Computers have made technical communication easier in countless ways. Today, many of us cannot even imagine working without tools like e-mail, instant messaging, presentation software, wordprocessors, and the Internet.
But one problem with writing on computers is that many people, especially novice writers, have not developed a dependable "writing process." Instead, they sit down at their computer and hammer out a document. The printed words on the screen give the false impression that the document is "finished" when it is really just a rough, rough draft. As a result, documents written on computers can lack the proper quality and depth.
Technical Writing Today
Of course, we all have our own ways of doing things. Writing is no different. Each of us will develop a writing process that suits his or her individual interests, needs, and work habits. Whatever your personal habits, though, it helps to see writing as a series of stages.
• Planning and Researching
• Organizing and Drafting
• Improving the Style
• Revising and Editing.
Stage 1: Planning and Researching
Before you begin drafting the document on your computer, you should give yourself time to plan and do research. Even if time is short, you should spend some time researching and planning before you start drafting. After all, half-baked ideas only confuse and frustrate the readers.
When planning and researching, you should spend some time doing three activities:
Defining the rhetorical situation—Identify your document's subject, purpose, readers, and context of use.
Defining your purpose—Sharpen your purpose into a one-sentence statement that will guide your research and drafting of the document.
Researching your subject—Use electronic, print, and empirical sources to collect information on your subject.
Defining the Rhetorical Situation
A good first step is to define the rhetorical situation that will shape the content, organization, style, and design of your document. Understanding the rhetorical situation means gaining a firm grasp of your document's subject, purpose, readers, and context of use.
Defining the Rhetorical Situation
To define the rhetorical situation, you should start out by asking the five-W and How Questions: who, what, why, where, when, and how.
• Who are our readers, and who else is involved?
• What do the readers want and need, and what do we want and need?
• Why do the readers need the information in this document?
• Where do they need the information, and where will they use it?
• When will the information be used, and when is it needed?
• How should we achieve our purpose and goals?
Spend some time taking notes on the following four issues:
Subject—What is the document about? What is it not about? What kinds of information will my readers need to make a decision or complete a task? What is the scope of the project?
Purpose—Why is this document needed? What does it need to achieve or prove?
Readers—Who are the readers of this document? What are their needs and interests?
Context of use—Where and when will this document be used? What physical, economic, political, and ethical constraints will shape this text?
As you begin the writing process, it is helpful to consider these four categories separately. In some cases, especially with larger documents, it is helpful to write down your answers, so you can keep yourself focused and on track.
Defining Your Purpose
Among the four elements of the rhetorical situation, your document's purpose is probably the most important. It is what you want to do—and what you want the document to achieve.
Your purpose statement is like a compass for the document. Once you have clearly defined it for yourself and your readers, you can use that purpose statement to guide your decisions about the content, organization, style, and design of your document.
Researching Your Subject
Solid research is your next step. While researching your subject, you need to gather information from a variety of sources, including the Internet, print documents, and empirical methods (e.g., experiments, surveys, observations, interviews).
Computers have significantly changed the way we do research in technical workplaces. Before computers, finding sufficient information was usually a writer's main challenge. Today, there is almost too much information available on any given subject. So, it is important that you learn how to manage information, sorting through all the texts, scraps, junk, and distortions to uncover what you need. Your documents should give your readers only the information they need to make a decision or take action. Leave out anything else.
Stage 2: Organizing and Drafting
Organizing and drafting is usually the hardest part of the writing process. While organizing and drafting, you are essentially doing two things at the same time:
Organizing the content—Using common genres to shape your ideas into documents that will be familiar to the readers.
Drafting the content—Generating the content of your document by including facts, data, reasoning, and examples.
As you write your document, you will move back and forth between organizing and drafting.
Organizing the Content
Before drafting, you need to decide how to organize the information you collected in a way that achieves your purpose.
INTRODUCTIONS, BODIES, AND CONCLUSIONS All technical documents tend to have a beginning (introduction), a middle (body), and an end (conclusion).
The introduction sets a context for the document by telling readers your subject, purpose, and main point. It might also offer background information on the subject, while stressing the importance of the subject and forecasting the structure of the rest of the document.
The body presents the content of the document. The body includes facts, data, reasoning, and examples that help the document achieve its purpose and prove its main point.
The conclusion reestablishes the context for the document by restating the main point, restressing the importance of the subject to the readers, and looking to the future.
A well-written technical document begins by offering contextual information up front in the introduction Basically, the introduction tells readers the who, what, where, when, why, and how. Then, the body provides the content (the need-to-know information) that readers want. The conclusion reframes the discussion by circling back to the contextual information stated in the introduction.
GENRES. Technical documents also follow patterns of organization called genres. A genre is a familiar pattern that readers will expect the document to follow.
