Technical communication is the process of finding, using and sharing meaning of information. A technical writing addresses particular readers, Helps readers solve problems, Reflects an organization’s goals and culture (supports the organization’s mission), is produced collaboratively, Uses design to increase readability, Consists of words or graphics or both, and Is produced using high-tech tools.
Principles and techniques as used in “the FedEx white paper” and “CSB-Union carbide Final”:
“On March 27, 1998, one worker was killed and another severely injured when they were asphyxiated by nitrogen, an odorless gas that was venting through the large open pipe where the men were working at Union Carbide’s Taft/Star plant in Hahnville, Louisiana… During their inspection of the inside of the pipe, the two workers used a black light, which causes grease, oil, and other contaminants to glow in the dark. However, the midday sun would make it difficult to see, so the workers asked two contractors to hold a black plastic sheet over the open pipe end while they crouched just inside. Unknown to any of the workers, the plastic sheet created a dangerous enclosure where nitrogen gas could accumulate, displacing oxygen and causing asphyxiation… The CSB investigation report noted that it is important to look beyond an immediate task and not evaluate the risks caused by the nitrogen purge to the workers downstream, and hazards at the open pipe end were not recognized. The investigation concluded that a hazard evaluation likely would have led operators to post warning signs at the pipe opening and prevented the accident” (Hahnville, Louisiana March 27, 1998, pp 1, 2)
The textbook identifies (Markel, chapter 7, pp 166) “Patterns typically used in organizing information.” One method used in the article is the “Problem-methods-solution” pattern of organizing information.
“If you want to … Discuss a problem you encountered, the steps you took to address the problem, and the outcome or solution … Consider using this organizational pattern: … Problem-methods-solution.”
The organizational pattern of the CSB-UnioncarbideFINAL is problem-methods-solution. The problem identified is “nitrogen asphyxiation” three possible methods are discussed, (1) nitrogen hazards are not recognized (2) it was identified that nitrogen is an odorless gas thus it poses risks. (3) The temporary confined spaces were identified as a danger. The solutions of choice defined by the document include; comprehensive worker training programs, warning systems, continuous ventilation, atmospheric monitoring and planning for emergency rescue operations.
Coherence in titles, headings, lists, paragraphs, and design:
“Speeding the supply chain to China” is the title of the article. The major heading is “how manufacturers are winning with full-service air shipments”. The article contains sub-headings, which include; Global Manufacturing Market Trends, the Challenges of Ocean going Transportation, The Solution: Full-Service Air Shipments, What to Look for in a Full-Service Air Shipment Provider, and The FedEx Advantage. (Taylor, pp.6)
The textbook identifies “coherence in titles, headings, lists, paragraphs, and design as ways of designing a document to make it appealing to the readers (Markel, chapter11 pp.175). The title is crucial because it is your first chance to define the subject and purpose of the document for your readers, giving them their first clue about whether the document contains the information they need. The title is an implicit promise to your readers: “This document is about Subject A, and it was written to achieve Purpose B.” Everything else that follows has to relate clearly to the subject and purpose defined in the title. If it does not, either the title is misleading or the document has failed to make good on the promise the title makes. Headings do more than announcing the subject that discussed in the document. Collectively, they create a hierarchy of information, dividing the text into major sections and subdividing those sections into subsections. In this way, coherent headings communicate to readers the relative importance and generality of the information that follows, helping readers recognize major sections as primary which likely to contain more-important and more-general information and subsections as secondary or subordinate. Lists are another feature of technical communication that distinguishes it from academic writing. Technical documents often contain paragraphs in list format likely to contain less-important and more-specific information. (Markel, Chapter 11, pp 275)
The unique benefits that the Full-service air shipments for American manufacturers are listed in the FedEx white paper (Taylor, pp6). They give the document a visual dimension making it easier for readers to understand the discussion and making it easier for the writer to express ideas clearly and coherently.
Technical documents include words and graphics. Graphics help the writer to; make the document more interesting and appealing to readers, communicate and reinforce difficult concepts, communicate instructions and descriptions of objects and processes, communicate large amounts of quantifiable data, and communicate with nonnative speakers.
Use of effective sentences:
The sentences used in the FedEx white paper and in the CSCSB-Union FINAL are effective in that they are not ambiguous thus are easy to understand.
Good technical communication consists of clear, correct, and graceful sentences that convey information without calling attention to them. Effective sentences with precise terms makes the document more accurately and makes it possible for the document to be effectively indexed in electronic databases and online libraries, increasing the chances that someone researching your subject will be able to find and retrieve the document. A correct document is one that adheres to the conventions of grammar, punctuation, spelling, mechanics, and usage. Sometimes, incorrect writing can confuse readers or even make your writing inaccurate. (Markel, Chapter 10, pp221)
A document should be designed such that it persuades a reader to read it. The design method should focus on size, paper, binding, and accessing tools. A page of technical communication is effectively designed if readers can recognize a pattern, such as where to look for certain kinds of information.
