How to do Technical Writing for Plebs and Scholars
Technical writing confounds some people. It sounds so forbidding, so difficult, conjuring images of white coats and pocket protectors pregnant with pens, and leaving most people feeling relieved they dodged the bullet and pursued some field of endeavor unknown to technical writing.
However, according to experts in technical writing, “Writing consumes a substantial portion of the working day for almost all college-educated workers,” [emphasis mine] (Hardy 7 ). Since we probably can’t escape it, let us learn not to fear it through familiarity.
Technical writing is defined as “a form of technical communication used in a variety of technical and occupational fields, such as computer hardware and software, engineering, chemistry, aeronautics and astronautics, robotics, finance, consumer electronics, and biotechnology” (The Free Dictionary). Fortunately, although technical writing is done in many fields, good technical writing abides by the same rules as do other types of writing: clarity is everything. Good writing is clear and correct, no matter the medium that conveys it.
Another option for a business style guide.
Courses in technical writing, often referred to as Business, Professional, and Technical Writing, are typically offered at the 200, or sophomore, level at most colleges and universities in the US. Students are usually required to have passed both Composition 101 and 102, also known as freshman composition sections one and two, before they are admitted to a technical writing course.
Students enrolled in technical writing courses may expect to study and produce examples of all of the basic types of business and technical correspondence, including newsletters, emails, memorandum, resumes, persuasive letters, internet and social media publications, instruction manuals, and scientific reports. Additional emphasis will be placed on clarity and correctness in the writing. Few usage errors will be tolerated since students in these classes have already passed composition sections where lower order errors, such as errors in mechanics, punctuation, and usage are mastered. A section on ethics in communication is customarily taught in technical writing courses. Some universities offer a bachelor’s or master’s degree in technical writing.
Technical writing as a separate sort of writing started around the time of the Enlightenment when human beings found themselves with complicated theories, observations, and experimental results they wanted to communicate clearly to others so that human progress in technical and scientific studies could be shared and research collaborations formed. By the early 20th century, following the examples and standards set by academia, technical writing was becoming a field in its own right. Jobs could be found, either as a technical writing specialist in a firm selling writing projects to clients or as writers in in-house writing departments in businesses.
Technical writing jobs still share much in common with academic writing jobs, most specifically in the rigorous adherence to research methodology and in the facts-only, terse, hard hitting styles often found in both types of writing. With the advent of the internet, jobs in technical and other types of writing have been steadily increasing across the world. Technical writing jobs increased due to the infinite space in the internet which made room for many more words and opportunities and because our electronics, apps, and software continue to grow increasingly complex necessitating instruction manuals. Now may well be the most opportune and exciting time to pursue a technical writing career.
Technical report writing is the primary, sometimes sole, occupation of technical writers. Other types of writing are done by technical writers, but the technical report is among the longest and most complicated tasks required. Breaking the task into steps will make the writing go more smoothly. At the outset of the writing, get a template for a report or an old report produced at the organization you will be writing the report for. A template or an old report will contain any specific writing specifications and details that are required by that organization but that may not be included in a generic template. Read the report and get a general feel for how the organization’s writing. You may also read its website or its handbook, any longish pieces of writing it has produced should give you a grasp of what is expected.
Beyond this reading and any additional directions you are given with the project, you may ask yourself these questions which reflect the basic tenets of good technical writing.
- who is my audience?
- what is the most important thing I have totell the audience?
- what is the best way of making sure my audienceunderstands all I have to say?
When these three questions are clear in the writer’s mind, the writing process can commence with optimism.
The standard format for a technical report may be divided into ten sections:
- TITLE PAGE
- TABLE OF CONTENTS
- BRIEF STATEMENT OF THE OBJECTIVES OF THE PROJECT
- BRIEF OVERVIEW OF SYSTEM MODEL, APPROPRIATE BLOCK DIAGRAMS AND PARAMETERS
- DISCUSSION OF RESULTS (all plots, tables, and other pieces of visual dialog included in the report must be discussed in the text)
- CONCLUSIONS AND LESSONS LEARNED
- APPENDICES (if needed)
A good handbook can prevent costly mistakes and is available for use without an internet signal!