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Clear Technical Writing

People in technical fields need to communicate their ideas clearly and effectively. Major sources of unclarity in technical texts are related to: redundancies, weak verbs, abstract nouns, wrong punctuation, lots of its and theres, etc. which cause unnecessary and misleading information to be given. These semantic noises overload the sentences and often misguide the reader.

This presentation will help you first become aware of these semantic noises, then get rid of them.
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PART I REMOVING REDUNDANCIES


What does the term redundancy mean?

superfluity (containing an excess of what is necessary or normal), abundance.


Use all the words you need to get your message across, but NO MORE. Especially, be wary of needless repetitions of meaning, as: It was red in color where in color unnecessarily repeats the meaning carried by red and suggests that red is also used elsewhere with a different meaning. The timer measures intervals of up to ten hours in duration where in duration is unnecessarily included. Shortening sentences saves readers time and strengthens the messages impact. However, clarity should be a priority: avoid ambiguity!
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Chapter 1 - Technical Terms:


Time words: redundancies related to time, such as time of; a period of; a time interval of; a duration of; and then; in the future; in advance
After a time interval of one-half to two minutes, the speaker tone usually stops. During periods of unusually hot weather the reserve air conditioner aids the main one. After a time interval of one-half to two minutes, the speaker tone usually stops. During periods of unusually hot weather the reserve air conditioner aids the main one.

Activity words, which describe specific activities, such as function, operation, the process of
The search function can be performed rapidly. In operation, our computer is faster. The new device simplifies the extraction process. The search function can be performed rapidly. In operation, our computer is faster The new device simplifies the extraction process.

- Object Words, which are superfluous when used with words that adequately identify the item, such as unit, equipment, assemblies, device...
Turn on the transmitter-receiver unit. The coils are invaluable in frequency-limitting devices. Turn on the transmitter-receiver unit. The coils are invaluable in frequency-limiters.

Therefore, transmitting equipment becomes transmitters; heating equipment becomes heaters, and so on.
The latching mechanism has broken. The central processor unit manipulates data in the core memory. The latching mechanism has broken. The central processor unit manipulates data in the core memory.

Dimension words: redundancies related to size and direction.


The 10-foot antennas can be turned in the direction to communicate with transportable stations. The display is 6 by 6 feet in size. The generator is not physically in the building. The 10-foot antennas can be turned in the direction to communicate with transportable stations. The display is 6 by 6 feet in size. The generator is not physically in the building.

Quantity Words: redundancies related to quantity, such as a total of, the amount of, the quantity of, a minimum of
The front panel contains a total of six switches. The film grew at a rate of 10 angstroms per seconds. Adjust the value of the bias current for optimum detector sensitivity. The temperature of this cup will be kept between 1300 and 1400C. The front panel contains a total of six switches. The film grew at a rate of 10 angstroms per seconds. Adjust the value of the bias current for optimum detector sensitivity. The temperature of this cup will be kept between 1300 and 1400C.

Chapter 2 - Nontechnical Terms:


Words like type*, nature, condition, etc. are usually needless:
We replaced it with a simple, reliable type of calibrator. He has been working in the area of reliability analysis. We replaced it with a simple, reliable type of calibrator. He has been working in the area of reliability analysis.

Other needless words include: feature, factor, area, capacity... Expressions such as the following can be simplified:
in a xx form e.g. in a schematic form becomes schematically, into xx order e.g. into alphabetical order becomes alphabetically, In a xxx manner e.g. in similar manner becomes similarly, In a xxx sequence e.g. in a rapid sequence becomes rapidly.

(*) except when type means something like it


Ex: We can provide a DC-10 type aircraft or a plane like it.

Attention getters: these expressions merely inform readers that something is going to be said, but carry little information and may be erased.
the fact that; the possibility of, the reason for, the presence of, the results of, etc
To prevent the possibility of galvanic action between dissimilar metals, all metal parts are of copper To prevent galvanic action between dissimilar metals,

Redundancy is also obtained from calling something proper or appropriate when this can be taken for granted!
Necessary, properly, suitably, correct
Correct identification cannot be made Identification cannot be made.

Emphasis words add little or no information at all:


all, very, overall, highly
This device is highly useful in speech analysis This device is useful in speech analysis.

Mind that: 1. Deadwood detract from important words, and usually carry little meaning. 2. Long sentences are harder to understand that shorter ones. Removing deadwood increases readability.

