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Historical Background Of Technical Writing

It is extremely diffcult to trace the exact origin of written instructions. It is
even more difficult to understand and form a history sheet of technical
writing events. Technical writing, as you know is systematic writing of
instruction for the users to perform a given task. It is also about documenting
information that users can use.
Examples of Ancient Technical Writing
If you do a careful study and research, you will realize that this type of
writing reflects in many historical and ancient scripts. So it is true to say that
technical writing have been around for centuries. We gave this art of writing
a formal name only a few decades ago. Some examples of ancient technical
writing are:

The Code of Hammurabi written in 1780 BC by King Hammurabi, which

describes the laws and punishments for of the ancient Mesopotamian

The Art of War written in 500 BC by Sun Tzu, a Chinese general is the
worlds first book on war tactics. The principles taught in this book can
be applied to all walks of lives business, sports, management, personal
lives, etc. Hence, people have been referring to this book for years,
even now!

The Kamasutra by sage Vatsyayana, which happens to be the worlds

oldest and well-known erotic literature.

Darwins Origin of the Species, which discusses the evolution.

Joseph D. Chapline is probably the first technical writer to have written

computer related documentation (users instruction manual for the BINAC
computer). According to some sources, the early books on technical writing

A Guide to Technical Writing, T. A. Rickard, 1908

The Theory and Practice of Technical Writing, Samuel Chandler Earle,


Samuel Earle is hence considered to be the father of technical writing. The

gradual, but the steady growth of the field of electronics, motors,
engineering, medicine, pharmaceutical, biomedical, finance, and space
industries created a big upsurge in the US. This probably increased the
demand for technical writers.

Technical WritingA Timeline

It is true to say that the advancement of technical writing started with the
invention of the computer and it took the form of a upcoming and respected
career with the advanced use of computers for creating software and
software products.

It is believed that the first ever published advertisement for technical

writer was in the year 1951.

By 1960, degree programs in technical (and scientific writing were

offered by many colleges in the US.

In the 1980s, the U.S. Department of Justice ruled that technical writing
is a profession. Hence, this period can be said to be the golden era of
technical communication.

In 1988, a Globe and Mail article described that the technical writers
emerged in response to the explosion in the number of systems being

In the mid 90s, new job opportunities for technical writers were
created, thanks to the increase in the ISO 9000 certification
requirements. It is true to say that most of the organizations initially
started recruiting writers to fulfill the ISO requirements more than the
documentation requirements.
2. Technical Writing
Technical writing is sometimes defined as simplifying the complex. Inherent
in such a concise and deceptively simple definition is a whole range of skills
and characteristics that address nearly every field of human endeavor at
some level.
A significant subset of the broader field of technical
communication, technical writing involves communicating complex
information to those who need it to accomplish some task or goal.
3. Five Basic Principles Of Technical Writing
Five Basic Principles of Good Technical Writing
1. Always have in mind a specific reader, real or imaginary, when writing a

2. Before you start to write, always decide what the exact purpose of your
report is, and make sure that every paragraph, every sentence, every word,
makes a clear contribution to that purpose, and makes it at the right time.
4. At the beginning and end of every section of your report check your
writing according to this principles: First you tell your readers what you are
going to tell them, and then you tell them what have told them.
5. Make your report attractive to look at.
Well-written and accurate documentation plays a major role in any
companys customer support strategy because it helps to reduce support
costs. Technical writing plays a big part in the support equation.
Technical writing is much more than just technical jargon, and structured,
concise instructions. As the intended audience for the technical writing could
be for both technical and not-technical people it must to convey its message
so that both sets of people understand it.
The main purpose of a technical writer when approaching a new technical
writing project is to ensure that they maintain focused on what they are
writing about. The information they are producing has to be organized and
structured within the laid down style that is appropriate for the intended
audience. By sticking to the basic principles of technical writing the technical
writer is ensuring that the documentation is clearly understood by the
The following is the six basic principles of technical writing that a technical
writer has to take in to consideration.
There are five basic questions a technical writer has to ask themselves when
starting a new project who, why, what, how and when. Answering these
questions will allow the technical writer to be able to develop the content for
any type of technical documentation. For example, lets say the technical
writer has to create a user guide for a new video recorder. Before creating
the user guide, they will have to plan the content of the user guide by
applying following key questions to the situation:
1. Who will read the user guide?
2. Why do need to create the user guide?

3. What is this user guide going to offer its intended audience?

4. How is the user guide going to be delivered?
5. When does the user guide have to be ready (publishing date)?
The audience and purpose of the documentation
Before beginning any new writing project, the technical writer has to analyze
the intended audience and identify the purpose for the document. The
technical writer will need to ask the following questions about the audience:
1. Who will read the documentation?
2. What are their biases?
3. What responsibilities does the technical writer
communicating the information to the audience?



