The way we communicate reveals many things about us: our emotions, our view of the world, our interests, and our experience with the different methods of communication. Technical communication differs from other forms of communication in several ways, including audience, purpose, and style. The chapters of this book introduce many of the concepts that make technical communication distinctive and effective for writers, modem speakers, and listeners in the workplace. Most of the concepts apply primarily to written communication, but you can apply them equally to spoken communication.
- Identify the factors to consider in technical communication.
- Analyze the audience.
- Rewrite passages for a different audience
- Spell plurals correctly.
- Use pseudo and quasi correctly.
- Use its and it’s correctly.
What Is Technical Communication?
Technical communication is the process of transmitting facts and information to a defined audience for a specific purpose. More simply, technical communication is writing for understanding. Technical writers present information in science, electronics, or other technical areas on a professional level, backed up by data and facts, so that the information is complete and accurate. Most companies expect employees to communicate regularly on a business level through e-mails, letters, and memos. Some positions, usually higher-level, re-quire reports, proposals, instructions, and presentations. Employees who can produce focused; clear documents often have a competitive edge over others who are less skilled with written communication.
We have available to us today a wide variety of equipment and computer soft-ware to make our writing, research, and distribution efficient. We use word processors, desktop publishers, graphics programs, and multimedia presentation software, rich with features and versatility. We have innovative equipment such as modems, digital cameras, and scanners that transmit or process information into usable forms. The Internet offers millions of Web sites on which we can shop, re-search, and communicate with others. We have entire encyclopedias on the Internet, and multiple Internet search engines to research topics and locate data from thou-sands of sources online. We have laptop and hand-held computers, portable digital assistants (PDAs), and portable digital notepads (PDNs) to take with us from place to place. We even have computer software that types what we dictate (called speech-recognition software) and reads our computer documents, e-mails out loud using a computer-generated voice (called text-to-speech soft-ware). In recent years, the variety, power, and speed of communication tools have given us access to a staggering amount of data that we must then convert into in-formation. We are surrounded by technical information. As an example, look at the back of a common frozen-food carton. It is a marvel of verbal efficiency and visual layout, containing everything you need to know about the product. It contains preparation instructions, an ingredients list, nutrition facts, and pictures showing the prepared product. In addition, packages include serving suggestions, marketing information, a bar code for grocery store scanners, safety warnings, and recycling information, all carefully worded and laid out so they are succinct, accurate, visible, and understandable. This example might seem like a simple writing project, but in fact, it is a challenge undertaken only by teams of experienced technical writers, designers, and marketers. Every carton design has probably gone through extensive reviews, edits, redesigns, marketing.
Factors to Consider in Technical Communication:
For most of us, the ability to write a meaningful report or a hard-hitting memo develops slowly. As with any skill, practice and experience are essential. To get started, look at the factors technical writers must consider before beginning any type of technical communication. These are audience, purpose, format, and style.
Audience: The audience could consist of managers, coworkers, customers and clients, the general public, or any combination. They will have different levels of understanding and different information needs that require specific formats and styles of communication.
Purpose: The purpose of a technical document could be to inform, explain, describe, persuade, or record your actions. Some documents have multiple purposes, and some purposes overlap, such as a request for equipment (to persuade) that includes a technical description of the equipment (to describe).
Technical communication can be written in the following formats:
- Reports or documents, such as proposals, lab reports, product specifications, or quality-test results.
- Record-keeping forms, such as service reports, travel and expense forms, or troubleshooting logs.
- Instructions, such as user guides, online help, and training manuals.
- Correspondence, such as letters, memos, and e-mails.
- Presentations, such as interviews, marketing calls, or training seminars. Some types of communication employ a combination of formats, such as a letter or e-mail that includes a message and a backup report as an attachment.
Style: Writers base the style (language, organization, and layout) of the document on the audience, purpose, and format. The language can include many technical terms, called jargon, or it can include general terms and definitions of technical terms. The document might need a visible structure of headings and subheadings or even chapters to identify the flow of in-formation, such as a product specification or manual. Or the document might not need visible clues for structure, such as a casual e-mail or memo focused on only one topic, comprised of only a few paragraphs. The layout can consist of condensed paragraphs that fill the pages of the document, or it can provide lots of white space, with examples, charts, or graphics to illustrate points and bulleted or numbered lists to highlight main points. These types of visual aids allow for a quick or scanned reading.
Preferences of Technical Readers: Generally people who read technical in-formation prefer sentences that get straight to the point. They prefer words that are functional, exact, and dear. They prefer paragraphs that are short, with each paragraph focused on only one idea. And they prefer a visible organization with headings, bulleted lists, and numbered steps, and graphics and examples that illustrate the details of the subject.
Style Guides: A style guide is a reference book for writers. It offers guidelines on the finer points of word usage, punctuation, and mechanics for standard communication, beyond the basic rules of grammar and punctuation. The differences between style guides might appear to be slight, but they provide for consistency in such things as formatting headings, citations, and quotations.
Technical Audience: The technical audience includes practitioners in your field: those with technical experience and training, such as technicians and engineers. A technical audience understands fundamental concepts and jargon without definitions or background information. Readers expect the writer to use technical language efficiently and appropriately. For this audience, writers use technical terms and precise data to con-vey information. The following example is a paramedic’s report written for a technical audience: the medical staff at an emergency room. If you do not have medical training, the example above probably made little sense.
Semi technical Audience: This type of audience has some technical training or works in the industry, but not directly in the field, such as those working in related departments or those with training in related technical areas. This might even include personnel in marketing, finance, or administration of a technical company. The semi-technical audience needs some explanation of concepts, abbreviations. and jargon. Writers use technical terms only if they are common in the company or industry. For this audience, you might provide an orientation to the subject and explain or interpret the terms and in-formation. The following example is a version of the first example revised for students in an emergency medical technician program or a first-aid class:
Nontechnical Audience: The last type of audience is the general public, an unknown audience, or any combination of technical, semi-, and nontechnical readers, including customers, clients, and patients. It might also include upper management—a group that is uninvolved with technical activities, but that must have enough information to make decisions for the company. This audience expects a clear organization that progresses from the background to the new information, with examples or illustrations to ex-plain points that may be confusing.
For this audience, writers provide the most comprehensive treatment of the subject, such as common terminology, simple language free of jargon and technical data, a full background and orientation to the subject, and a complete discussion of the main points. To simplify difficult concepts, writers often compare technical processes to more familiar ones through analogies and metaphors.
What does the audience want to know?
The audience, whether technical or general, might want only the highlights of the information. For example, a manager might want bottom-line information. such as total cost, time frame, or budget impact. Or the audience might want detailed information, including all the back-ground, procedures used, visual aids, data tables. and your conclusions. For ex-ample, customers will want estimates and explanations for repairs, especially if it’s bad news, or troubleshooting information to solve or prevent a problem. or coworkers might want you to provide exact procedures for a process.
What does the audience intend to do with the information?
This is the critical question. People read technical information for a purpose. Sometimes that purpose is simply for general interest. If so, you can make the subject more interesting for this audience by providing graphics, examples, and colorful details. Journalists and science writers address this audience, as you will see in a few of the reading articles in this book. Other times, the audience wants to follow a procedure, solve a problem, and make a decision. Writers must anticipate questions and provide the organization and details this audience needs. For example, a manager might want the information needed to complete a projected budget for next year. A colleague might want to replicate a lab procedure. A customer might pay a bill (or refuse to pay it) based on an explanation of your service.
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