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Jesus Menoy

ENGLISH 103
BASIC TECHNIQUES IN TECHNICAL WRITING

Successful writers employ a variety of techniques in their writing. However, the kind of writing dictates the
techniques to be employed by the writer. For instance, if one does a brochure, he use description more than any
other technique; if he writes a fire incident report, he uses narration more than any other. In technical writing, the
techniques basically employed are definition, definition, description, classification, partitioning or analysis,
causation (causal analysis), comparison, contrast, and interpretation.

DEFINITION

Technical writing is replete with technical terms that need to be defined. It is a must to define scientific
terms to allow for better comprehension. These difficult words may come in the form of known words used in a
differently new sense (as fly-over), new words for already known things (as somnambulist for sleepwalker), and
new words for unknown things (as schizophrenia). New words do not necessarily mean newly-coined words; they
are new in the sense that they are encountered by the readers for the first time so they have to be defined.

When one defines, he gives the meaning of a certain term. The writer may define a word in any of the three
ways: informal (word or phrase) definition, formal (sentence) definition, and amplified (extended or expanded)
definition.

An informal definition comes in the form of a word or a phrase oftentimes called a synonym. For example,
word seism is defined by giving earthquake as an appositive. The word compensation and remuneration can be
made simpler by writing pay or the word inundation by mentioning flood.

A formal or sentence definition, as its name suggests, is in the form of a sentence with these three elements:
species, genus, and differentia/e. The species is the term defined; the genus is the class or kind to which the term
belongs; the differentia or differentiae are the distinguishing characteristics that make the term different from other
terms of the same class. Examples of formal definitions are provided below.

A somnambulist is a person who walks while asleep.


A somniloquist is a person who talks while asleep.
A thermometer is an instrument that measures temperature.
A barometer is an instrument that measure atmospheric pressure.

The species are underlined once; the genera (plural of genus), boldfaced; and the differentiae, italicized.
Note that the species, the genus, and the linking verb are singular in form and that the differentia is introduced by a
relative pronoun (who, that, which, whose, whom, etc.). The formal definition is described so because it follows the
form: species = genus and differentia (S = G + D). The equal sign can be translated to is or means.

The amplified (extended or expanded) definition (see the sample in Appendix G) comes in the form of
additional sentences that support a formal definition which becomes the topic sentence of a paragraph with
definition as method of development. The amplified (extension or expansion) is done in any of the following ways:

1. Function use of the thing defined;


2. Location placement/position of the thing defined;
3. Physical description physical traits (color, size, shape, etc.) of the thing define;
4. Further definition definition of words in the formal definition of the thing defined;
5. Causation causes or effects of the thing defined;

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6. Comparison similarities of the thing defined with another thing;
7. Contrast differences of the thing defined from another thing;
8. Exemplification concrete examples of the thing defined;
9. Etymology/word derivation words from which the thing defined was derived;
10. Analysis parts of the thing defined;
11. Basic principle law or principle governing the thing defined; and
12. Negation negative statements about the thing defined.

A definer faces several problems. One of these is the placement of the definitions. He can choose from
among these alternatives: in the text (most common), in footnotes, in a glossary, and in a special section in the
introduction (least common). Another problem is diction or word choice. He has to select the appropriate words to
make his meanings clear. For instance, given the following examples, the best definition of a square is the last.

A square is a geometric figure which has four equal sides.


A square is a polygon which has four equal sides.
A square is a quadrilateral which has equal sides.
A square is a quadrilateral which has four equal sides.
A square is an equilateral figure which has four equal sides.
A square is a rectangle which has equal sides.

The first three definitions may also apply to a rhombus. The fourth and fifth definitions contain
redundancies (quadrilateral and four in the fourth and equilateral and equal in the fifth). The word rectangle is
the most appropriate genus because a rectangle is a four-sided polygon with right angles and because what
distinguishes a square from other rectangles is its equal sides.

