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Technical Writing (Advanced)

Course CodeBWR301
Fee CodeSpecialS3
Duration (approx)100 hours
QualificationStatement of Attainment

Study Technical Writing Online

Communicate more effectively on a technical level

  • Learn to write technical manuals, scientific documents, texts and articles or anything else of a scientific or technical nature.
  • Develop skills to write technical information for a variety of different purposes.
  • Professional development course for anyone working in a technical field, from consultants and teachers to scientists and engineers, in fact anyone who wants to improve their writing skills.

Special Offer - Reduced Course Price Plus 3 Free eBooks When You Enrol

Lesson Structure

There are 9 lessons in this course:

  1. Scope and Nature of Technical Writing
    • Nature and Scope
    • Quality of Information
    • Nature of Language
    • Structure
    • Characteristics of Technical Writing
  2. Presentation of Technical Writing
    • Presentation
    • Basic Parts of a Document (Written text, Images, White space)
    • Headings
    • Types of Images (Tables, Charts, Graphs, Photos, Drawings)
    • Captions and Labels
    • Main Elements (Front Matter, Body, end matter)
    • Creating an Index
    • Elements of Different types of Technical Documents (References, Texts, Journals, Reports, etc)
    • Referencing
  3. Matching Style and Content to the Audience
    • Writing for an Audience
    • Writing Well
    • Writing Guidelines (Jargon, Gender neutral writing, Using simple sentences, passive or active language, first, second or third person, etc)
    • Spelling, Grammar
    • Editing, Proof reading
  4. Planning: Developing a Logical Structure or Format
    • Creating a Technical Document
    • Research the Document; gather information
    • Plan; decide on the format
    • Write; create an outline and then write the first draft
    • Verify; check the accuracy of what you have written
    • Revise; amend the document before
    • Writing a First Draft
  5. Collaborative Writing
    • Working in a team
    • Tasks and Roles
    • Technical Brief
    • Strategies for Collaboration
    • Style Guide
    • Using Templates
    • Using Email Effectively
  6. Writing Technical Articles for Periodicals
    • Writing for Periodicals
    • Publisher Specs
    • Writing Descriptions and Specifications
    • Journal Abstracts
  7. Writing Manuals and Procedures
    • Writing manuals
    • Writing Instructions and Procedures
    • Guidelines
    • Troubleshooting
  8. Writing Project Proposals
    • What is a Proposal?
    • Proposal Categories (Solicited and Unsolicited)
    • Model for Writing Proposals
    • Grant Proposals
    • The Stop Format
  9. Writing Project Reports
    • Types of Reports
    • Progress Reports
    • Completion Reports
    • Review Reports
    • Regulatory Reports
    • Feasibility Reports
    • Scientific Reports
    • Elements of a Formal Report
    • Executive Summaries

Each lesson culminates in an assignment which is submitted to the school, marked by the school's tutors and returned to you with any relevant suggestions, comments, and if necessary, extra reading.

Aims

  • Identify a broad range of situations where technical writing is used and where you might gainfully apply those skills;
  • Present technical documentation for a variety of situations;
  • Determine how to write appropriately for a defined audience;
  • Develop formats for different documents that follow a logical appropriate structure;
  • Explain how to effectively collaborate with one or more people in the production of a technical writing assignment;
  • Write items of technical writing that are appropriate for publication in different types of periodicals including: popular magazines, industry magazines, scientific journals, newspapers and e-zines;
  • Write easy to follow, technically accurate instructions for a variety of processes, using a variety of equipment;
  • Write a formal proposal for a project;
  • Write in an effective and appropriate style of report, during, or on conclusion of a project.

What is Technical Writing?

Technical writing is usually the term given to writing about technical subjects, such as computers, machinery or equipment. This is the kind of writing one sees in instruction manuals, how-to books, and reference materials. This is a fairly narrow definition of technical writing.

A broader definition of technical writing is any writing in which the focus is on the correct, accurate and precise communication of practical information; information that is presented in order to instruct, guide, facilitate or train. Falling under this broader definition are reports, text books, records, submissions, plans and other documents that are not necessarily about technology.

An even broader definition of technical writing reflects its wide applicability to a large range of writing situations, from workplace writing to the highest levels of academic writing.

Almost all writing we come across in everyday life, in home and work, is technical writing (the exception being, of course, fiction books and magazines). The instructions that tell us how to assemble a set of shelves, a resume from a prospect employee, or a submission to a professional journal are all considered to be technical documents. Some of the most common types of technical documents are listed below:

  • Instruction manuals and handbooks.
  • Workplace and technical procedures.
  • Technical specifications.
  • Business proposals.
  • Reports.
  • Memos.
  • Agendas.
  • Meeting minutes.
  • Presentations.
  • Business letters.
  • Newsletters.
  • Fact sheets and brochures.
  • Forms.
  • Questionnaires.
  • Briefing materials to support oral presentations.
  • Feasibility studies.
  • Policy statements.
  • Academic theses.
  • Resumes.
  • Reference and text books.
  • Technical articles in journals and other periodicals.
  • Web-based documentation.

