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Basic tips for Technical Writing Structure

Updated on April 13, 2013

online writings skills, technical writing skills, Technical writing, Technical communication,

Technical writing, Technical communication, online writings skills, technical writing skills


Most things can be described in terms of structure and function - political systems, body organs, games, and systems. Structure is Platonic in the sense that it approximates an ideal form. Function is Aristotelian, in that it describes the uses we have for things. A Platonist might describe a horse as a beast with four legs, a tail, and a long back. An Aristotelian could describe the same horse as a beast for riding and even go a step further to give instructions for riding the beast.

Technical writers combine both philosophies in their everyday work. It's just another thing that makes technical writing such an interesting profession.

The Importance of Information Structure:

Data without structure is not very useful. How do you find what you're looking for? What's important, and what is trivial? When you read about a subject, you expect some kind of organization that saves you time and effort in learning. If it is not organized, you will quickly give up.

put the most important information first. What is important? That depends on your audience analysis. Generally, warnings come first. Most introductions are a waste of a time for the technical reader. They don't read from start to finish, but rather search for a particular chunk of information. So your index, table of contents, or other navigational aids should come first. Assume your readers are intelligent enough to find their way if your organization is clear and consistent.

Descriptions versus Instructions:

Structures have descriptions. Functions have instructions. When you describe a horse, you list all the components that make up the horse. You may not even need a specific horse in mind, but can define what a horse is in abstract terms. Give your audience the information required to identify a horse. When you give some instructions in riding a horse, you should start with a description of the temperament of that horse, and how to use the saddle, reins, and stirrups the horse is wearing. Give your audience the information required to take advantage of the horse's function.... riding.

Understanding the Role of Description:

Technical communication is filled with descriptions - verbal and visual representations of objects, mechanisms, and processes.

Objects: This word covers an enormous range of things from physical sites such as mountains to synthetic artifacts such as hammers.

Mechanisms: It's a synthetic object consisting of a number of moving identifiable parts that work together as a system. For example, a television set.

Processes: A process is an activity that takes place over time. For example, how plants perform photosynthesis. Furthermore, description of processes differ from instructions, as it explains how something happens whereas instruction tells us how to do something.

Description of objects, mechanisms and processes appear in virtually every kind of technical communication. Before you begin to write a description, consider carefully how the audience and purpose of the document will affect the way you write it.

The Structure of object and Mechanism Description:

Object and mechanism description have the same basic structure, and the word "item" refers to both object and mechanism. Most descriptions of items have a four - past structure:

1. Title or section heading

2. General introduction that tells the reader the definition of item.

3. par-by-part description of the item.

4. Conclusion that summarizes the description and explains how the part works together.

Structural Element:
1. Time or section Heading


if the description of the item (object/ mechanism) is to be a separate document, give it a title. if it is a part of the body, give it a section heading. In either case, clearly state the subject and indicate whether the description is general or particular.

2. General Introduction: Provides the basic information that your reader will need to understand the detailed description that follows. A general introduction usually answers the following five questions.

1. What is the item?
2. What is the function of the item?
3. What does the item look like?
4. How does the item work?
5. What are the principal parts of the item?

The information provided in the introduction generally follows this pattern, focusing on the item's function, appearance, operating principle and components.

3. Part-by-part Description: It is essentially like the general introduction in a way it treats each part as a separate item. That is, in writing about a part, you describe its:
1. Function
2. Operating principle

Appearance (including shape, dimensions, material, texture, color etc.)

4. Conclusion: Descriptions generally do not require elaborate conclusions. A brief conclusion is only needed, and you can summarize briefly by explaining how the parts function together.

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