Two other problems encountered by a definer are the repetition of key terms and the use of a single
example or instance. It is not good to defined fixed assets by saying that they are assets which are fixed and to
defined smooth muscles by saying that they are muscles which are smooth. Likewise, it is bad to defined volcanic
eruption this way: Volcanic eruption is what occurred to Mount Pinatubo two decades ago. Note that judgment
must be exercised in the use of words in the genus and differentia, in the choice of which key terms are to be
repeated, and in the use of examples to be cited in the definition.

MECHANISM DESCRIPTION

Description, besides definition, is a useful technique in technical writing. A writer may describe a
mechanism, a process, or even a person. When he describes a mechanism (see the sample in Appendix G) or a
machine, he makes use of the following outline;

I. Introduction
a. Definition of the machine
b. Description of the machine
c. Function of the machine
d. Main parts of the machine
II. Party-by-party description
a. Main Part 1
i. Subpart 1
ii. Subpart 2
b. Main Part 2

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i. Subpart 1
ii. Subpart 2
1. Sub-subpart 1
2. Sub-subpart 2
iii. Subpart 3
c. Main Part 3
i. Subpart 1
ii. Subpart 2
iii. Subpart 3
III. Conclusion/Summary of the main points
a. Operation of the machine (by the user)
b. Operation by the machine

In the writing the description of each main part, subpart, or sub-subpart, the describer cites the parts color,
size or dimensions, shape, material, texture, method of attachment, and relationship with other parts. For example,
after describing in the introduction the computer as an entire unit, he describes in the body each of its main parts
(monitor, keyboard, CPU, and printed), each of its subparts, and so on. He ends his composition by writing about
how it operates, how it is operated, or both.

Note that the outline above does not apply to all machines. The outline varies according to the number of
main parts and subparts and the details to be included in the description; the spatial or logical order may be used in
the presentation.

PROCESS DESCRIPTION

Process description (see the sample in Appendix G) is simply describing a series of steps/stages or a series
of actions. Unlike a mechanism description which makes use of spatial or logical order, a process description always
uses chronological (time) order. Therefore, the steps or stages are sequenced based on the time of occurrence. The
describer arranges these steps or stages in an outline that follows:

I. Introduction
a. Definition of the process
b. Doer/Agent of the process
c. Purpose of the process
d. Purpose of the process description
e. Point of view of the process description
f. Main steps in the process

II. Body/Step-by-step description


a. Main Step 1
i. Sub step 1
ii. Sub step 2
b. Main Step 2
i. Sub step 1
ii. Sub step 2
iii. Sub step 3
1. Sub-sub step 1
2. Sub-sub step 2

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iv. Sub step 4
c. Main Step 3
i. Sub step 1
ii. Sub step 2

III. Conclusion/Summary of the main points

Process descriptions are classified into directional or instructional and informational. The directional
process description comes in the form of directions/instructions (imperative sentences or commands) addressed to
the doer or agent of the action; it is written in the active imperative style and the second-person point of view.
Examples of this process are writing, lay outing, cooking and teaching. On the other hand, the informational process
description comes in the form of pieces of information (declarative sentence) addressed to the reader of the
description who is not the doer or agent of the actions; it is written in the active indicative or passive indicative style
and the third-person point of view. The process is done by any of the following: a group of individuals (human
process), e.g., mass production of wine and newspaper publishing; a machine (mechanical process), e.g., computer
data-processing and air-conditioning; and nature (natural process), e.g., volcanic eruption and disease transmission.

Note that the outline above does not apply to all processes. The outline varies according to the number of
main steps and sub steps and the details to be included in the description.

ANALYSIS OR PARTITIONING

Like definition and description, division is a technique commonly used in technical writing. It may involve
one species or several species. When it involves only one species or unit, it is knows as analysis/partitioning as when
a unit is divided into its parts (elements/components/constituents). When it involves several species or units, it is
called classification as when several units are divided into classes (groups/kinds/types).