With regard to the purpose of the documentation, technical writer will need
to know what the documentation will accomplish and also what should it do.
Technical writers will more than likely use a company styleguide (if there is
one) to ensure that their documentation has a structured and organized
pattern so that it gives consistency to their writing. A styleguide will provide
the document with continuity so that the audience can comprehend the
information. For example, technical writers need to organise their ideas in a
specific chronological format because without a specific layout and structure
to the documentation it will be very confusing for the reader to understand.
Writing Style
Technical writers will need to change their writing style depending on the
audience and situation they are writing about. If they are writing technical
documentation then it needs to be formal and devoid of any emotion as you
get with creative writing. Whereas, if say they were an email to one of the
senior managers involved in the project then their approach would more
casual than formal.
Accessing the information
Accessibility applies to the ease at which the intended audience can gain
access to the information they need from the technical documentation. A

technical document must at least contain a table of contents, headers and

footers, list of illustrations/tables, page numbers, etc.
Also a technical document must adhere to a specific heading and sub
heading structure to break down the information into relevant areas that the
reader can access easily.
A technical writer must adhere to all the rules of conventional grammar. Also
it is the technical writers responsibility to proofread and edit their
documentation to detect and correct any errors in the writing, graphics,
typography and layout.
In summarising, a technical writer must ensure that they incorporate the
above mentioned principles into their everyday writing style. This will go a
long to make them not only a better writer but their technical
documentation will be appreciated by both their peers and readers alike.

4. Characteristics of Technical Writing

Technical writing, just as any other form of writing, has certain characteristics
which distinguish it from other types of writing. It is very different from
writing opinion pieces, essays, prose, non-fiction or fiction.

It is clear and straight forward. If you are interested in technical writing

for professional purposes, it is very important to know that this type of
writing requires that the writer stick to the subject matter and relay
information in a clear and concise manner.
The language is very direct and straight to the point. The writing will
avoid words that people do not understand and will avoid an eloquent
writing style.
It is very detailed and informative. The perfect example of technical
writing is a textbook. The written content of most textbooks is geared
to providing information by describing the subject matter as fully as
It is very structured. This type of writing has a very obvious
composition that makes it easy for the reader to follow along. Solid
structure is needed with technical writing as it allows the audience to
easily access the information as needed.

5. Difference between Formal and Informal Writing

An Informal Writing style shows a level of familiarity and personality that

sets it apart. Meanwhile, Formal Writing style most often takes place on
serious topics in a direct and succinct way.
Each of these styles has their own merits. Their usage depends on the tone
you are trying to set. The differences between formal and informal writing,
here are some things to consider:

Informal writing takes on the characteristics of a spoken conversation.
Informal writing includes things like slang, figures of speech, broken syntax,
etc. It also takes on a personal tone whereby you speak directly to your
audience. You can use first or third person point-of-view, and youre likely to
address the reader using second person pronouns (e.g. you, your).
Short sentences are acceptable and sometimes essential to make a point in
informal writing. Thus, there are may be incomplete sentences or ellipsis to
make points. Also, try to save your five dollar words for a more formal
setting. If you use any industry jargon, explain it.
Contractions / Abbreviations
Words can be simplified using contractions (e.g. youre, couldnt, its) and
abbreviations (e.g. TV, photos) whenever possible.
Empathy / Emotions
The author can show empathy towards the reader regarding the complexity
of a thought and help them through that complexity.

Longer sentences are likely to be more prevalent in formal writing. You need
to be as thorough as possible with your approach to each topic when you are
using a formal style. Each main point needs to be introduced, elaborated on
and concluded.
State main points confidently and offer full support arguments. A formal
writing style shows a limited range of emotions. It avoids emotive
punctuation like exclamation points, ellipsis, etc., unless they are being cited
from another source.
Full Words
No contractions or abbreviations to simplify words.
Third Person
Not a personal writing style, the formal writer is sort of disconnected from
the topic to make observations.
Mostly the type of language used, and the format. Formal writing demands
formal language and formal grammar. Informal writing can use slang,
colloquialisms, dashes and exclamation points etc.
May use colloquial words/expressions (kids, guy, awesome, a lot, etc.)
May use contractions (cant, wont, shouldnt, etc.)
May use first, second, or third person.
May use clichs (loads of, conspicuous by absence, etc.)
May address readers using second person pronouns (you, your, etc.)
May use abbreviated words (photo, TV, etc.)
May use imperative voice (e.g. Remember)
May use active voice (e.g. We have noticed that)

May use short and simple sentences.

Difficulty of subject may be acknowledged and empathy shown to the
Avoid using colloquial words/expressions
man/boy, wonderful, many, etc.)


with children,

Avoid contractions (write out full words cannot, will not, should not, etc.)
Write in third person (except in business letters where first person may be
Avoid clichs (use many, was absent, etc.)
Avoid addressing readers using second person pronouns (use one, ones,
the reader, the readers, etc.)
Avoid using abbreviated words (use full versions like photograph,
television, etc.)
Avoid imperative voice (use Please refer to)
Use passive voice (e.g. It has been noticed that)
Longer and more complex sentences are preferred (short simple sentences
reflects poorly on the writer)


Far Eastern University

Institute of Architecture and Fine Arts

ENG 8:



Roque, Trina Rose B.