Technical Writing Style
As you draft and edit, it is helpful to keep in mind the effective ways to present sentences and paragraphs.
When you revise your drafts, check the language and remove any area of possible confusion. If you have repeated any word, see whether you can change the sentence. The following passages will help you to be aware of any difficult construction of sentences, so that you can modify the same and ensure reader's comfort.
Write Clear Sentences
Follow these guidelines for writing sentences which will be clear to the readers.
- Keep the main idea on top.
- Use active voice.
- Employ parallelism.
- Repeat for emphasis.
- Write sentences of 15 to 25 words.
- Provide transitions.
- Avoid wordiness.
- Avoid redundancy.
Keep the Main Idea on Top
This is the key principle in writing so that your sentences are easy to understand. Place the sentence's main idea, the subject, first. The subject makes the rest of the sentence accessible. Readers therefore orient themselves and they are able to interact with the subsequent discussion.
See this example from a popular newspaper.
"Doubts persist over World Cup 2007." (Note how the interest of the reader is immediately captured.)
(Now the details follow.)"Clouds are gathering over the West Indies, and they are more than rain-bearing masses of cumulous. With eight months and a few days to go for the 2007 World Cup, doubts are increasingly being aired about the ability of the region to host a venture of such and complexity." Thus readers are informed about the crux of the problem so that they are interested to read on.
Use Normal Word Order
The normal word order in English is subject-verb-object. This order makes it easier to read as it reveals the topic first and the structures the idea. This order produces sentences which are clear to the readers and do not cause any confusion.
Read the following sentence. "Finance Minister on Tuesday backed the Central Bank's decision to increase interest rates, stating that the move was aimed at containing inflation." The sentence is clear, though a little long (23 words) and follows natural flow.
Use Active Voice
Active voice emphasizes performer of the function and not the receiver. Active voice helps the reader follow the meaning quickly as it is sticking to subject-verb-object pattern. When the subject acts, the verb is in the active voice. When the subject is acted upon, the verb is in the passive voice. Use passive voice sparingly and when it is absolutely required.
I completed the work in time (active voice as the subject acts here.)
My mobile was stolen (passive voice as the subject is acted upon.)
Go through the following example.
Manufacturers add preservatives to food products to increase their shelf-life (emphasis is on manufacturers, which is not correct.)
Preservatives are added to food products to increase their shelf-life (emphasis is on preservatives, which is correct. In such cases, passive voice should be used.)
Use similar structures for similar elements.
The vendors promise that they will replace the old machine and to attend to the new order (wrong).
The vendors promise that they will replace the old machine and will attend to the new order.(correct)
Repeat for Emphasis
Repeat key words for emphasis so that the reader has better recall. Read the following example.
The doctrine of "No work, no pay" is a fundamental axioms in industrial relations. The philosophy is very simple. When a person is employed, he is expected to carry out the work assigned to him. When he does not do so, he is not eligible for payment of any salary. Even when a general strike disrupts public transport systems, and consequently employees are unable to reach their work places, the same principle prevails. Of course corporate may permit their staff to avail themselves of any leave to their credit. Even die-hard trade union leaders respect this principle. "No work, no pay" lays a strong foundation to industrial peace and harmony in the long run.
Connect sentences by using words that signal a sequence or pattern.
Sequence: first, second, next.
Addition: and, further.
Contrast: but, however, nevertheless.
Generally, concise expressions are more effective than verbosity. Eliminate all repetitions, subordinate clauses etc. to make the writing compact and pointed.
Examples of Wordiness
Came to the conclusion
Make an amendment to
Examples of compactness
Redundancies are words that say the same content. Conciseness is achieved by saying anything only once. In the following examples, what is bracketed may be omitted for conciseness.
During (the year) of 2006
(Needless to say)
The (other) alternative is
Choose a Tone
Now you can prepare clear, effective documents. Your documents are easy to read. However, we are assuming that the writer and reader are equal and unemotional. In practice, it may not be so. Hence it is important to control 'tone'. The 'tone' can communicate as much as the content of the message. Consider some possible 'tones' depending on the situation.
The forceful tone implies that the writer is in command. This is appropriate when the writer addresses subordinates. While writing forcefully,
- Use the active voice.
- Use imperatives.
- Clearly indicate that you are responsible.
I have decided to introduce Performance Appraisal System forthwith in our organization.
When the reader has more power than the writer, use passive voice.
The instructions to implement the new Evaluation System has been complied with
The personal tone implies that reader and writer are equal.
David thanks for your suggestion about maintenance routine. It has given good results.
The impersonal tone is employed when the writer is not important and the situation is neutral.
A proposal to introduce quality circle has been made.
Use Positive Words and Verbs
A sure way to involve your audience is to sprinkle positive words and positive verbs throughout your text. Positive words and verbs convince the reader the benefits of your subject matter.
Advantage effective satisfied value favorable success
Benefit asset profitable
Positive verbs motivate your readers. Some of the verbs that motivate your readers into action are here.
Accomplish plan achieve produce implement
Prepare organize assess promote exceed
Tune to the Audience
Tuning to the audience is the key for effectiveness of your document with the reader.
Remember the following points.
- Not all your readers will understand acronyms and abbreviations.
- Readers need glossaries.
- Provide extended definitions for technical terms.
- As multiple audiences have different levels of technical knowledge, choose carefully the amount of technical content in your document.
- Show your reader how he or she will benefit from your document.