Why Technical English

About writing essays, professional reports, etc. | December 16, 2009

By Galina Vitkova

 

I have recently read an interesting article by Charles Howell titled Writing Your Report – 5 Mistakes You Don’t Want to Make. I have been very surprised by how some situations described in the article are similar to my experience. Really many students make mistakes, which easily avoidable.

 

First of all, a citation from the article

“For some reason, students writing papers love to use extremely long sentences. Some do this to fill up the page requirements, while others do it to appear as if they know more about the subject and sound ‘scholarly’. Narrative is good, but don’t let it become fluff.”

My students also love writing too long sentences. Some of them are able to write a 100 word long essay comprising only one sentence. These are really extremely long sentences, but I quite usually recommend dividing of a long sentence in an essay into two or even three shorter sentences. However, I am of opinion that students cannot stop in explaining or narrating their thoughts rather than they try to make the teacher think how clever and erudite they are.

Whatever the case may be I admire and endorse a slogan K.I.S.S. introduced by the author of the article, which means “Keep It Short and Simple”. It seems to be great and pertinent in this case.

 

Another citation:

“If you are doing technical writing, or scientific writing avoid using passive sentences. these documents should be as straightforward as possible, especially if you ever want to see them published. Try to keep in mind that in scientific papers, people will be trying to reproduce your experiments. These people will not always be native English speakers, and will be more impressed with an easily understandable report than one from somebody who tried to use too much jargon in order to seem like an expert.”

I am afraid in this case I cannot agree with the author. In my opinion passive sentences are very frequently used in technical writing for one serious reason. In technical writing as a rule we very often need to explain or describe how a procedure, equipment, software program, etc. work or function. Their executor is usually not so important. Let us consider for instance pairs of sentences:

 

 

Active Voice

Passive Voice

 

1

Microsoft released Windows 7 on 22 October 2009.

Windows 7 was released (by Microsoft – usually it is not necessary to add that) on 22 October 2009.

2

Americans built the first solar power plant, which supplies electricity to the local electricity network, in the desert Mojave in California.

The first solar power plant, which supplies electricity to the local electricity network, was built (by Americans –it is not commonly said, it is clear) in the desert Mojave in California.

3

The computer controls a robot´s physical body,

A robot´s physical body (“body” is important, so it should be on the first place) is controlled by the computer.

4

Joints connect together the individual segments of a robot´s physical body.

 The individual segments of a robot´s physical body are connected together with joints (joints could connect together many things, but for us it is important that robots´body segments are connected with joints ).

 

 

 

 

All examples in column B – the passive voice, and they are much more effective than in column A and get to the point.

So, use the passive voice when you want to emphasize actions, results of actions etc. not the person responsible for the action or the source of the action etc.

 

Let us consider another citation:

“I can’t believe that it’s necessary to write about this, but every time I get a batch of reports, there are numerous spelling errors in as many as half of them. Being able to spell correctly is one of the key effective writing skills that teachers notice immediately. It doesn’t matter how well written your report is if, when the teacher looks over it again there are red marks on every page. Deciding the final score on an academic report is a VERY subjective process, and those red marks really DO make a difference. Every word processing program on the market had a decent spell checker – USE IT!”

I have quite the same experience. Although every editor has a check speller at present, many students do not use it. And not anywhere near they use the thesaurus (see Thesaurus – what’s up with it) to make their writing more beautiful and attractive for readers.

 

And finally about the proper format of writing

In English technical or professional writing it needs to keep some style. When issuing a technical report, an essay, or offering and article to a journal, newspaper or somewhere like that everything should be written in a style which a publisher demands. So take it seriously. Remember that technical writing is a tool of non-verbal communication for science and technical projects and you should respect appropriate rules when communicating.

If you aren’t sure about the writing format, which, for example, the journal where you would like to publish your writing demands, ask them. You might even ask them for a few writing samples you can look at to make sure you get the formatting correct. Some publishers are very picky about this. Find out what format this or that journal or other publisher demands and use it.

There are four styles recommended for usage in professional writing. It means if you write something for English or American journals use formats APA style or MLA style or Chicago/Turabian style or StyleEase.

For those who have never about these styles of writing, there is short information on a proper format of style from Wikipedia:

 

MLA (Modern Language Association of America)style

The newest MLA is characterized in the third edition MLA Style Manual and Guide to Scholarly Publishing (2008) The manual was first published by the Modern Language Association of America in 1985. It is an academicstyle guide widely used in the United States, Canada, and other countries. It provides guidelines for writing and documenting research in the humanities, especially in English studies. The MLA’s “guidelines are also used by over 1,100 scholarly and literary journals, newsletters, and magazines and by many university and commercial presses”. Moreover, they are “followed throughout North America and in Brazil, China, India, Japan, Taiwan, and other countries around the world”.

 

APA (American Psychological Association) style

APA Style was first developed 80 years ago by a group of social scientists who wanted to establish sound standards of communication. Since then, it has been adopted by leaders in many fields and has been used by writers around the world.

The best scientific writing is scanty and straightforward. It draws attention to the ideas being presented.  So, the manuscript structure, word choice, punctuation, graphics, and references are all chosen to move the idea forward with a minimum of distraction and a maximum of precision. The APA rules of style concern punctuation and abbreviations, construction of tables, selection of headings, citation of references, and presentation of statistics.

APA style rules and guidelines are set out in a reference book titled The Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association.

Chicago/Turabian style

This is a Chicago style of writing and formatting research reports, theses, and dissertations, for students and researchers developed in the University of Chicago and commonly known as Turabian style. The newest version of A Manual for Writers of Research Papers, Theses, and Dissertations comprising appropriate rules is published by the University of Chicago Press in November 2009. The style includes International Standard Bibliographic Description , too.

Style  Ease

StyleEase has been producing great software for academic writers since 1991. If you’re really uncertain about formatting and you do not know publisher´s requirements, get a formatting tool like StyleEase to make it easier. There are four software tools for that, i.e. StyleEase for APA Style,  StyleEase for MLA Style, StyleEase for Chicago/Turabian Style, and StyleEase for Seminary Style.

Just remember what is recommended above and check everything you have written before handing your piece of work in.

References:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wikiWikipedia – free encyclopedia

http://EzineArticles.com/?expert=Charles_Howell


1 Comment »

  1. […] About writing essays, professional reports, etc.   […]

    Pingback by Changing the theme of this blog « Why Technical English — August 26, 2010 @ 9:29 am


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