Effective Writing: Improving Scientific, Technical, and Business Communication

By Christopher Turk; John Kirkman | Go to book overview

11

Writing instructions

What we have been saying about general principles applies to all types of informative writing, but there are specific writing tasks which we want to discuss as special cases, requiring their own special skills. Two types of writing with specialized aims, and therefore specialized tactics, are instructions and descriptions, which are the subjects of this and the next chapter.

Much writing is difficult to use because it fails to make clear decisions about what its aim is. This extract is from a document that was intended as an instruction:

The computer and the external equipment are placed in operation by procedures which incorporate loading magnetic tape, making certain manual selections, and starting the program. The operator first makes sure that all the equipment which is to be used by the program in store is properly prepared: that is to say that there is paper in the typewriter, that its margins are correctly adjusted, that its switch is set to COMPUTER, and that the power is on. If magnetic tape is to be used, the door of the tape handler is opened.

Difficulty is not caused by unreadable style. It is caused by the writer's confusion between the task of describing the process, and that of telling the reader how to operate the equipment.

Writers must be clear about the differences between these two modes of writing. Instructions enable the reader to do something with minimum hesitation. They do not necessarily require him or her to understand the operation; indeed to try to make the reader understand as well may interfere with the sequence of operations. A description, we shall argue in the next chapter, progresses from external overviews, through descriptions of the function and purpose, into detailed discussion of the compo-

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Effective Writing: Improving Scientific, Technical, and Business Communication
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • From the Reviews of the First Edition vi
  • Preface vii
  • About the Authors ix
  • 1 - Writing is Communicating: Revising Basic Assumptions 1
  • References 20
  • 2 - Thinking About Aim and Audience 21
  • 3 - Starting to Write: a Practical Approach 36
  • 4 - Organization and Layout of Information 44
  • References 76
  • 5 - The Use of Headings and Numbering 77
  • 6 - Algorithms for Complex Possibilities and Procedures 82
  • 7 - Style for Readability 90
  • References 117
  • 8 - Writing with a Computer 119
  • 9 - Informative Summaries 127
  • 10 - Choosing and Using Tables, Illustrations and Graphic Presentation Techniques 148
  • 11 - Writing Instructions 195
  • 12 - Writing Descriptions and Explanations 216
  • 13 - Writing Letters and Memoranda 225
  • 14 - Writing Minutes and Reports of Proceedings 240
  • 15 - Writing in Examinations 251
  • Appendix A 267
  • Appendix B 269
  • Index 273
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