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Conventions of Technical Documents Scott Hale ENGL 3153 Technical Writing.

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1 Conventions of Technical Documents Scott Hale ENGL 3153 Technical Writing

2 Technical Documents n Designed differently than other kinds of documents –Doesn’t use unbroken sequences of words, sentences and paragraphs –Instead uses charts, diagrams, lists, varying fonts/sizes, headings, and other aides to assist document navigation

3 Technical Documents Con’t... n Rarely receive audiences undivided attention –Readers skim to discern relevant information –Audience should be able to leave a portion of the document and return to it quickly

4 Technical Documents Con’t... n Audience doesn’t read document as leisurely activity –They read it because they have to –Will use the easiest method

5 Technical Documents Con’t... n With the rapid proliferation of documents –Your document will compete for your audience’s attention

6 As a Technical Writer... n Your goal is to make information access and retrieval as easy as possible n Create a USABLE and SCANNABLE document

7 Creating a Usable Document Design n Shape each page –Consider look, feel, and the overall layout

8 Paper and Ink n Routine Documents –Black ink on 8 1/2”x11” low-gloss, rag- bond, white paper n Published Documents –Dependant on cost and audience, you may want coated, glossy, heavier paper

9 Type or Print Quality n Print from laser or ink-jet printer n If ink-jet, use special coated paper

10 Page Numbers n Use lower-case roman numerals(I, ii, iv, xxv) for title page, table of contents, prefaces, and abstracts n Use arabic numerals (1, 2, 15, 38) for all subsequent pages

11 Headers and Footers n Signal a change in information or importance n Usually offset with a larger, bolder font/size

12 White Space n The space on a page NOT filled by text/images n Divides the document into small, digestable groups of related information n Separates sections, headings, tables, and images from text/paragraphs n Intended to improve document appearance, clarity, and emphasis

13 Margins n Justified –Even right margin creates channels of white space and can be more difficult to read n Used for formal documents: books, annual reports, etc. n Unjustified –Uneven right margins can be easier to read n Used for less formal documents: memos, letters, in-house reports, etc.

14 Line Length n Too long lines tire your eyes, annoy reader n Too short lines disrupt rhythm of reading, annoy reader n Ideal is sixty to seventy (60-70) characters per line –Nine-twelve (9-12) words per line

15 Columns n Two-columns often used for newsletters and brochures n Single-columns work best for complex/specialized information

16 Line Spacing n For documents that will be read in their entirety (memos, letters, etc.), use single-spacing in paragraphs and double-spacing between them, with no indentation n For longer, selectively read documents (reports, proposals, etc.), increase line spacing within and between paragraphs, providing indentation

17 Tailor Made Paragraphs n Use long paragraphs for clustering closely- related material n Use short paragraphs for making complex material more digestable, giving step-by-step instructions, or emphasizing vital information n Don’t indent, but separate short paragraphs with spacing n Avoid ‘Orphan’ lines of paragraphs

18 Stacked Lists n Readers prefer lists to paragraphs n List the following –Advice or examples –Conclusions and recommendations –Criteria for evaluation –Errors to avoid –Materials/equipment for procedures –Parts of a mechanism –Steps in a sequence

19 Stacked Lists Con’t… n Usually requires no punctuation, unless a list of sentences or questions n Set off with a visual aid –Numbers for order of importance –Bullets, dashes, or asterisks for non-order of importance –Open boxes for checklists n Introduce list with an explanation

20 Fonts n Have/create “personality” For technical documents, use a conservative font, unlike this For technical documents, use a conservative font, unlike this Serifs vs. Non-serifs Serifs vs. Non-serifs n Size is important... n Bold, underline, normal, italic, SMALLL CAPS n CAPITALS vs. lower-case n Big to small, Dark to light

21 Highlighting n Used for emphasis n Fonts size/style, white space, etc. n Horizontal (un/broken) lines to separate sections or offset warnings n Not all highlighting is equal…

22 Highlighting Con’t… n Boldface for single sentence/brief statement n Italics for words, phrases, but not multiple lines n SMALL CAPS for headings and short phrases n Small type sizes for captions and labels n Large type sizes used sparingly

23 Headings n Used for document access and orientation n Informative n Specific, yet comprehensive n Grammatically consistent n Visually consistent n Four levels of heading: Title, Main, Secondary, Tertiary

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