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1.2: Let's Take a Look at Characteristics of Technical Writing

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    Mike Markell (2015), Sidney Dobrin (2010), Elizabeth Tebeaux (2012), Sam Dragga (2012), and others all identify similar characteristics of technical writing and emphasize that it must adhere to the highest standards.

    Focused on audience:

    Technical and workplace documents address a specific audience. The audience may be an individual or a group, and it may or may not be known to the writer. While there is always a primary audience addressed, there may be a secondary audience. Thus, an understanding of the reader or user of a technical document is important.

    Rhetorical, persuasive, purposeful, and problem-oriented:

    Technical communication is all about helping the reader or user of a document solve a problem or compel others to act or do. For example, the syllabus of your calculus class informs the students what is expected of them; the university's web site provides information to potential students about how to apply or to current students about where to seek assistance. Identification of a specific purpose and a particular audience are the first two steps of technical writing.


    Technical communication reflects the values, goals, and culture of the organization and as such, creates and maintains the public image of the organization. Look back at your university's web site to see what image it conveys, or consider the United States Government.

    On October 13, 2010, President Obama signed into law the Plain Writing Act of 2010 (the Act) which is designed to promote clear government communication that the public can understand and use. The Act calls for writing that is clear, concise, and well-organized. Check out this resource on Plain Language.

    Design Centered:

    Technical communication uses elements of document design such as visuals, graphics, typography, color, and spacing to make a document interesting, attractive, usable, and comprehensible. While some documents may be totally in print, many more use images such as charts, photographs, and illustrations to enhance readability and understanding and simplify complex information.

    Research and Technology Oriented:

    Because of workplace demands, technical and workplace writing is often created in collaboration with others through a network of experts and designers and depends on sound research practices to ensure that information provided is correct, accurate, and complete.


    Lastly, technical communication is ethical. All workplace writers have ethical obligations, many of which are closely linked to legal obligations that include liability laws, copyright laws, contract laws, and trademark laws. You'll learn more about these in a later chapter on ethics.

    What Standards Should I Observe to Make my Writing Successful?

    Good question! As a member of an organization or team, even as a student, you want to produce the absolute best writing you can. Here are the standards you must follow and some tips to help you. If you keep these in mind as you work through your learning in this text, hooray for you! You get the great writer award! You will also have a tremendous advantage in the workplace if your communication and design skills meet these standards.

    • First and most important, your writing must be honest. Your trustworthiness in communication reflects not only on you personally but on your organization or discipline.
    • Your writing has to be clear so that your reader can get from it the information you intended. Strive to make sure that you have expressed exactly what you mean, and have not left room for incorrect interpretations.
    • Next, good writing is accurate. Do your homework and make sure you have your facts right. There is no excuse for presenting incorrect information.
    • Also make sure you have all the facts, as your writing must also be complete. Have you included everything that your reader needs?
    • Your audience has neither time nor patience for excessive verbiage, so simplify and cut any clutter. Good writing is always concise writing.
    • Your document should be attractive and pleasing to look at. Just as you wouldn't eat a hamburger from a dirty plate, your reader will not be moved by a document that is not carefully designed and professional.

    Without exception, grammar, spelling, punctuation, and sentence structure have to be correct. Even a single grammatical or spelling error can cause your reader to dismiss you as not professional, as not caring enough to edit carefully. Poor writing at this level reflects poorly on your organization as well, and most companies can't mandate good writing with a law!

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