Characteristics of technical communication:
Almost every technical document has six major characteristics: it addresses particular readers; helps readers solve problems; reflects an organization’s goals and culture; is produced collaboratively, uses design to increase readability, and consists of words, graphics, or both. Often, you will write for people from different cultures or whose native language is different from yours. These readers will react differently to the design, organization, and writing style of documents than will people from your own culture. Therefore, you will need to consider these cultural differences as you write.
Measures of excellence in technical communication:
The information in the CSB-UnioncarbideFINAL is explained from an incidence that took place. this lays a foundation for honesty. The case study is comprehensive and clear. (Hahnville, Louisiana March 27, 1998, pp 1, 2).
Eight measures of excellence characterize all technical communication: honesty, clarity, accuracy, comprehensiveness, accessibility, conciseness, professional appearance, and correctness. The most important measure of excellence in technical communication is honesty. It is important to tell the truth to avoid misleading the reader. Technical communication is meant to help people make wise choices as they use the information available in a high-tech culture.If you are dishonest, readers can get hurt. Misinforming your readers or deliberately omitting important information can defraud, injure, or kill people.
A good technical document provides all the information readers need. It contains sufficient detail so that readers can follow the discussion and carry out any required tasks. It refers to supporting materials clearly or includes them as attachments. Comprehensiveness is crucial because readers need a complete, self-contained discussion in order to use the information safely, effectively, and efficiently. A technical document is meant to convey information to a particular audience so that they understand something or carry out a task. To accomplish these goals, it must be honest, clear, accurate, comprehensive, accessible, concise, professional in appearance, and correct. (Markel, chapter 10, pp 221).
The case study provides a background of the information given in the document, thus readers unfamiliar with the subject are in apposition to understand it.
Identification of audience and purpose:
The two documents aim to provide information to people from different cultures. Thus, a wide variety of conveying information is used. For example, use of graphics to emphasize the information.
To create effective technical communication, you must consider your different audiences and purposes and present information in different ways. Understanding your audience and purpose will help you meet your readers’ needs—and your own. Once you have identified the two basic elements of your writing situation, you must analyze each of them before deciding what to say and how to say it. Often, the document will communicate to people from different cultures or whose native language is different from yours. These readers will react differently to the design, organization, and writing style of documents than will people from your own culture. Therefore, you will need to consider these cultural differences as you write (Markel, chapter 8, pp 177).
In the FedEx white paper, an aircraft and a ship are illustrated thus indicating that the information is about importation.
Characteristic of professional persona:
At the first glance of the two documents, professionalism is exhibited. They are organized and there is a flow of ideas.
If the document looks neat and professional, readers will form a positive impression of it and of you. The documents should adhere to the format standards of your professional field, and they should be well designed and neatly printed. Incorrect writing makes you look unprofessional. If your writing is full of errors, readers will wonder if you were also careless in gathering, analyzing, and presenting the technical information. If readers doubt your professionalism, they will be less likely to accept your conclusions or follow your recommendations. (Markel, Chapter 8, pp180)
Characteristic of effective graphics:
Graphic elements are important to emphasize the message in the document. When used together with text, they make the document more interesting and appealing to readers. They also illustrate information given in words thus giving more meaning to the document.
The graphics in the FedEx White Paper (Taylor, pp6.fig.2) are important in emphasizing the seamless service provided by full-service shipping.
One of the challenges in writing for people from another culture is that they are likely to be nonnative speakers of English. One way to overcome the language barrier is to use effective graphics and design the document effectively. An effective graphic is one that can give an overview of what is contained in the document without necessarily reading the contents. (Markel, chapter 8, pp.188)
In the FedEx white paper, just below the title is a graphic showing, an aircraft this alone suggests that the information in the document is about transport. Thus, even to nonnative speakers of English, they can identify the possible information in the document. In the CSB-UnioncarbideFINAL document, the graphics are provided to support some of the information contained in the document.
The title, heading and sub-headings of CSB-UnioncarbideFINAL are designed with different colors making the document look attractive to any reader.
Technical communicators use design features—typography, spacing, color, special paper, and so forth—to make the document look attractive and professional. If it is attractive, it creates a positive impression; you are more likely to accomplish your goal and to help readers navigate the document. Because a technical document can be long and complicated and most readers want to read only parts of it, design features such as headings, color, and highlighting help readers see where they are and get where they want to be. (Markel, chapter 8, pp 189)
Designing features also help readers understand the document. If all the safety warnings in a manual appear in a color and size different from the rest of the text, readers will be better able to recognize the importance of the information.
Markel, Mike. Technical communication. New York: NY. Bedford Press. 2002. Chapters (1, 5, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 14, 16, 17, 19, 20, and 22).
Louisiana, Hahnville. Union carbide nitrogen asphyxiation. New York: NY. CBS publication. March 27, 1998.pp. 1-2.
Taylor Linda. FedEx White Paper. New York: NY. Aberdeen group. Pp. 1-8.