospital. The documents that achieve these purposes are called technical writing:
Characteristics of Technical Writing
Technical writing has four common characteristics (Cunningham). It engages a specific audience; uses plain; objective language: stresses clear organization and uses visual aids.
Specific Audience Technical writing engages a specific audience about a practical matter. The workers who must attend a meeting receive the memo that announces it. The consumer who must program the VCR receives the manual that explains the process. The executive who must choose between two alternatives receives the feasibility report that explains them. The reader receives the document because of his or her role in the situation: If the reader has no role in the situation, he or she neither receives nor searches out the documents Knowing this, good technical always generate documents whose goal is to address the needs of readers.
Objective Language Technical writing is written in plain, objective language. Since its purpose is to inform or persuade a reader about a specific practical matter, technical writing focuses the attention on the relevant facts. The reader should respond only to the”‘subject; when ever it is. As much as possible, the words should not cause the readers to add their own personal interpretations to the. subject. Contrast this kind of writing with writing designed to engage emotions – poems, novels, plays, and reflective essays. Here is a description. of a death from the novel, A Thief of Time, by Tony Hillerrnan. Notice that the wording is designed to engage the reader’s feelings, to help the reader feel the sinning finality of death. “There’s no good way to tell you this, Mr. Leap horn,” the voice had said. “We lost her. Just now. It was a blood clot. Too much infection.
Too much strain. But if it’s any consolation, it must have been almost instantaneous.” He could see the man’s face – pink-white skin, bushy blond eyebrows, blue eyes reflecting the cold light of the surgical waiting room through the
lenses of horn-rimmed glasses, the small, prim mouth speaking to him. He could still hear the. words, loud over the hum of the hospital air conditioner.’ It was like a remembered nightmare. Vivid. But he could not remember getting into his car in the parking lot, or driving through Gallup to Ship rock, or any of the rest of that day. He could remember only reviving his thoughts of the days before the operation. Emma’s tumor would be removed. His joy that she was not being destroyed, as he had dreaded for so long, by the terrible, incurable, inevitable Alzheimer’s disease. It was just a tumor. Probably not malignant. Easily curable. Emma would soon be herself again, memory restored. Happy. Healthy beautiful.
“The chances?” the surgeon had said. “Very good, Better than ninety percent complete recovery. Unless something goes wrong, an excellent prognosis.”But something had gone wrong.The tumor and its placement were worse than expected. The operation had taken much longer than expected. Then infection, and the fatal clot.
Now consider a set of instructions prescribing courses of action in a life-or-death situation – a heart attack in’ a hospital. When a head nurse describes the procedures to follow in this situation, she chooses words that enable the reader to focus on the actions that will save the victim. She neither wishes nor tries to engage the subjective emotional dimension of the situation. To accomplish her goal, she states the desired actions and Here is such a set of instructions (“Dr. Heart” the precise wording that is designed to produce professional, unemotional response.
1. The ICU/CCU-trained RN, or supervisor, shall take charge of arrest situation and designate responsibilities.
2. Record arrest events and treatment on Critical Care Flow Sheet. (Person to be designated by RN in charge.) If extra RN is available, she will critique code by using the code rating scale (appointment by charge RN).
3. Place the cardiac board under patient when crash cart arrives.
4. Use ambu bag and Elder valve to replace initial mouth-to-mouth ventilation.
5. Connect patient to monitor.
6. Plug in defibrillator and turn on.
7. Start IV with 5% dextrose using largest gauge needle possible and an”addit” IV tubing set.
8. Prepare stlction apparatus for use.
9. Prepare intubation equipment for use when qualified person arrives.
10. Administer IV medications if the physician orders. Administer NaHCO 1 amp
every 5 minutes x 2.
11. When the physician arrives, explain time elapsed and patient condition.
Of course, human beings are not machines, and emotions are part of all, human activity. A nurse working on a heart attack victim might experience a traumatic emotional reaction, caused perhaps by the victim’s resemblance to someone dose to her. The point, however, is that the set of instructions does not encourage an emotional, subjective response. The instructions, written in plain, objective language, focus the reader’s attention only on I act of saving a life.
