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What Are the Different Technical Writing Standards?

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  • Written By: T. Carrier
  • Edited By: John Allen
  • Last Modified Date: 09 July 2018
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    2003-2018
    Conjecture Corporation
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Technical writing is targeted to specific audiences, usually individuals with a great deal of knowledge about the intended subject. As such, technical writing pieces are usually formal in nature and follow a standardized format. The writer should have a clear grasp of the format and purpose of the document and clearly state this information early in the piece. Most technical documents follow a similar structural format, including the following components: abstract or summary, table of contents, introductory information, background information, explanation of methodologies, results plus analytical information, and appendices. Specific formatting issues might also encompass font use, page numbering, and the use of headings and subheadings. Word choices are usually dictated by the intended audience, but clarity is crucial in all technical writing pieces.

Preparatory work can enhance technical writing standards. Several different types of technical writing exist, ranging from laboratory reports to proposals. The technical writer should determine which type best suits his or her purposes. Further, the writer should have a clear purpose or objective for the piece and state this information as early as possible, Specific word choices, tone, and level of formality will largely be determined by the intended audience for the writing.

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For large technical writing documents, a good deal of preliminary information may need to accompany the actual text. The overall document is usually summarized in a short piece of text known as an abstract or executive summary. This piece is placed at the beginning of the document, along with a table of contents that provides an outline of the covered subject matter.

In addition, technical writing standards often lay out a specific structural format for the document. Information is divided into different sections, and each section contains headings and possible subheadings. A typical technical writing document might include the following sections: introduction, literature review or background, methodology, results, and implications or suggestions. All sections are usually written in the third person and in the present tense.

Since technical writing often uses complex information and synthesizes research, supplementary documents will frequently accompany and enhance the text. Charts and graphs, for example, can provide support for a point and better clarify complex information. Generally, this information is placed at the end of the document in the form of appendices. Instructions for reference are placed in parentheses in the text. If outside sources are used, these should be noted and placed in a references section.

Technical writers use certain techniques to highlight or set apart information. Changing the appearance of the word or phrase is one option, such as when technical writing standards dictate that menu commands in electronic documents be darkened and bolded. Other specific pieces of information use special fonts as well. For example, book titles are often placed in italics, and acronyms are typically written in all capital letters. Font sizes may be altered as well, in order to draw attention to certain words or headings.

Reader clarity is crucial in technical writing standards — and writing standards in general. Despite the level of language, all information should be clear and easy to understand. As the audience is likely familiar with technical terms, explanations of these terms are usually not necessary. The document should flow properly, with adequate transitional phrases holding information together. Further, pages should be clearly numbered and titled if needed.

More specific format issues also abound in technical writing. For example, abbreviations must always be spelled out fully for the reader when the abbreviated term is first used. If the document uses lists, then bullet points and similar phrase structures in each portion of the list are typical. In general, only numbers lowers than 10 should be written out, while any unit of measurement is usually written numerically. While audiences for technical writing differ, slang or overly informal writing should be avoided.

Technical writing standards may gain widespread acceptance through common use and professional endorsement. Textbooks and journals devoted to technical writing will usually implement and outline accepted regional standards. Professional technical writing programs also teach necessary guidelines.

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