Taking a closer look at Technical Writing

Taking a closer look at Technical Writing


There are many, many, many ways of writing! Technical writing for student research papers is just one style, but writing in this style is our goal in this class. In the world of technical writing, the main goal is to get information to the reader in an accurate, clear, and concise way. That means you, the author, need to learn about a topic AND learn how to effectively communicate it. It really is like picking-up another language!

An abstract example

A student has been assigned to write a research paper on arctic plants. His introduction has to convey the following information:

Arctic plants are adapted to cold climates and face a threat from climate change


Below are two examples of introductions he could use for his paper—one done in conversational prose (the style you expect to see in a magazine), the other in technical writing (the style you expect to see in a student’s scientific research paper).


Conversational Prose (Ex: Magazine entry) Technical writing—Science research report
“Imagine being a tiny plant growing in the freezing cold of the Arctic for all of your life. Your ancestors dealt with snow and ice and their evolutionary efforts paid-off because you find yourself well-adapted and ready for any type of snowy surprise. Now, all of a sudden, you find yourself facing warmer weather you’re not built to handle and life is not so great! This is the awful reality for many arctic plants. Species once happy and healthy in the Arctic are now being left to duke it out with a warmer world.”


“Arctic plants are well-adapted to life in cold regions. However, as the Arctic continues to warm in response to climate change, many species may become threatened. Traits that make them capable of thriving in the tundra could now be decreasing their ability to survive in a warmer world. “

·         Both convey the same information to the reader

·         Both use proper grammar

·         Both are clear

·         Word choice is important to each

·         Organization of ideas is important to each

·         Both should cite sources (left out of this example), but put the citations in different places

Some Key Differences
Much less formal and can be written in 1st or 2nd person (“Your ancestors dealt with snow…”) Much more formal and typically written in the 3rd person (“Arctic plants are well-adapted to life in cold regions”)
Can make you identify with the subject (“Imagine being a tiny plant”) Tries to keep emotional distance between the subject and the reader (“Arctic plants are well-adapted to life in cold regions”)
The author can be “wordy” The author avoids being “wordy” and goes for conciseness instead (how many words can be left-out while keeping the meaning?)
Written for an audience that is probably not as familiar with the topic OR just looking to glean some cool information Written for an audience more familiar with the topic and interested in just the facts


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