For example, a report is a genre that usually includes sections on methodology, results, discussion, and recommendations. A set of instructions, quite differently, leads the readers step-by-step through a process/Both of these genres achieve different purposes, so they organize information differently.
If you are uncertain which genre suits your needs, pay attention to your document's purpose. Then, find the genre that best suits the purpose you are trying to achieve.
Drafting the Content
When you start drafting your document, remember that the purpose of drafting is not to create the final version of your document. The purpose of drafting is to put your ideas on the screen so you can work with them. Don't worry about "getting it right" or writing in a polished way.
Sometimes the hardest part of drafting is just putting words on the screen. After all, you probably already have a wealth of important ideas in your head. You have facts and data stored on your computer or written in your notes. But you just can't turn your thoughts into sentences and paragraphs. Well, don't—at least for now.
Several invention techniques can help you put words on the screen. Three of the best techniques for technical communication are logical mapping, freewriting, and outlining/boxing.
LOGICAL MAPPING. Logical mapping is a highly visual way to invent your ideas, helping you find their logical relationships.
To map the content of your document, start by putting your subject in the middle of the screen or a piece of blank paper. Put a circle or box around it. Then, start typing or writing your other ideas around the subject, and put circles or boxes around them (Figure 2.5).
Now, fill the screen or page with words and phrases related to the subject. Start connecting related ideas by drawing lines among them. As you draw lines, you will begin to identify the major topics, concepts, or themes that will be important parts of the document you are writing. These major issues can be found in the clusters of your map.
Software programs such as Inspiration, Visio, MindManager, and IHMC Concept Mapping Software can help you do logical mapping on screen. Otherwise, you can use the Draw function of your word processor to create "text boxes" and draw lines among them. With a little practice, you will find that you can create logical maps on the screen with little effort.Take Note
Writing theorists have argued that logical mapping draws ideas from the right side of your brain. They also suggest that it taps into your "visual thinking" abilities. No matter how it works, the advantage of logical mapping is that it allows you to put your ideas onto the screen or sheet of paper. You can then visualize the argument you are going to make.Logical Map (логическая схема)
A logic map - or logic model - is a visual representation of the relationship between the various
components of your program of work.
FREEWRITING (погружение в свободный поток слов; подход к написанию текстов, заключающийся в свободном изложении мыслей). Freewriting is easy. Simply put your fingers on the keyboard and start typing into a document file in your word processor. Type for five to ten minutes before you stop to look over your work. Don't worry about the constraints of writing such as sentences, paragraphs, grammatical correctness, or citations. Just keep typing. Eventually, you will find that you have filled one or more screens with words, sentences, and fragments of sentences.
OUTLINING (создание схемы документа) OR BOXING. Outlining has changed somewhat since computers came on the scene. Most word-processing programs will allow you to draft in Outline mode orDocument Map mode
Outlines can be used throughout the drafting process. Sometimes it helps to sketch an outline before you start drafting. That way, you can see how the document will be structured. When revising, you might find it helpful to re-outline your document or print out the computer-generated outline in Outline mode. This outline will help you find places where need-to-know information should be added or unnecessary information taken out.
Stage 3: Improving the Style
All documents have a style, whether it is chosen or not. If properly chosen, good style can make your documents easier to read and more persuasive. But, if you don't pay attention to style, your readers might find your documents chaotic and difficult to read. Also, today's readers expect technical documents to do more than present content. They expect technical documents to grab and keep their attention.Take Note
Technical documents that seem difficult to understand are usually just poorly written on a stylistic level. Science and technology are not naturally obscure or ambiguous. Unfortunately, lack of attention to style has fostered the image that science and technology are too difficult and complex for the average person to understand.
Have you ever read a text that just didn't feel right? More than likely, you were reacting to its erratic style. Good style is a choice you can and should make. In Chapter 9 of this book, you will learn about two kinds of style that are widely used in technical documents: plain style and persuasive style.
Plain style—This style stresses clarity and accuracy. By paying attention to where words appear in sentences and paragraphs, you can make your ideas clearer and easier to understand.
Persuasive style—Using persuasive style, you can motivate readers by appealing to their values and emotions. You can use similes and analogies to add a visual quality to your work. You can use metaphors to change your readers' perspective on issues. Meanwhile, you can use tone and pace to add energy and color to your work.
Most technical documents are written in the plain style, but many documents need the extra energy and vision provided by the persuasive style. Your goal should always be to make information as clear and concrete as possible. When persuasion is needed, you will want to energize your words.
stage 4: Designing
With computers, you can lay out a page in minutes and create graphics with a few clicks of a button. So, design is not only possible—your readers will expect your technical documents to be well designed. You should make document design a regular part of your writing process.
Today, few people read documents word for word. In fact, right now you are probably scanning this chapter, looking for the highlights. You're probably not reading the chapter word for word, sentence by sentence. If so, you are like most readers of technical documents. You are a "raider" for information as well as a reader.