In writing an analysis (see the sample in Appendix G), the analyzer makes use of an outline similar to that
of a mechanism description. An analysis differs from a mechanism description in that the former deals with a non-
machine, e.g., a family, a school, or a table, while the latter deals with a machine; moreover, he has to be guided by
the following guidelines (which apply also to classification):

1. Define the species to be partitioned (classified).


2. Give the guiding principle or basis for partitioning (classified).
3. If there are many bases, use one at a time.
4. Name all the parts (classes) of the species partitioned (classified) per basis.
5. See to it that there is no overlapping of the parts (classes).
6. If there are sub parts (sub classes), name them.

CLASSIFICATION

Classification (see the sample in Appendix G) is division of several species into classes or groups. Similar
to an analysis, a classification is written with the foregoing guidelines in mind. A classifier has to make an outline as
shown below.

I. Introduction
a. Definition of the thing classified
b. Basis of classification

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c. Main groups in the classification
II. Body/Group-by-group description
a. Main group 1
i. Subgroup 1
ii. Subgroup 2
b. Main group 2
i. Subgroup 1
1. Sub-subgroup 1
2. Sub-subgroup 2
3. Sub-subgroup 3
ii. Subgroup 2
iii. Subgroup 3
c. Main group 3
i. Subgroup 1
ii. Subgroup 2
iii. Subgroup 3
III. Conclusion/Summary of the main points

Refer to the Taxonomic Classification of Invertebrate Animals (pages 168-169) for a sample.

COMPARISON

Species in a given class possess traits common to all. These similar features are responsible for their being
grouped into one class. However, species belonging to different classes may exhibit similar traits. When these
similarities exist between different groups, there is a need to compare. Thus, a technical writer does a comparison
(see the sample in Appendix G).

Comparisons maybe literal or figurative. A comparison is literal when the things compared are of the same
kind. For example, a cheetah is liked to a puma. On the contrary, a comparison is a figurative when the things
compared do not belong to the same class. An example of this is the comparison between machinery (concrete) and
liberty (abstract). A figurative comparison is known as an analogy.

CONTRAST

While similarities exist between two items, differences between them do occur, too. For instance, a whale
and a shark have the same appearance and habitat; however, the former is a mammal, whereas the latter is a fish.
Fraternal or even identical twins display a number of differences. Because there are more differences than
similarities as regards two items compared, writers devised ways or pattern to show contrast (see the sample in
Appendix G). These two pattern and the alternating pattern.

The block or opposing pattern presents the items contrasted with their corresponding characteristics,
separately. For example, when animals and plants are contrasted, animals are described first before plants
characterized. An outline for the block pattern is shown on the next page.

I. Introduction
II. Body/Item-by-item contrast
a. Item 1
i. Quality 1

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ii. Quality 2
iii. Quality 3
iv. Quality 4
b. Items 2
i. Quality 1
ii. Quality 2
iii. Quality 3
iv. Quality 4
III. Conclusion/Summary of the main points

The alternating pattern presents the items contrasted alternatively, that is, one after another, for every point
of contrast. For example, when animal and plants are contrasted, structure, locomotion, food production and
reproduction are used as points of contrast. For every point of contrast, animals are mentioned before plants are
cited. An outlined for the alternating pattern is presented below.

I. Introduction
II. Body/Point-by-point contrast
a. Point of contrast//Quality 1
i. Item 1
ii. Item 2
b. Point of contrast//Quality 2
i. Item 1
ii. Item 2
c. Point of contrast//Quality 3
i. Item 1
ii. Item 2
d. Point of contrast//Quality 4
i. Item 1
ii. Item 2
III. Conclusion/Summary of the main points

CAUSATION/CAUSAL ANALYSIS

In the different field of science, students and specialists are curious and interested to know the whys and
wherefores of things. Such curiosity and interest lead them to discover the causes of events or phenomena. This
discovery enables them to report and explain the cause and effect of things in such a way that readers have the
facility to comprehend.

