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Writing The Technical Article - Issues To Ponder

By Edited Nov 13, 2013 2 2

Most technical articles are written primarily for engineers, scientists, and manufacturing areas. The lay individual does not really see these articles unless they are researching certain criteria related to their subject in question. Since I have spent twenty (20) years of my life writing data sheets, explaining data processes, and writing operating procedures, I will attempt to explain what you can do. I will explain the important aspects of a simple subject that you want to write about and justify the reasons for supporting your information.

The United States government has a reputation of producing data, manuals, procedures, and even laws. I believe you might want to term it as gobblelygook. The term used is an example of how words complicate ideas and make issues and facts difficult to understand. It makes statements and rules often very subjective. Words like; elucidate instead of clarity, antithesis instead of opposite, or homogenous instead of similar. Often using extreme intellectual verbiage keeps the layperson in a quandary or makes oneself feel higher in stature above the average individual.

The real key for technical writing is for one person in a trade, engineering or specialized education to transfer the ideas to another in their proper field. Many average people have a difficult time in interpreting the information because of their lack of skill in those fields. The government, well, that is another dire subject so we will deviate away from that useless drivel.

Typically, there are actually two (2) ways of writing a technical article. The first is when two people in the same field communicate with each other and they understand each other. As an example, if I was discussing my venture on a fishing creek and I said I used a Royal Coachman or a light Cahill, you, as a non-fly fisherman would scratch your head and wonder. Jargon is the term used and people with similar interests understand it. The second way would be for a technical writer to duplicate the same information but downplay it to make the average person understand certain complexities without throwing him into a tizzy. There is a saying we used to use, "KISS; Keep It Simple Stupid". We shall skip the complex version and concentrate on the latter.

To downplay the information, there are a few rules and they are critical. The easiest one is using acronyms. An acronym is a series of letters pronounced as a word. As an example; START, if it is used in a sentence, you would not know what the person means by it. The idea of an acronym is to use it as a shortcut for writing it out. The question is, if you know what it means, does your reader? Most times the answer is no. Whenever you use an acronym, immediately define it in parentheses, i.e. START (STrategic Arms Reduction Treaty). After defining it, you can continue using the acronym.

The same rule applies to standard words that are necessary for data explanation. If the word is uncommon, define it immediately. Do not let your reader guess the meaning, i.e. Porosity; a material laced with tiny pores that allows fluids or gasses to pass through or permeate. You wrote it, defined it, and when the word appears again, your reader will understand it. This also applies to formulas such as NaCl (Sodium Chloride or salt)

When you are explaining a situation or describing something where it may be difficult to visualize, remember that you can, but does your reader? You, as a writer, must assume that your readership is not familiar as a whole. The best thing to do is produce a drawing, a photo, or a chart. Refer to the illustration and designate it, such as (See Diagram 1) or (See Figure 3). This way, your reader can visualize and understand the description exactly as you intended. When you are writing numbers, you must define the word versus the character. This will make it clear to the reader what you mean, i.e. write five (5). Always follow your word with a number in parentheses.

Keep all your facts and data in the correct sequence. If you list something out of place, your readers will be obviously confused. In a technical or scientific paper, you cannot use emotion or bias opinion. You only state the facts or the data. You can end the article with recommendations, solutions and you can list failure data from the analyses. There are many isolated issues, but it would not behoove me to linger and bore you to death.

You can still apply much of this writing to your everyday, typical article. Especially the ones where you talk about specific items when using letters as a name of an object, i.e. USB cable (Universal Serial Bus). Most of us know what it is, but many do not know what it stands for.

Technical writing is definitely an art in itself. You cannot just learn it, you have to live and breathe it. Many writers think you can just pick a subject and write. It is a long drawn out process of research and intense data collection. A technical article is not a company's product advertising piece loaded with facts.

It is strictly written for actually three (3) reasons; As a failure analysis, as an internal (engineering) product specification with limitations for usage, or for non-technical readership to promote a product in more lighter terms of the product's capabilities (i.e. the specification sheets that come with your electronic components minus the unit's schematics).

Car repair manuals are an example of public readership, as opposed to the engineering drawings, deviation limits, and specifications within the manufacturer's internal engineering staff.

Regular writers have a difficult time with technical writing because of the intense specifications and test data. I know at times when I worked for a missile/transponder company; I had to sit with a few engineers to help me understand the actual operation of a product because of the newer micro and nano technology specifications. Even with my vast knowledge, the innovation and constant design invention is difficult to grasp without any practical background in the ever-changing fields.

Understanding this will help even more if you decide to venture into the dark realm of technology. Make sure your calculations are correct and all your references to any of the data are absolute, meaning, there is no guesswork. Relate the information and consider your reader now informed and familiar with your content. There is one last thing to remember. If you are writing a standard article with technical facts, you do not have to be as strict in your writing. You can add puns, opinions, and put your character in it. Be yourself, but be accurate.
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Comments

Nov 17, 2009 1:35am
goodselfme
I am so glad this is posted here, so I can come back again and again and reread it. Thank you for your great skill at talking in terms that I appreciate and value along with, can use. I will use this info. thumbs up here for sure!
Dec 6, 2009 11:07am
JennyHeart
I agree with goodselfme. Great well written article!
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