So, as you think about the design of your document, keep this saying in mind: Readers of technical documents are "raiders" for information. Your readers, like you, want the important parts highlighted for them. They prefer documents that use graphics and document layout to make the information more accessible, interesting, and attractive
Stage 5: Revising and Editing
When you have finished drafting and designing the document, you are about two-thirds finished. In technical communication, it is crucial to leave plenty of time for revising, editing, and proofreading. Clarity and accuracy are essential if your readers are going to understand what you are trying to tell them.
Level 1: Revising (критическое редактирование, общая оценка документа без редактирования его элементов, оценка слабых и сильных сторон документа) — Once you have drafted the document, it is time to reconsider your subject and purpose while thinking again about the information your readers need to know and the places where they will use your document.
Level 2: Substantive editing (редактирование содержания) —Look at the content, organization, and design of the document. The content of your document should be organized with a genre that is familiar to your readers. Make sure your document has an effective beginning (introduction), middle (body), and end (conclusion).
Level 3: Copyediting (редактирование формата и стиля, не может быть связано с изменением содержания текста (иногда пишется "copy editing" или "ce") —Effective writers often spend a significant amount of time copyediting the sentences, paragraphs, and graphics in their documents. Copyediting helps make the document easier to read and more persuasive. It also ensures that graphics are accurate and support the written text.
Level 4: Proofreading (Техническое редактирование и корректура: исправление ошибок в грамматике, орфографии, пунктуации и проверка на предмет опечаток, ошибок форматирования и др.) —Finally, don't forget to carefully proofread your document. In the technical workplace, quality is taken very seriously. When readers encounter a document that has grammar problems, typos, spelling errors, and usage problems, they will question the quality of the information. At a minimum, you can use the spelling and grammar checker on your computer to catch errors as you proofread . But, you should also carefully read the document to catch mistakes that slip through.
As you answer these questions, keep in mind the following guidelines about your readers and how they prefer to read.
Guideline One: Readers are "raiders" for information—People don't read technical documents for pleasure. Instead, most readers are raiding your document for the information they need to make a decision or take action.
Guideline Two: Readers are wholly responsible for interpreting your text—
You won't be available to explain what your document means, so your readers need to be able to easily figure out what you are telling them.
Guideline Three: Readers want only "need-to-know" information—Readers want you to give them only the information they need. Any additional material only makes the information they want harder to find.
Guideline Four: Readers prefer concise texts—The shorter, the better. Usually, the longer the document is, the less likely that people are going to read it. Your readers prefer documents that get to the point and highlight the important information.
Guideline Five: Readers prefer documents with graphics and effective page design—We live in a visual culture. Large blocks of text intimidate most readers. So, include graphics and use page design to make your document more readable.
Identifying Your Readers
You should always begin by identifying the readers of your document. Figure 3.2 shows a Writer-Centered Analysis Chart that will help you locate the various people who might look over your text (Mathes & Stevenson, 1976). You, as the writer, are in the center ring. Each ring in the chart identifies your readers from most important (primary readers) to least important (tertiary readers).
To use the Writer-Centered Chart, begin filling in the names and titles of the primary, secondary, tertiary, and gatekeeper readers who will or might look over your work.
PRIMARY READERS (ACTION TAKERS) The primary readers are the people to whom your document is addressed. They are usually considered the action takers because the information you are providing them will allow them to do something or make a decision. Usually your document will have only one or two primary readers, or types of primary readers.
SECONDARY READERS (ADVISORS) The secondary readers are people who advise the primary readers. Usually, they are experts in the field, or they have special knowledge that the primary readers require to make a decision. They might be engineers, technicians, lawyers, scientists, doctors, accountants, and others to whom the primary readers will turn for advice.
TERTIARY READERS (EVALUATORS) The tertiary readers include others who may have an interest in your document's information. They are often evaluators of you, your team, or your company. These readers might be local reporters, lawyers, auditors, historians, politicians, community activists, environmentalists, or perhaps your company's competitors. Even if you don't expect your document to ever fall into these readers' hands, you should keep them in mind to avoid saying anything that could put you or your company at risk. Figure 3.3, for example, shows a memo in which the tertiary readers were not kept in mind.
GATEKEEPERS (контролёры, цензоры) (SUPERVISORS) The gatekeepers are people who will need to look over your document before it is sent to the primary readers. Your most common gatekeeper is your immediate supervisor. In some cases, though, your company's lawyers, accountants, and others may need to sign off on the document before it is sent out.
Each of these four types of readers will look for different kinds of information. The primary readers are the most important, so their needs come first. Nevertheless, a well-anticipates the needs of the secondary, tertiary, and gate-written document also keeper readers.