Technical Writing Basics: Being ConciseFitness Equipment
This article is not intended to replace a full Technical Writing course. It is offered as a quick and dirty guide outlining the basic techniques and styles used within the technical writing field. This guide is for people who do not normally write technical documents.
For clarity and ease of use I am breaking this information into 5 articles that cover the basic techniques used in Technical Writing including:
• Being Concise
• Using the Active Voice
Being concise simply means getting the main point or idea across to your audience without using a lot of extra words. Sounds easy but most people use styles and constructs that are wordy. This article will demonstrate 6 methods to make your writing clear and concise.
Nominalization is a fancy way of saying “Get rid of abstract nouns and replace them with verbs”. An abstract noun is a thing that cannot be touched and they usually end with “ness”, “ion”, “ity”. Two examples of abstract nouns are "exploration" and "happiness".
By using strong verbs instead of abstract nouns the sentence becomes much clearer and more concise.
Excavation of the Thompson site must be effected before the end of the year.
Excavate the Thompson site before the end of the year.
Use nominalization to get rid of the abstract nouns.
2) Noun versus Verb
Technical writing is mainly about action based writing. What is this object? What does it do? How do I use it? These are questions that by their very nature are action oriented. As such, action words “Verbs” work much better in technical documents. Nouns are usually part of a noun phrase.
A noun phrase is a combination of a noun, usually abstract, and another word. In most cases noun phrases can be replaced with verbs.
Sentences that use verbs are shorter and easier to understand. They are consice.
3) Wordy Phrases
Wordy phrase are small groups of words that are used as stock phrases. They are cliché. Some writers add these phrases because they believe it makes the document sound more intellectual. Technical writing is about efficient, effective communications, save the aesthetics for your poems. Most wordy phrases can be replaced with a single word.
|Due to the fact||Because|
|During the course of||During|
|For the purpose of||For|
|In the final analysis||Finally|
|In the event that||If|
|With regards to||About|
|In the proximity of||Near|
More words mean more reading for the end user before they can get to the information they need. Not what you want in a technical document.
4) Constructs to Avoid
Avoid these common constructs in technical writing.
“THERE ARE” plus “THAT
“IT IS” plus “THAT
Both of these constructs delay the delivery of information about who or what is doing something.
THERE ARE many reasons THAT this construct should be avoided.
Avoid this construct.
IT IS a well know fact THAT electrical elements can cause server burns.
Electrical elements can cause sever burns.
By avoiding these constructs, the information is more concise and the sentence is shorter. As a technical writer you are not paid by the word.
5) Delete Extra Words
Deleting words is easy, knowing which ones are extra is the hard part. Words are extra if:
a) The word does not add a necessary transition between ideas.
b) The word does not provide new information to the reader.
Due to his position as head of public relations at Example Company, he planned such that he would be able to attend the meeting.
As head of public relations at Example Company, he planned to attend the meeting.
Most technical writing jobs do not have a minimum number of words. Cover the information in the most efficient manner possible.
Parallelism means using a similar style for each item listed in a sequence. By having the items listed in the same style, the information is easy to comprehend and the reader has a sense of knowing what is coming.
|Turn off the VXI||Power down the VXI|
|Power down the PLC chassis||Power down the PLC chassis|
|Shut down the CEC chassis||Power down the CEC chassis|
|Shut off the RTE computer||Power down the RTE computer|
|Power off the monitor||Power down the monitor|
Pick a style that is concise and easy to understand and then apply it to all of the items.
Parallelism also applies to the overall document. This article is an example. Each item, or main point is listed with a number, 1, 2, 3, etc. If the items had been listed like the example below, the user would have been confused.
B) Noun versus Verb
iii) Wordy Phrases
IV) Constructs to Avoid
Is "B" a sub-section of "1"? Is "IV" higher in the hierarchy than "iii"? Why make the end user's task more difficult? Parallelism eliminates the confusion and can be applied to the document as a whole, right down to individual items within the document.
Making the end user's task easier by providing relevant information in an easy to find, easy to understand manner is the main objective in technical writing. Using these 6 methods to make your writing more concise goes a long way to acheiving that goal.