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Writing in the Technical Fields: A Step-by-Step Guide for Engineers, Scientists, and Technicians



Writing in the Technical Fields: A Step-by-Step Guide for Engineers, Scientists, and Technicians

Mike Markel

ISBN: 978-0-780-31036-0 March 1994 Wiley-IEEE Press 296 Pages

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Using an informal, hands-on approach, this practical guide reviews the basics of good technical writing. It provides a simple, effective system for writing all types of technical documents including letters, memos, minutes, procedures, manuals, proposals, progress reports, and final reports. You will gain a better understanding of the writing process and learn how to: improve the coherence of your writing, write better paragraphs, write better sentences, choose the right word and more.

Preface xiii

Part I: Techniques 1

Chapter I. Introduction 3

Treat Workplace Writing as a Craft, Not an Art 3

Unlearn What You Learned in School 4

Focus on What You Know About Writing at Work 6

Characteristics of Effective Workplace Writing 7

Chapter 2 Before You Start Writing 13

Use Short Writing Sessions, Not Long Ones 13

Write Collaboratively 15

Analyze Your Audience 17

Define Your Purpose 18

Evaluate the Implications of Your Audience and Purpose 19

Make Sure Your Boss Agrees with What You've Decided 21

Chapter 3. Understanding the Writing Process 23

Generate Ideas to Include in the Document 23

Organize Your Information 26

Write the Draft Quickly 34

Spend Your Time Revising 34

Chapter 4 Using the Computer to Improve Your Writing 39

Understand What the Computer Can—and Cannot—Do for You 40

Use the Computer When You're Just Getting Started on a Document 40

Use the Computer When You're Drafting 41

Use the Computer When You're Revising 42

Use Specialized Software 43

Chapter 5. Improving the Coherence of Your Writing 47

Write Informative Titles and Headings 48

Use Lists to Communicate Parallel Information 50

Use Introductions to Forecast Discussions 52

Use Conclusions to Complete Discussions 55

Chapter 6 Writing Better Paragraphs 59

Begin with a Clear Topic Sentence 59

Support the Topic Sentence Logically 61

Emphasize the Coherence of the Paragraph 62

Keep Paragraphs to a Manageable Length 65

Chapter 7. Writing Better Sentences 67

Determine the Appropriate Stylistic Guidelines 68

Use the Active and Passive Voices Appropriately 68

Choose Appropriate Sentence Patterns 70

Focus on the Real Subject 72

Focus on the Real Verb 73

Use Modifying Elements Effectively 74

Keep Parallel Items Parallel 76

Chapter 8 Choosing the Right Word 79

Choose Simple, Clear Words and Phrases 79

Avoid Unnecessary Jargon 82

Avoid Euphemisms 82

Avoid Cliches 82

Avoid Sexist Language 83

Use Readability Formulas Carefully 84

Chapter 9 Creating and Integrating Graphics 87

Determine Whether You Need Graphics 87

Determine What Kind of Graphic to Use 89

Make the Graphic Honest 90

Make the Graphic Self-Sufficient 91

Determine Where to Put the Graphic 95

Tie the Graphic to the Text 95

Chapter 10. Improving Page Design 99

Leave Adequate Margins 100

Consider a Multicolumn Format 101

Use Appropriate Line Spacing 102

Use Appropriate Justification 104

Understand the Readability Levels of Type Fonts 106

Use the Different Members of a Type Family 107

Use Type Sizes Appropriately 108

Use Uppercase and Lowercase 110

Design Titles and Headings for Emphasis and Clarity 110

Design Lists for Clarity 112

Part II: Applications 115

Chapter 11. Letters 117

Learn the Standard Letter Formats 117

Learn Letter Protocol 118

Forecast the Purpose of the Letter 122

End on a Positive Note 123

Achieve a Natural Tone 124

Chapter 12 Memos 127

Create an Informative Heading 128

State the Purpose Up Front 128

Include a Summary 129

Conclude with an Action Statement 130

Chapter 13. Minutes 135

Include the Necessary Housekeeping Details 136

Record Events Accurately 136

Record Events Diplomatically 137

Chapter 14 Procedures and Manuals 141

Emphasize Safety 142

Orient the Reader 145

Write Clear Instructions 148

Add Graphics to Clarify the Text 150

Design the Document for Easy Use in the Field 152

Anticipate the Need for Updates 154

Include Troubleshooting Tips 154

Chapter 15. Formal Elements of Reports 157

Transmittal Letter 158

Title Page 160

Table of Contents 160

Abstract 162

Executive Summary 164

Appendices 166

Chapter 16 Proposals I69

Plan Before You Start Writing 170

Show That You Understand the Readers’ Needs 171

Propose a Clear, Specific Technical Plan for the Project 174

Demonstrate Your Professionalism and Credibility 176

Use Graphics to Help Your Readers See Your Ideas 177

Evaluate the Proposal Carefully Before You Send It Out 178

Chapter 17. Progress Reports 183

Clarify the Context 183

Explain the Progress Clearly 184

Explain the Progress Honestly 185

Chapter 18. Completion Reports 189

Introduce the Report Clearly 190

Describe Your Methods 191

Present Your Results 192

Draw Conclusions from the Results 194

Present Your Recommendations 195

Appendices 197

A. Checklists 199

B. Handbook 207

C. Commonly Misused Words and Phrases 241

D. Guidelines for Speakers of English as a Second Language 247

E. Guidelines for Writing to Speakers of English as a Second Language 261

F. Selected Bibliography 265

Index 271