A directory of resources inthe field of technical communication (and technical writing).

Technical Writing

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Technical Writing, a form of technical communication, is a style of formal writing and business communication, used in fields as diverse as computer hardware and software, chemistry, the aerospace industry, robotics, finance, consumer electronics, and biotechnology. Good technical writing clarifies technical jargon; that is, it presents useful information that is clear and easy to understand for the intended audience.



Emotional States of Computer Users in Times of Frustration

If there’s one undeniable characteristic of the frustrated computer user, it’s that her patience is gone. She will not be slowly flipping through the user manual. Notice her jerky movements. If she turns to the help (which she doesn’t here), she’ll search for keywords, skim rapidly, click quickly from topic to topic. As we write for users in this state of mind, we have to remember the hurry.

Johnson, Tom H. I'd Rather Be Writing (2009). Articles>Documentation>Technical Writing>Emotions


Engaging and Educating Readers Through a Progressive Writing

Although technical communication documents cannot possibly be tailored to exactly match the interest, reading level and many-faceted influences of a reader, they can I believe, take measures to engage the reader to believe that the information he or she is receiving from the document is valuable to their experience in some way.

Comstock, Jeanie. Orange Journal, The (2003). Articles>Writing>Rhetoric>Technical Writing


English and Engineering, Pedagogy and Politics   (PDF)   (peer-reviewed)

While some engineering schools have tried to manage their own writing programs, this chapter concerns itself with a professional and technical writing course created for junior-level engineering students at Case Western Reserve University, but housed, directed, and staffed from the English department. Although the course is a core requirement for all Case engineering majors, including aeronautical, biomedical, chemical, civil, computer, electrical, mechanical and software, it is administered from outside the school of engineering, automatically complicating staffing and curriculum.

Ballentine, Brian D. WAC Clearinghouse (2009). Academic>Education>Technical Writing>Engineering


English Department Service Courses

The service curricula in this survey include institution-wide general education courses, English courses required in addition to institution-wide general education courses for preprofessional students (those pursuing four-year or longer non-arts and sciences degrees), and other specialized preprofessional English courses, such as technical writing.

Fontane, Marilyn Stall. ADE Bulletin (1994). Articles>Education>Writing>Technical Writing


English Professors as Technical Writers: Experience is The Best Teacher

The future of the English curriculum is being argued and discussed in academic settings across the country. Students, more and more, seek courses of study that will lead directly to jobs. The buzzword is 'relevance.' The bottom line is 'big bucks.'

Barnum, Carol M. ADE Bulletin (1983). Articles>Education>Writing>Technical Writing


Entering the Technical Writing Field

Technical writers produce, organize and edit scientific and technical information, crafting language that can be understood by people who service, maintain, or operate various types of equipment. To gather data about the subject matter, they may observe production processes, interview production and engineering staff, or refer to trade journals and other such publications.

Miller, Susan W. Los Angeles Times, The (2001). Careers>Writing>Technical Writing



Equations must have a number in parentheses at the right of the page. Must be numbered in the order they appear. Must be able to be read as part of the text.

Young, V.L. and K.J. Sampson. Ohio University (2004). Articles>Document Design>Technical Writing>Mathematics


Equipment and Software

The essential equipment and software include a current PC -- should be a Pentium II or better -- and licensed software. Ideally, the PC should have at least 128 MB of RAM, a 19-inch monitor (min.), a high performance video card with a minimum of 64 MB of video RAM, and adequate storage for graphics and photos – at least an 80 GB hard disk. These are general specifications. Your requirements may be different depending upon what area you specialize in and to what extent you work on your own.

