Editor’s Choice An Introduction to the Craft of Technical Communication

Editor's Choice An Introduction to the Craft of Technical CommunicationMost students despise technical writing. The dryness of the language is boring and hard to perfect. Students may get lost in its lack of personal pronouns and feel as if they are drowning in a format of verbs and nouns and they have lost sight of what they were trying to say.

If this sounds familiar it’s because this is a common problem. Technical writing is one of the necessary evils of communication, but students and writers should enter into the work with a sense of pride more than degradation. Without technical writing the fullness of technology would not be possible. Technical writing may be dry and boring, but it is very important and can even be as serious as life and death.

The Goals of Technical Writing

No matter the type of writing, whether it is a brochure, a lab or research paper, an owner’s manual, a set of instructions, or even a book report, the purpose is to communicate and explain information to an audience. This might sound obvious and unimportant, but it is actually very serious. If a set of instructions for a potentially dangerous machine or product does not provide understandable and immediately clear warnings a user or operator could pay with his or her life. Machine operators have lost fingers, hands, arms, even their lives because of a writer’s failure to provide an adequate warning or explanation of a hazard.
With this in mind, the writer should remember the many goals of technical writing and communication:

  1. Be clear
  2. Be concise
  3. Be accurate

Clarity: Think of this goal as a straightforwardness language. Do not use lofty abstract words to say something. Instead present it step-by-step and use specific words for procedures or objects. This is related to accurateness. Do not be afraid or too lazy to look something up to achieve this specific language.

The Formatting of Technical Writing

Conciseness:

Don’t add unnecessary words. Get the message across plainly. Many inexperienced students believe that they can “fudge” a report and make it “sound good” by dropping in large multi-syllable words to enhance a sentence. The truth is the only thing they are doing is extending the sentence and gumming up the paper.

Accurate:

As mentioned in the note on clarity, don’t be afraid to look something up. If a procedure for evaporating water in a chemistry experiment has a certain name, use it. Be specific by knowing all of these obscure terms. If the paper is a step-by-step guide, make sure to outline the steps thoroughly. Imagine that the audience has no idea or background on the topic and fill them in accordingly.

Point of View

The basic structure of most technical writing is that it is done without the first person (I-voice). That means the writer is invisible and removes his or herself from the paper or project. Also, the second person (you voice) is not usually used. Do not address the audience directly. In fact technical writing is not true third person as it would be found in a novel or work of creative nonfiction like a memoir. Unless told otherwise by a teacher, assume that the paper will have absolutely no I or you- voice.