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Technical Writing Overview

Conventions

Every type of writing has its own traits and characteristics that help to identify it. Technical writing is not like writing for an essay or newspaper article.  Technical writing generally has distinct features such as the use of headings to organize information, use of table and figures to present information, and a clear and concise writing style.  Table 1 gives more information on typical technical writing conventions.

Table 1 – Typical Technical Writing Conventions2

Criteria Technical Writing Other Writing
Purpose Communicate technical information such as an experimental result or design recommendation.  Is clear, concise, and complete. To support an argument or thesis, or to entertain.  May have element of suspense to keep reader reading.
Audience Varies, but can be fellow employees, managers, clients, stakeholders, or public. Varies, but often written for the public.
Writing Style Clear, concise, complete.  Direct language with clear purpose.  Technical terms used (may need to be defined) Building purpose.  Laying groundwork to support argument.  Flowing and entertaining style.
Tone Business – professional – formal.  Generally, avoid personal pronouns. Personal – conversational – informal
Structure Highly structured.   Clear headings and sub-headings with short organized paragraphs designed to orient and move reader through. Some structure, but headings may be more intriguing less clear and often sub-headings not used.
Format/Formatting Varies.  Electronic or printed, visual or non-visual, long or short.  Uses headings as well as tables and figures.  Style guides used to establish formatting rules. Varies.
Other Objective and neutral.  Results and recommendations evidence and data driven.  Precise and quantitative. May be persuasive to support an argument.  May use evidence but often more qualitative.

In the Toolbox

Writing

Technical writing is not like writing for an essay or newspaper article. Technical writing generally has distinct features, such as the use of headings to organize information; use of table and figures to present information; and a clear and concise writing style.

Figures, Tables, Equations

One of the things that distinguishes technical communication is the heavy use of Figures, Tables, and Equations. These are a critical part of the communication, perhaps more important than the writing itself, and should be presented with the same level of care as the writing.

Presentations

Visual presentations have a powerful impact on viewers. Preparing a professional, yet interesting, presentation can be even more important than writing a professional report. Take the time to prepare a presentation carefully.

Spreadsheets

You may not think that a spreadsheet is a form of technical communication…but they are. Often spreadsheets are used for engineering calculations and are shared with other engineers, bosses, even clients. Once shared, it becomes communication!

Examples of Technical Writing

Examples of technical writing show the use of headings, table and figures. Real-world reports includes examples of Laboratory, Design, and Technical Reports illustrating appropriate formatting and language use.

Examples of Student Writing

Examples of student writing show the proper formatting, language, voice, and use of figures. Samples include course project notebooks, homework assignments, lab reports, resumes, and poster sessions; as well as tips for email and homework.

Remember, all written documents (paper and digital) are a permanent record. They may become a legal record as well. Always be clear, accurate and complete in your writing.

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