Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Welcome to Technical Writing!

I am excited for us to embark on our investigation of "technical writing" this semester! Since you all are Juniors and Seniors and have done significant research in your major field of study by this time, I am guessing that at some point you have come across a document or graphic that was intended to communication "specialist" information to a non-specialist audience. I know, however, that you have probably more often come across documents that were written for people with a specialized vocabulary in a particular scholarly area. You are now becoming a kind of "specialist" yourself, but our class this semester aims to help you maintain (or develop!) sensitivity to the comprehension needs of non-specialists.

Can you think of an instance in your field of study and/or future career when you might need to communicate some highly technical information to a non-specialist audience? How might you do that and why might it be critically important to do so?


  1. A circumstance in which I may have to report technical information to a non-specialist, has already happened to me. In one of my previous job I was an equipment maintenance manager. In this position I started a spread sheet that I could track each piece of equipments individual maintenance cost. Then when it was time for me to purchase new/replacement equipment I could easily see the old pieces of equipment that were no longer cost effective to maintain, and preferentially pull them off the floor to be replaced by the new equipment.

    Without wanting the details of what parts I was replacing, their individual cost, and the frequency parts were being replaced, my boss, wanted to know why I wanted to replace the equipment I had slated for disposal. I printed him out a spreadsheet with an explanation of the depreciated cost per year of the old equipment vs the depreciated cost per year of the new piece of equipment with warranty info.

    It was understood, without having to know every detail, that I could show him the cost effectiveness of replacing the equipment. I saved the company $6,000 per year. Not a huge improvement compared to my overall budget, but a .02% savings to the company.

    This all from synthesizing a technical spreadsheet to a laymen cost effectiveness analysis.

  2. An example of this would be in the future of my career if i am giving a presentation to an audience. I could be working on a project for a company and be giving a presentation about the results. I know all about what i'm doing but the people may not know exactly as much information as i do so i need to explain it to them in words that they would understand.

  3. At my current job there are far too many projects going on at the same time. In order to manage all these projects people are split into groups that are in charge of specific tasks. However, since we are split into groups it is often a problem where other groups do not know what others are working on. To solve this we now have weekly group meetings where we explain to other groups our goals, plans and the progress on our projects. The twist is other groups do not necessarily understand the diction and acronyms so we must explain our projects to them in a way where everyone from engineers to custodians can understand what we are doing and how it will affect them.

  4. Working in IT, presenting to company employees may come up, if they need to be trained on new hardware/software, or new procedures. Presenting to other companies could be important, especially if I work at an IT services company.