Clear Organization Technical writing is clearly organized, which makes it easier to read and organization clearly, good technical writers employ. and emphasize words and phrases that point out structure. Since strategies for organizing are discussed fully in Chapter 4, only three will be briefly mentioned here. Technical writers “set up” a document, they use obvious repetition, and they emphasize transitions at the beginnings of paragraphs and sentences, To “set up” a document means to follow the old rule, “Tell them what , you’re going to say, then say it.” At the beginning of the document writers’ often name the topic idea and list the topic’s subdivisions. To use obvious repetition means to repeat key words. To emphasize transitions means to use words that clearly indicate the start of a new section. Careful writers place words like first, second, or another at the beginning of sentences. Readers respond positively to such devices because the material is easier to comprehend. The following brief paragraphs use these devices.
A specification is a detailed description of the requirements for the design and construction of parts, assemblies, or a complete product. Specifications cart also be the requirements for a process in manufacturing. A product developer will write three kinds of specifications: testing, processing, and initial fabricating.
Testing specifications are taken from the operating environment in which the part will function. The engineer examines such elements as temperature, pressure, moisture, time of use, and number of cycles in the service life. Then he or she specifies tests to duplicate the worst possible scenario that the part will be expected to endure. Processing specifications are the guidelines necessary tor makinglhe part. Processing conditions such as heating, rate of cooling, mold temperature, injection pressure, and rate of flow are all examples of controls to be specified.Initial fabricating specifications usually come from the blueprints and contain tolerances tor all declensions. Tolerances are the range from the minimum acceptable size to the maximum acceptable size for all dimensions. Fabricating .specifications also contain instructions for creating unusual shapes or angles.
experiments or projects almost always include tables or graphs. Manuals . and sets of.instructions rely’ heavily on drawings and photographs. Feasibility reports might even include maps of sites. In addition to the “picture” visual aid, the format of each page helps to convey meaning. Technical writers numbered vertical list s,various marginal indentations, and white space between lines to emphasize important points or clarify difficult ones. a page from the Mac Write software program manual (Stanton-Woman and Espionage 50)], uses visual aids and page design effectively to convey its message. The main heading, “Working With Windows,” is larger than the three subheadings. A set-up list of key terms (“title bar,” “close box,” and so on) occurs ‘in paragraph 2 of the introduction. The type of the four headings and the four columns is aligned exactly at the top. Vertical lines divide the text into units. In the square boxes, the dashed diagonal lines and the dotted parallel lines clearly indicate the actions in the text. The three pictures exactly represent the computer screen. All these elements work together to help a reader easily grasp a complex topic.
In the workplace, people write often, and the quality of their writing affects their career advancement. Technical writing is the practical writing that people do as part of their jobs. The most common types of technical writing are memos, letters, and short reports. The most necessary skills are organizing and writing clearly. Technical writing.
1. Interview a professional in your field of interest. Choose an instructor whom you know or a person who does not work on campus. Ask questions about the importance of writing to that person’s job. Questions you might ask include How often do you write each day or week? How important is what you write to the successful performance of your job? Is writing important to your promotion?What would be a major faulting a piece of writing in your profession? What are the features of writing (clarity, organization, spelling, etc.) that you look for in someone else’s writing and strive for in your own writing? Write a one-page memo in which you present your findings. Your instructor may ask you to read your memo to your classmates.
2. Photocopy a one- or two-page selection that you’ consider good technical writing. Use a textbook, an operator’s manual, a technical report you may have seen, an article from a journal, a sales brochure, or some other document. Write one to three paragraphs to your instructor explaining why the selection is good technical writing. Refer to the two purposes and four characteristics of technical writing described in this chapter.
3. Photocopy two selections that treat the same subject – one technically, the other emotionally. You can find good contrasts by using poetry and textbooks – for instance, a poetic description of a bird and a field guide description of the same bird. Write several paragraphs to your instructor comparing the selections and pointing out the” features that make the technical writing objective and the poetic description emotional.