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A Brief Introduction to Technical Style

Module by: The Cain Project in Engineering and Professional Communication. E-mail the author

What is technical style?

Technical style conveys information about a scientific or engineering topic concisely and clearly. Technical style emphasizes means, actions, and results more than human agents. For example, good technical style in the following sentence places the means in the subject position:

“Efficient column operation in the purification section resulted in 99.5 percent pure ethylene oxide (EO).”

“Efficient column operation” is the means that causes the purity outcome. Contrast that sentence with one that focuses on the human agent:

“The engineer improved the column operations in the purification section to make them more efficient so that the ethylene oxide (EO) in the product stream would be 99.5 percent pure.”

Because of the focus on means, actions, and results, technical style permits more passive voice sentences than some other styles.

Furthermore, technical style emphasizes accommodating the vocabulary, purposes, and decision priorities of decision makers. It ensures that documents, presentations, and visuals are accessible and understandable to the intended audience. It positively connects the writer and audience and meets professional standards. It is consistent with the audience’s culture.

To accomplish these aims, technical style creates syntactic structures that enable readers or listeners rapidly to identify the principal action and its cause. It also uses specific technical terms to reduce the possibility of misinterpretation.

Technical style affects paragraphs as well as sentences. It focuses attention consistently by repeating subjects in a series of sentences and changing subjects only when the logic of the argument requires it.

This brief guide introduces some of the principal techniques for editing to achieve a technical style.

How to edit: Focus on the subject! Capture the action with the verb!

In general, begin a sentence with its subject, that is, name what you want to talk about:

  • Technical translators must know both the languages well.
  • The infiltration rate decreased over five years.
  • Slash pine forests cover the region where the highway will go.

Use preliminary phrases only when you need to “set the scene” or establish a condition that will help the reader make sense of your claim:

After turning off the power, open the right hatch door.

In most cases, use concrete subjects that form a picture in the readers’ minds:

  • Abstract: Input from first-line supervisors is probably the best source of information to aid in the identification of good prospective candidates.
  • Concrete: First-line supervisors can probably identify good prospective candidates.

Abstractions or generalizations can be good subjects if they are the agents or means of the sentence’s main action:

  • Deformations in the concrete jeopardize the roadbed’s stability.
  • Permeability of the soil increased infiltration.

Once you’ve named the subject, keep the subject consistent in a long sentence:

  • Inconsistent: The recently published study, conducted by Darren Harrison, who is a consultant to several major firms, has finished an extensive profile of landfill problems.
  • Consistent: Darren Harrison, a consultant to several major firms, recently published a profile of landfill problems.

    Note:

    The author, not the study, finished the work.

Place precise, active verbs in key positions in the sentence to help your readers follow your argument and appreciate your expertise.

Place the subject and the main verb close together:

  • Separated: The delays, principally involving funding and the slow shipment of construction materials for the levies in New Orleans, caused general anxieties about quality of construction.
  • Close together: The delays caused general anxieties about quality of construction: both funding and construction materials arrived slowly for the levies in New Orleans.

Free the action trapped in nouns and “place holder” verbs (verbs with low semantic meaning) by filling in the blanks.

Exercise

Table 1
Make contact with contact Do an imitation of  
Give an approval   Send a referral to  
Have a harmful effect harm Offer an explanation explain

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Definition of a lens

Lenses

A lens is a custom view of the content in the repository. You can think of it as a fancy kind of list that will let you see content through the eyes of organizations and people you trust.

What is in a lens?

Lens makers point to materials (modules and collections), creating a guide that includes their own comments and descriptive tags about the content.

Who can create a lens?

Any individual member, a community, or a respected organization.

What are tags? tag icon

Tags are descriptors added by lens makers to help label content, attaching a vocabulary that is meaningful in the context of the lens.

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My Favorites (?)

'My Favorites' is a special kind of lens which you can use to bookmark modules and collections. 'My Favorites' can only be seen by you, and collections saved in 'My Favorites' can remember the last module you were on. You need an account to use 'My Favorites'.

| A lens I own (?)

Definition of a lens

Lenses

A lens is a custom view of the content in the repository. You can think of it as a fancy kind of list that will let you see content through the eyes of organizations and people you trust.

What is in a lens?

Lens makers point to materials (modules and collections), creating a guide that includes their own comments and descriptive tags about the content.

Who can create a lens?

Any individual member, a community, or a respected organization.

What are tags? tag icon

Tags are descriptors added by lens makers to help label content, attaching a vocabulary that is meaningful in the context of the lens.

| External bookmarks