Tech-Writer (1996). Articles>Computing>Writing>Technical Writing


An Ergonomic Format for Short Reporting in Scientific Journals Using Nested Tables and the Deming's Cycle   (peer-reviewed)   (members only)

The typical structure of a scientific report involves highly standardized sections. The key concept of a scientific report is the reproducibility of results. Because not only clarity but also conciseness is a tool for the advancement of science, a new format using nested tables is proposed with the aim of improving the design of short reports in scientific journals, namely short communications, short technical reports, case reports, etc. This format is based on the ergonomic philosophy of visual encyclopaedias (one topic, one page) and on the quality system of the Deming's cycle (plan--do--check--act) for continuous improvement. This new editing tool has several advantages over existing forms, because it provides quick and ergonomic, reader-friendly research reports that, at the same time, would render a saving in terms of available space and publishing costs of the printed version of scientific journals.

Hortol, Policarp. Journal of Information Science (2008). Articles>Scientific Communication>Research>Technical Writing


Error Message Guidelines

Established wisdom holds that good error messages are polite, precise, and constructive. The Web brings a few new guidelines: Make error messages clearly visible, reduce the work required to fix the problem, and educate users along the way.

Nielsen, Jakob. Alertbox (2001). Articles>Writing>Technical Writing>Help


Error Message Guidelines

An error message is text that is displayed to describe a problem that has occurred that is preventing the user or the system from completing a task. The problem could result in data corruption or loss. Other message types include confirmations, warnings, and notifications. The guidelines in this topic are intended to help you write clear error messages that are easy to localize and useful for customers.

Microsoft (2006). Articles>Documentation>Writing>Technical Writing


Estimating Resources in Technical Writing

Project management principles that can easily be applied to working as a documentation manager.

Prabhakar, Rahul. Blogspot (2006). Careers>Management>Project Management>Technical Writing


Estimating Tech Writing Jobs

One of the more challenging parts of being a contractor or managing a writing project is developing an estimate of the fee or costs. Sure, there are various techniques out there, some more accurate than others, but generally no hard and fast rules applicable across the spectrum of potential assignments. Therein rest at least part of the key to doing a viable estimate, i.e., what kind of document development are you doing.

Tech-Writer. Careers>Consulting>Writing>Technical Writing


The Ethic of Expediency: Classical Rhetoric, Technology,and the Holocaust   (PDF)   (peer-reviewed)

Argues that blindly following guidelines and working for efficiency or expediency while not being critical of what one writes for organizations can be dangerous.

Katz, Steven B. College English (1992). Articles>Documentation>Technical Writing>Ethics


The Ethics of Technical Publishing: Trust Yourself

A researcher needs grit and self-trust to do this kind of work in the first place. Letting someone other than a ghostwriter or a reviewer do it for you will be self-defeating. An unethical deal here will corrupt you, the project, and your employer. You must finish the job in a straightforward accountable manner.

Delm, Jay. WritersWrite.com (2007). Articles>Publishing>Technical Writing>Ethics


Everything I Know About Technical Writing I Learned by Writing Fiction   (PDF)

This session is about writing, that daunting task of putting nouns and verbs together to see what they can say. If you are interested in good writing, and if putting nouns and verbs together is essential to what you do for a living, or essential to what your life is about, then you may find this session valuable. We will discuss what fiction writing and technical writing have in common, and how the fiction writer's use of plot, character, narrative voice, and style may be adapted for use by the technical writer.

Ferguson, Paul F. STC Proceedings (2004). Articles>Writing>Technical Writing


Excel Hacks for Help Writers

One of my earlier careers was in manufacturing management, and it grounded me in the principles of project planning and management. When I moved into technical communication, I brought my project management disciplines with me, and I embraced the prevailing tools of my new profession. I dutifully produced documentation plans in Microsoft Word and supported them with detailed project plans in Microsoft Project. However, the problem is that—like bad relationships—these artifacts never gave back results that were sufficient to reward the effort I put into creating them.

Hughes, Michael A. UXmatters (2008). Articles>Documentation>Technical Writing>Microsoft Excel


Expand Your Income by Writing for Magazines   (PDF)

Technical writers are well-equipped to write how-to articles for magazines. There are many markets for informational articles, and by creating a well-crafted query, a competent technical writer can get an assignment. This work is ideal for generating part-time income and it provides a more creative outlet for writers.. Getting ideas for good articles is as simple as following oneâ*™s own interests. Writing for magazines can become a lucrative â*œsecondâ** career for technical writers.

