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Writing Skills

Technical Writing

Technical writing is a required skill for the successful academician. Journal articles, papers, proposals, and manuals are all part of ongoing career growth. The ability to write and communicate clearly will broaden the impact of your work.

Technical writing does not have to be boring and dry. It does have to be accurate and concise. Grammar, spelling and punctuation are necessary tools for precision. Style may, however, be sacrificed for clarity in technical writing.

What has changed in the field of technical writing?
The Amount of Available Information
  • Email, the internet
  • You know you have too much information to process
  • Get to the point
  • More important than ever to consider the non-native reader
  • Choose words that can be easily translated and widely understood
  • More tools available to add graphics, easy to read fonts and other aids to the reader
  • You are frequently your own editor.
  • Don’t leave editing and proofreading to your machine
  • Get a knowledgeable person, other than yourself, to proof and edit
Accuracy & Clarity are more important than grammar & style
  • It is acceptable to repeat words for clarity (this is not acceptable in non-technical writing)
  • Email has changed the way we read
    • Sentence fragments can be used for clarity
    • Shorter blocks of text and bulleted points are preferred

What has remained the same in the field of technical writing?
Grammar, spelling & punctuation are still important
  • Strunk & White's The Elements of Style is still a great resource
Writer's block still hits at the most inopportune times
  • Robert Boice recommends short blocks of daily writing to overcome writer's block
  • Never strive for perfection the first time
  • Get something on paper, revise later
The audience still steers the content
  • Analyze your audience
    • Experts, Executives, General Public
    • Level of Education
    • What do they care about?
  • Write to the majority - Accommodate the minority
    • Gary Blake & Robert Bly recommend a “gist” test
      • Will all the members of your audience be able to get the “gist” of your report?
Exception: Proposal writing. If one of your reviewers can’t get more than the “gist”, you may get cut early in the review process. Write proposals so all reviewers can follow easily. Write your proposal summary so an educated person in a different field of study can understand.