What is Technical Writing? | Writing Genre Fundamentals

Hi everyone, and welcome to theIntroduction to Technical Writing Workshop. My name is Mandy, and I am a staff coach at the Writing Center here at APU. The goal of this presentation is to help you better understand what technical writing is, when to use it, and how to use it effectively.

This is an introductory workshop is intended to provide only a basic overview of technical writing. There are handouts available to complement this presentation, including a chart that compares and contrasts technical writing with other common types of writing and a handout outlining the technical writing rules of bulleted and numbered lists.

If you are in a field that uses technical writing regularly, I encourage you to continue learning more about this style of writing. Technical writing skills are highly valued in many fields and can give you an advantage in the job market.I want to start by using a quote from Albert Einstein:

“If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.” There is a common misconception implying that simplicity in writing comes from simple-minded or unintelligent writers. As the renowned genius states though, it actually takes a thorough understanding of a concept in order to explain it in simple terms. In fact, one, of the easiest ways is to tell if a person understands a concept well to see if they ramble or go in circles as they try to explain it.

So what is technical writing exactly? Let’s begin by defining it. Technical writing is used to inform instruction or direct a specific audience through maximum clarity and precision with a specific tangible goal in mind. Notice it only has three purposes: either to inform, instruct, or direct. Remember these purposes.

On rare occasions, technical writing may be used to indirectly persuade the reader through informing, instructing, or directing them. Think of a non-profit newsletter that may do nothing but inform you of what the charity is doing but with the hope that this will encourage you to act in some way. Another example is a warning sign that says a dangerous spark of electricity could happen if you touch a wire. It is encouraging you not to touch the wire by informing you what will happen if you do.

Technical writing never directly persuades; it only informs, instructs, or directs. Notice also that the definition says, “to a specific audience and with a tangible goal.” We will talk more about those later in the presentation. On a similar note, many people often mistakenly believe that technical writing is only for technology-centered fields or fields in architecture and engineering.

While technical writing is commonly used in these fields, it is actually a style of writing that is not specific to any particular field. It’s based on something called Puritan Plain style, which is a type of writing or uncomplicated sentences and ordinary words are used to make simple direct statements. This style is favored by the Puritans, who wanted to express themselves clearly in accordance with their religious beliefs.

In modern times, however, this style is often used in technology, architecture, and engineering fields. But it is also common in business and many other disciplines. Keeping the definition of technical writing in mind, can you think of any examples in writing that use one of these purposes? You may want to pause the video to give yourself a little bit of time to think.

Here are some examples of technical writing. Some other examples might include textbooks, lists of instructions, how-to tutorials, hiring resources, training manuals, job descriptions, offer letters, most web pages, and more. Did you think of any other examples? The next few slides will be some visual examples of what different types of technical writing might look like.

This is a tutorial in a magazine showing how to drive the golf ball further. This one is a poster for how to use chopsticks. This example shows the Articles of Incorporation for a church. This is an instruction manual on how to use the office printer; this example is a humorous adaptation, but the concept still applies. This one is a medical pamphlet about cholesterol.

A manual for using or putting together an appliance is also a technical writing example. This one is how to install a car part. And finally, this one is a research article about a math problem. All of these examples have been examples of technical writing. Notice that some of them are from technology fields, but others are not, such as the Articles of Incorporation for church or a medical pamphlet about cholesterol; however, these are still examples of technical writing because they use that same Puritan plane style writing that favors direct and simple statements over anything else.

Before we discuss how technical writing is unique let’s first talk about the similarities between technical writing and other types of writing. First, you still have to use some kind of writing process that includes brainstorming or prewriting, drafting, revision, and editing.

Though the process may look a bit different from other types of writing, it’s still important that you do not simply turn in or publish writing that you have simply drafted with minimal effort. The writing will still take time and effort even though it may be shorter than other writing it may actually take longer to know exactly what information is essential to include and what information is essential to leave out. Every word must count in technical writing.

You still have to employ strong language skills, including correct grammar, punctuation, spelling, and more.We’ll talk more about this later. You will likely need to heavily research the topic you’re writing about – like Einstein said, “you can’t explain it simply if you don’t understand it well enough.” You also don’t want to accidentally provide the wrong information to your reader.

And finally, just how your professors may ask you to use APA or another style, technical writing requires a strong knowledge of its own guidelines and rules, and each individual field or company will have its own rules that must also be carefully used. You may be wondering why some of these similarities are still important.

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