Causation (see the sample in Appendix G) is one of thee techniques commonly used by technical writers. It
analyzes the causes and/or effects of an event or a phenomenon. It may be presented in various ways, based on the
number of causes and effects involved and the interrelationship between the two. Below are the patterns showing
cause-effect relationship:

1. Single cause-effect pattern

Cause

Effect

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2. Single cause-multiple effect pattern

Cause

Effect 1 Effect 2 Effect 3


3. Multiple cause-single effect pattern
Cause 1 Cause 2 Cause 3

Effect
4. Multiple cause-multiple effect patter

Cause 1 Cause 2 Cause 3

Effect 1 Effect 2 Effect 3

5. Domino/Staircase effect
Cause 3 Effect 3 Death
Cause 2 Effect 1
Effect 1 AIDS transmission
Cause 1 Prostitution
Poverty

The first pattern is exemplified by the relationship between a plane crash (single cause) and death of
passengers (single effect); the second, between drug addiction (single cause) and its individual and social effects
(multiple effects); the third, between heredity and environment (multiple causes) and personality (single effect); the
fourth, between land pollution, air pollution, and water pollution (multiple effects) and indiscriminate throwing of
garbage and similar factors (multiple causes); and fifth is exemplified by poverty leading to death.

INTERPRETATION

Another basic technique in technical writing is interpretation (see the sample in Appendix G). According to
Mills and Walter (1980), it is the art of informally establishing a meaningful pattern of relationships among a group
of facts. It is especially useful in formal reports such as theses and dissertations.

Interpretations are usually found where graphs and tables are presented. For example, direct proportion,
inverse proportion, and lack of relationship are presented by the following three linear graphs, respectively.

Note that, more often than not, numerical data (variables) shown in graphical and tabular formats are
subject to interpretation and that headings and legends should be supplied to give readers a clear picture of the
relationship between/among data graphically shown and tabulated.

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Sample of an Interpretation (Excerpt from James Arvin R. Guzman IIs research paper entitled A
Correlational Study of Birth Order and Academic Achivement of Selected 2 nd-year Students of Central College of the
Philippines)

Table 2. Frequency and distribution of College Sophomore Students according to Economic Status and
Their Birth Order.

Table 2.1 Oldest Child


Economic Status Frequency Percentage Rank
Below Php 10,000.00 32 40% 1
Php 10,000.00 Php 30,000.00 24 30% 2
Above Php 30,000.00 24 30% 2

Table 2.1 shows the economic status of the respondents who are the eldest among the siblings. It shows that
32 of the respondents (40%) belong to families whose monthly income is below Php 10,000.00, 24 belong to
families whose monthly income is between Php 10,000.00 and Php 30,000.00, and another 24 belong to families
whose monthly income exceeds Php30, 000.00.

Table 2.2 Middle Child


Economic Status Frequency Percentage Rank
Below Php 10,000.00 32 40% 1
Php 10,000.00 Php 30,000.00 27 33.75% 2
Above Php 30,000.00 21 26.25% 3

Table 2.2 shows the economic status of the respondents who are the middle-born children. It shows that 32
of the respondents (40%) come from families with monthly income of less than Php 10,000.00, 27 (33.75%) from
families with monthly income ranging from Php 10,000.00 to Php 30,000.00, and 21 (26.25%) from families with
monthly income of more than Php 30,000.00.

Table 2.3 Youngest Child


Economic Status Frequency Percentage Rank
Below Php 10,000.00 31 38.75% 1
Php 10,000.00 Php 30,000.00 22 27.50% 3
Above Php 30,000.00 27 33.75% 2

Table 2.3 shows the economic status of the respondents who are the youngest among the siblings. It shows
that 31 of the respondents (38.75%) belong to families whose monthly income is below Php 10,000.00, 27 (33.75%)
belong to families whose monthly income is between Php 10,000.00 and Php 30,000.00 and 22 (27.5%) belong to
families whose monthly income is more than Php 30,000.00.

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