 

Key Elements of Technical Writing

Technical writing is defined primarily by three things:

  • Quality of information
  • Nature of language
  • Structure

Quality of Information

Information can be presented for many different purposes: to impress others, to gain credibility and establish expertise, to argue against or resist ideas, to inform, educate and train, to enable, to empower, to clarify, to support statements or goals, to persuade or influence.

The information provided in technical writing, however, is always tailored towards enabling. It should always be aimed at enabling others to do things, or to understand how to do things. The information provided in good technical writing enables the reader to carry out specific tasks, to achieve certain objectives, to use certain equipment or technology, to make good decisions, to understand processes or procedures, to know how to put them into practice, and perhaps even to evaluate different approaches, procedures or equipment based on objective criteria.

Another expected quality in the information is that it is sufficient for its stated purpose. The writer must provide sufficient information for the reader to fully understand what is being described and to apply that understanding correctly. What is considered sufficient, however, may change from document to document, for it depends very much on the stated purpose of the document.

For instance, you would expect that a document titled ‘Varieties of Depression’ would be expected to define depression, identify most known forms of depression and provide at least sufficient information to differentiate between them (perhaps by describing the symptoms of each kind of depression, or by listing the major signs in a table). Though the information provided in a document with this title will differ depending on the audience. For example, if the document, ‘Varieties of Depression’, is written for first year psychology students, it will probably not contain information on diagnosing or treating the different forms of depression. However, if text is written for an internet site to provide general information to the public, it might contain some information about diagnosis and treatment. This difference arises because the internet reader would more likely be looking for a broad overview of the topic, whereas a student will be required to read about and understand the topic in a more detailed and comprehensive manner.

Information is sufficient and complete if it enables the reader to understand and apply that information to achieve stated goals and objectives. If the reader is left with more questions than answers, or is not enabled to act upon that information, it is insufficient and incomplete.

The information in a good piece of technical writing is correct, specific, timely and verifiable. While a magazine article on skin care can make quite general and broad statements and give only surface treatment to different aspects of skin care, a technical document on skin care (e.g. a skin care manual or a dermatologist’s instructions) is expected to give accurate, specific information that increases and enriches their existing knowledge. It is not enough to just tell a reader what is already widely known, or to state what is obvious to most people. The reader of a technical document wants to learn from that document.

Correctness and accuracy are not the same things, exactly. Correctness means that the information is agreed to be correct. Accuracy goes further because it includes precision. For example, the statement, ‘the sun rises every day’, is correct but not accurate. An accurate statement would be, ‘the sun appears to rise every day above the horizon as the different areas of the earth rotate to face it’. That kind of accuracy may not be relevant if we are talking about our experience of time, but it is relevant if we are explaining time cycles.

Timeliness simply means that the information should reflect what is accepted as truth or considered relevant at the time the reader is expected to read the document. With books, that can present a problem, and it is not unusual for technical books to be almost out of date shortly after publication because of rapid or unexpected innovations or changing trends. A technical writer in an area where rapid change might be expected might deal with this by including some reference to current trends and research, and even to anticipated research and development. However, the main part of most technical documents must and should be focused on established and widely accepted knowledge. While the writer might mention other perspectives and innovative ideas, the thrust is usually on providing serviceable information, which means information that is generally accepted as correct at the time of writing.

The information in good technical writing is verifiable and referenced where appropriate. Verifiable information ensures a degree of correctness, and gives the document added credibility. For instance, if a computer business X produces a document on the benefits of particular brands of computers that it sells, that information will be highly questionable, as it clearly may be biased and self-serving. If, however, the benefits are documented in writings by known computer experts or credible computer text books, and those experts or books are referenced properly, business X’s document gains enormously in credibility. For one thing, the opinions expressed are affirmed by others with expertise in that area, and second, the reader knows that he/she can verify that information.

Nature of Language

The language of technical writing is always formal, neutral and precise.

Formal language is not, by nature, flowery or over-wordy (though it can be). It is language that is correct in all aspects: using correct grammar, punctuation, spelling and sentence structure. Sentences are complete sentences, though sentence fragments may be used in point form lists, charts or tables. For example, the following list of types of technical writing demonstrates correct use of sentence fragments in a list. Note that the fragments each correctly complete the lead-in sentence ‘Applications for technical writing include:

Types of Technical Writing

Applications for technical writing include:

a) Published writing - books, magazines and reports;

b) Reference guides - manuals, procedures, other documents meant to be used as a reference or to provide instructions;

c) Technical records – which record technical information for later reference.