PART II VERB POWER


Verbs are action words. They need to give direct, immediate impact.

Chapter 1 Active & Passive Voice


Passive voice is indispensible for flexibility, but active voice is more direct and forceful. The emphasis is on someone or something acting; on the contrary, in passive voice deemphasizes the actor or stresses the act and the subject receiving the action.
PASSIVE The variable-speed motor is connected to ACTIVE The variable-speed motor connects to

The impedance to ground is increased.


The station is described in Appendix 1.

The impedance to ground increases.


Appendix 1 describes the station.

For the sake of impact, prepositional phrases may become the new subjects; therefore:
In each picture, the responses are shown. For the final test four cycles were analyzed. Each picture shows the responses. The final test analyzed four cycles.
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Chapter 2 Playing with Verbs


Be:
This is little more than a linker between two expressions, but is usually followed by a highly descriptive word which is a potential verb.
Table 4 is a list of the acceptable errors These sections are an explanation of the procedure He was supervisor of the drilling at site A Table 4 lists the acceptable errors These sections explain the procedure He supervised the site A

(B) The original subject can become the dynamic verb.


The conclusion of this team was that . Change of transmission is linear This approach is the result of our study This team concluded that . Transmission changes linearly This approach results from

Make: this is another verb that often deadens sentence power, and can be
replaced by more dynamic ones.
The receiver makes connections with the trunk line. This characteristic of the extractor makes access simple. An evaluation of these displays will be made during the design phase. The tape search makes the tape reels oscillate. The receiver connects with the trunk line. This characteristic of the extractor simplifies access. These displays will be evaluated during the design phase. The tape search oscillates the tape reels.

Do:
Our staff has done examinations on this alloy. Our company has done the design, development and installation of the consoles. Our staff has examined this alloy. Our company has designed, developed and installed the consoles.

Mind that: 1. Not every potential verb should be turned into a verb. Sometimes, a different meaning might be obtained. Ex: Rifle-drilled holes provide lubrication to (lubricate) the crankshaft. Oil lubricates; holes do not. 10

Other verbs
Verbs of service: use, serve, aid.
A signal generator is used to develop test signals. Conduct inspections periodically. A signal generator develops test signals. Inspect periodically.

Verbs of performance: carry out, conduct, perform.

Verbs of result: result, obtain, produce.


This change results in simplification of the structure. This change simplifies the structure. Two boilers heat the building.

Verbs of giving: give, furnish, provide.


Two gas boilers supply heat to the building.

Verbs of accomplishment: accomplish, cause, effect.


We have achieved adequate inhibition of corrosion. We have adequately inhibited corrosion.

Verbs of occurrence: occur, take place, become.


A high-vacuum pump failure occurred at the beginning of the tests. A high-vacuum pump failed

Verbs of possession: have, possess, belong, contain, include.


Figure 7 includes a list of all power outputs. Figure 7 lists all power outputs.

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Infinitives from Nouns: sometimes, nouns can be changed into the to infinitive form of verbs to get a more action-oriented sentence.
This arcing causes the appearance of fractures. To achieve alignment of the L-C section use a plastic screwdriver. This arcing causes fractures to appear. To align the L-C section, use

Gerunds from Nouns: The -ion endings change into -ing endings, which are more dynamic because they emphasize the activity role.
The elimination of long runs will reduce special programming. The problem was eliminated by the replacement of the stop roller. Eliminating longs will reduce The problem was eliminated by replacing

Mind that: some verb forms are generally preferable to others, in the following order:
1. Active voice, present tense The technician adjusts the heat. 2. Infinitive Do the following to adjust the heat. 3. Passive Voice The heat was adjusted by the technician. 4 Noun forms ending in ing Adjusting the heat was easy. 5. Noun forms ending in ion, -ent, -ence, etc. The adjustment of the heat was easy.

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PART III Using Lean Words


Chapter 1 Lightweight Words
Function words develop relationships between other words: and, if, of, so. Except when their additional meaning are relevant, overweight expressions such as in conjunction with, as well as, should not be used to replace function words.
The results obtained from these tests are satisfactory. Our engineers have developed the technology as well as the techniques. To ensure a secure fit use the smaller hole. Mount the equipment in such a way that no material member experiences excessive shock. The results of this test are satisfactory. Our engineers have developed the technology and the techniques. Use the smaller hole for fitting securely. Mount the equipment so that no material

The same happens with quantity and time words: overblown expressions such as numerous, bulk of, in excess of, sufficient, in addition, prior to, can be replaced with simple words such as most, many, first and the like.