Agnew, Beth. STC Proceedings (1998). Articles>Writing>Scientific Communication>Technical Writing


Explicitly Teaching Five Technical Genres to English First-Language Adults in a Multi-Major Technical Writing Course   (peer-reviewed)

In this paper, I report the effects of explicitly teaching five technical genres to English first-language students enrolled in a multi-major technical writing course. Previous experimental research has demonstrated the efficacy of explicitly teaching academic writing to English first language adults, but no comparable study on technical writing exists. I used a mixed-method approach to examine these effects, including a control-group quasi-experimental design and a qualitative analysis to more fully describe the 534 texts produced by 316 student writers. Results indicated the genre participants constructed texts demonstrating a significantly greater awareness to audience, purpose, structure, design, style, and editing than participants taught through more traditional approaches. Within the technical genres, participants demonstrated greater awareness to audience, purpose, and editing in the job materials text type than with correspondence or procedures text types.

Boettger, Ryan K. Journal of Writing Research (2014). Journals>Research>Technical Writing>Research


Exploring the Tech Comm Paradox

Documentation will almost never be a pre-sales emphasis, that is, something to attract and persuade customers into buying the product, because the mere presence of documentation suggests that the product might be hard to use. However, just because we downplay documentation in the pre-sales scenario, it doesn’t mean that we relegate documentation to something unimportant, only that we sell documentation another group entirely. Instead of selling documentation to the end-user, we sell it to the support group.

Johnson, Tom H. I'd Rather Be Writing (2012). Articles>Documentation>Technical Writing>Assessment


Expressive/Exploratory Technical Writing (XTW) in Engineering: Shifting the Technical Writing Curriculum   (peer-reviewed)   (members only)

While the importance of "expressive writing," or informal, self-directed writing, has been well established, teachers underutilize it, particularly in technical writing courses. We introduce the term expressive/exploratory technical writing (XTW), which is the use of informal, self-directed writing to problem-solve in technical fields. We describe how engineering students resist writing, despite decades of research showing its importance to their careers, and we suggest that such resistance may be because most students only see writing as an audience-driven performance and thus incompletely understand the link between writing and thinking. The treatment of invention in rhetorical history supports their view. We describe two examples of using XTW in software engineering to plan programming tasks. We conclude by discussing how a systematic use of XTW could shift the technical writing curriculum, imbuing the curriculum with writing and helping students see how to problem-solve using natural language.

Warnock, Scott and Michael Kahn. Journal of Technical Writing and Communication (2007). Articles>Writing>Technical Writing>Engineering


The Extension of Technical Writing into Performance Consulting   (peer-reviewed)

Perhaps the trouble for academic programs that teach workplace writing begins with the term 'technical communications.' Perhaps the trouble grows with those programs’ focus on the teaching of writing rather than on the development of professionals who bring complex, strategic writing/thinking processes into work communities.

Hile, Julie. CPTSC Proceedings (2000). Academic>Education>Writing>Technical Writing


The Fallacy of Low-Cost Documentation

It is acceptable to assess your organization’s content requirements and embark on a strategy of producing indifferent content cheaply (the “meh” strategy). The vast majority of organizations who adopt a laissez-faire attitude, however, have not thought through the implications.

O'Keefe, Sarah and Alan S. Pringle. Content Strategy 101 (2012). Articles>Documentation>Management>Technical Writing


Familiar is Easy is "True"

The success of easy-to-read fonts and familiar sentences may have psychological reasons – and far-reaching consequences for professional writers.

Weber, Kai. Kai's Tech Writing Blog (2010). Articles>User Centered Design>Usability>Technical Writing


The Fault of Vacuity   (PDF)

I labeled wordiness the most obvious fault in technical writing. In retrospect, I think I was wrong. I believe the greatest fault our writing can have is vacuity, or lack of substance. We too often write words that say nothing.

Bush, Donald W. Intercom (2004). Articles>Editing>Technical Editing>Technical Writing



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