Neutral language is free of obvious bias, emotionality or unsupported, unnecessary value judgements. It does not generally express or imply moral or emotional judgements. It does not express or imply discrimination on the basis of race, age, gender, or social status, and is respectful in tone and content.

Precise language is language that expresses exactly what it intends to express, while accurately conveying correct information. For example, a report on motivation in the workplace might include the following statement: “Younger workers feel that their ideas are undervalued and ignored by the older workers, who generally resist change”. This may be partly true, but it is not a precise statement. It implies that ALL younger workers feel that ALL or MOST of their ideas are ignored by ALL the older workers, who ALL resist change. A correct sentence using precise language might be: “Several younger workers feel that their ideas are undervalued and ignored by some older workers, two of whom they believe resist change”.

Precise language avoids unwarranted generalisations. Generalisations can be very useful and helpful, and allow inductive reasoning (reasoning from specific facts to general principles). However, they can also lead to broad, blanket statements based on assumptions that are either derived from a few instances or from existing stereotypes. This kind of generalisation should be used very carefully and, in technical writing, only where it is necessary and justified.

Consider the relative accuracy of the following pairs of statements, and decide which is more precise.

· Writers use different fonts, bold, italics, and colours to emphasise their messages.

OR

· Word processors allow writers to use different fonts, bolding, italics, and colours to emphasise their messages.

 

· When writing a periodic report, identify the period being covered in the report to distinguish it from other reports.

OR

· A report writer should identify the period being covered in the report to distinguish it from other reports.

Structure

In technical writing, information is organised clearly and according to appropriate logic. This organisation should be made completely transparent by using a consistent, logical system of informative headings and subheadings. The structure (and headings) should be so obvious that a reader can skim the document (even a book) and gain a quick overview of what is covered, how ideas are organised, and how they are developed.

A clear, transparent structure makes reading a document much easier, for it allows the reader to identify the pattern of ideas and follow a logical, natural-feeling path from idea to idea. A poorly-structured document, no matter how well-written in other respects, causes the reader to lose track of the development of ideas, pause often to think about how a new piece of information fits in to the whole, and become confused or disoriented. At best, the reader becomes a little frustrated. At worst, the reader can become confused and irritated and begin to focus on the poor structure or other errors rather than on the content. Good structure is like a skeleton. It holds the whole body of work together.

Characteristics of Technical Writing

Good technical writing helps the reader do the following:

  • Quickly locate information.
  • Understand the information.
  • Apply the information in a practical way.

To achieve these outcomes, good technical writing must have the following characteristics:

  • Clear and precise use of language.
  • Correct language.
  • Accessibility to the intended audience.
  • Correct information.
  • Information appropriate to the intended readers and desired outcomes.
  • Sufficient information for full understanding.
  • Logical sequencing of information.
  • Clearly defined structure through use of informative, factual headings.
  • Adherence to the rules of correct grammar.
  • Appropriate use of jargon and technical terms.
  • Sufficient and appropriate use of illustrations or diagrams.

 

ACS student comments:

"I think the course is a valuable learning experience as I feel I’m being challenged along the way. "Generally, I am impressed with the service I have received from ACS since enrolling. The enrolment process was very quick and all email support has been prompt and helpful. The tutors seem very pleasant and helpful in their remarks, and this keeps me motivated. It is very encouraging when they offer additional information or ask questions of me/my writing."

Sally, Malaysia - Technical Writing course.

"I found the course to be extremely helpful. It has given me the confidence and skills to present my work to publishers."

Dilys

  • If you would like to improve your writing skills for personal or professional purposes, this is the course for you.
  • Improve your job and career prospects by studying technical writing.

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Meet some of our academics

Dr. Lynette MorganBroad expertise in horticulture and crop production. She travels widely as a partner in Suntec Horticultural Consultants, and has clients in central America, the USA, Caribbean, South East Asia, the Middle East, Australia and New Zealand.
Gavin ColeGavin has over 20 years of industry experience in Psychology, Landscaping, Publishing, Writing and Education. Former operations manager for highly reputable Landscape firm, The Chelsea Gardener, before starting his own firm. Gavin has a B.Sc., Psych.Cert., M. Psych. Cert.Garden Design, MACA.
Rosemary Davies Journalist, Editor, Broadcaster, Teacher and Consultant for over 30 years. Rosemary is former gardening editor for the Weekly Times (a Weekly Farming Newspaper in Australia); and author of six books in her own right. She has written articles for many magazines across Australia, and has since 2008 worked as a tutor and freelance writer with ACS; contributing to books a range of genres.
Tracey JonesWidely published author, Psychologist, Manager and Lecturer. Over 10 years working with ACS and 25 years of industry experience. Qualifications include: B.Sc. (Hons) (Psychology), M.Soc.Sc (social work), Dip. SW (social work), PGCE (Education), PGD (Learning Disability Studies).


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