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Chapter 2 Lean Verbs


Overweight verbs often carry unnecessary meaning and drag other baggage. Keep it simple!

Use, instead of utilize and employ; Make, instead of fabricate and construct; Check, instead of ascertain and verify; Show, instead of illustrate and demonstrate; Need, instead of call for and require; Begin and End, instead of Initiate and Terminate; Know, instead of be aware of; Keep, instead of maintain; Gain, instead of acquire;

And so on

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Chapter 3 Auxiliary Verbs


Can is discreetly vague and impersonal, and helps avoid cumbersome expressions.
The spectometer is repairable in the field. The spectometer can be repaired in the field.

Other overweight expressions that can be replaced with can are:


be possible /impossible to be amenable to Have the ability to be capable of

Must , Have To are preferred to overweight expressions such as is necessary, is


essential, is mandatory, which are more pompous.
Removal of excess solder is mandatory. It is necessary to find the correct ratio. Excess solder must be removed. The correct ratio must/has to be found.

Auxiliary verbs are often unnecessary where the need can taken for granted:
This synthetizer is capable of generating words This synthetizer can generate words This synthetizer generates words

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Chapter 4 Ponderous writing


Many people use overloaded words which disturb reading; they also use many words where one would do, or general words where specific ones are available. Ponderous nous can be replaced by more simple words:
Explain the philosophy/principles of your company. Since we made these modifications/changes, our files have been up to date.

Avoid the use of circumlocutions (using more words than needed:


These two logic networks work in conjunction with each other/together. It waterproofs the material so that leaks do not occur/preventing leaks.

Vague words carry multiple meanings: be specific!


Vehicle: truck, automobile Document: book, report Facility: factory, laboratory Make: design, engineer

Referents for pronouns should be clear.


The circuit boards will be put in the modules when they are dry. Does it refer to the boards or to the modules?? The circuit boards will be put in the modules when these are dry. It clearly points to the modules

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PART IV Stressing whats important


It and there are anticipatory words that focus attention on the following words. They also deemphasize the verb:
There are two enormous boilers that heat the entire station. It is the envelope direction of these signals which develops the demodulated video output. There are two enormous boilers that heat the entire station It is the envelope direction of these signals which develops the demodulated video output.

Sometimes, the following expressions are unnecessary,


though they add an intended emphasis:
It is evident that the time needed to search for all possible targets is still too long. Evidently, the time needed to search

That are interrupts the flow of sentence:


Indicator lamps that are defective remain dark.
Transportable stations raise problems that are varied and difficult.

Defective lamps remain dark.


Transportable stations raise varied and difficult problems.

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Being Personal or Impersonal


Personal pronouns and names are important because of their accuracy. Specifying who acted gives important information and assigns responsibility.
It was decided that The valves were found to contain metal chips He decided that The valves contained metal chips.

Sentences which are intended as commands or instructions should be written in imperatives be concrete!
A soft cloth should be used to clean. Care must be exercised in performing these tests. Use a soft cloth to clean. Perform these tests carefully.

Try to remove unnecessary expressions of purpose:


The purpose of this glossary is to explain This glossary explains

The receiver has been designed to operate

The receiver operates

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Modifiers
Dont overuse prepositions:
The maintenance table lists the points of test.
This program shows the points of lubrication.

The maintenance table lists the test points.


This program shows the lubrication points.

Ineffectively placed expressions:


Modules, after checkout, will be encapsulated.
The vent plug returns to the cell any spray. Other techniques will be considered for encoding the signal digitally.

After checkout, modules will be encapsulated.


The vent plug returns any spray to the cell. Other techniques will be considered for digitally encoding the signal.

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Useful notes
Avoid lengthy sentences up to 5 lines is acceptable. Use linkers to break long sentences up (however, furthermore, moreover...). In technical texts, figures can be written with numerical characters, but be consistent! Indentation is unnecessary if paragraphs are spaced from each other. Dont overuse commas: use them only to prevent misreading.

If you are writing in English, stick to English word order and sentence structure! Fur further info, you can check in http://linguapress.com/grammar/word-order.htm

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