Technical Writing (Advanced)

Study technical writing. Learn to write everything from reports and manuals to scientific papers and business submissions.

Course Code: BWR301
Fee Code: S3
Duration (approx) Duration (approx) 100 hours
Qualification Statement of Attainment
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TECHNICAL WRITING TRAINING

  • Learn to write technical and scientific documents, articles, papers, books, manuals and even product labels.
  • Understand the appropriate styles of presentation.
  • Technical writing is a skill required by all types of industries - from factories to research laboratories. It is a skill required by people in many professions - from consultants to teachers.
  • A useful course for professional development/CPD.

The Technical Writing course is suitable for -

  • scientists, technicians, product developers, journalists, students and anyone else writing factual, technical information;
  • anyone writing technical manuals or promotional materials;
  • anyone wanting to improve their job and career prospects by improving their technical writing skills.

Technical writing is a useful skill in many professions

Technical writing is usually the term given to writing about technical subjects, such as computers, machinery or equipment. This is the kind of writing one sees in instruction manuals, how-to books, and reference materials. This is a fairly narrow definition of technical writing.

A broader definition of technical writing is any writing in which the focus is on the correct, accurate and precise communication of practical information; information that is presented in order to instruct, guide, facilitate or train. Falling under this broader definition are reports, text books, records, submissions, plans and other documents that are not necessarily about technology.

An even broader definition of technical writing reflects its wide applicability to a large range of writing situations, from workplace writing to the highest levels of academic writing.

Almost all writing we come across in everyday life, in home and work, is technical writing (the exception being, of course, fiction books and magazines). The instructions that tell us how to assemble a set of shelves, a resume from a prospect employee, or a submission to a professional journal are all considered to be technical documents.

Lesson Structure

There are 9 lessons in this course:

  1. Scope and Nature of Technical Writing
    • Nature and Scope
    • Quality of Information
    • Nature of Language
    • Structure
    • Characteristics of Technical Writing
  2. Presentation of Technical Writing
    • Presentation
    • Basic Parts of a Document (Written text, Images, White space)
    • Headings
    • Types of Images (Tables, Charts, Graphs, Photos, Drawings)
    • Captions and Labels
    • Main Elements (Front Matter, Body, end matter)
    • Creating an Index
    • Elements of Different types of Technical Documents (References, Texts, Journals, Reports, etc)
    • Referencing
  3. Matching Style and Content to the Audience
    • Writing for an Audience
    • Writing Well
    • Writing Guidelines (Jargon, Gender neutral writing, Using simple sentences, passive or active language, first, second or third person, etc)
    • Spelling, Grammar
    • Editing, Proof reading
  4. Planning: Developing a Logical Structure or Format
    • Creating a Technical Document
    • Research the Document; gather information
    • Plan; decide on the format
    • Write; create an outline and then write the first draft
    • Verify; check the accuracy of what you have written
    • Revise; amend the document before
    • Writing a First Draft
  5. Collaborative Writing
    • Working in a team
    • Tasks and Roles
    • Technical Brief
    • Strategies for Collaboration
    • Style Guide
    • Using Templates
    • Using Email Effectively
  6. Writing Technical Articles for Periodicals
    • Writing for Periodicals
    • Publisher Specs
    • Writing Descriptions and Specifications
    • Journal Abstracts
  7. Writing Manuals and Procedures
    • Writing manuals
    • Writing Instructions and Procedures
    • Guidelines
    • Troubleshooting
  8. Writing Project Proposals
    • What is a Proposal?
    • Proposal Categories (Solicited and Unsolicited)
    • Model for Writing Proposals
    • Grant Proposals
    • The Stop Format
  9. Writing Project Reports
    • Types of Reports
    • Progress Reports
    • Completion Reports
    • Review Reports
    • Regulatory Reports
    • Feasibility Reports
    • Scientific Reports
    • Elements of a Formal Report
    • Executive Summaries

Each lesson culminates in an assignment which is submitted to the school, marked by the school's tutors and returned to you with any relevant suggestions, comments, and if necessary, extra reading.

Aims

  • Identify a broad range of situations where technical writing is used and where you might gainfully apply those skills;
  • Present technical documentation for a variety of situations;
  • Determine how to write appropriately for a defined audience;
  • Develop formats for different documents that follow a logical appropriate structure;
  • Explain how to effectively collaborate with one or more people in the production of a technical writing assignment;
  • Write items of technical writing that are appropriate for publication in different types of periodicals including: popular magazines, industry magazines, scientific journals, newspapers and e-zines;
  • Write easy to follow, technically accurate instructions for a variety of processes, using a variety of equipment;
  • Write a formal proposal for a project;
  • Write in an effective and appropriate style of report, during, or on conclusion of a project.

What will you do?

The course is far more involved than just reading and writing. 

You will be researching, analysing, interpreting and problem solving all sorts of things to do with technical writing. It is important to engage with the subject in a diverse range of ways; to both see and understand all of the possible applications for technical writing; but also, to engage with the same ideas in a range of different ways.

When you look at a concept from different perspectives, your ability to work with it is enhanced and your capacity to remember what you learn is strengthened. Studying this subject should, and is, more than just encountering it. It is learning it. This excellent course provides the opportunity for you to learn and be fully conversant with the subject.

Where can it be applied?

Technical writing is applied in more places than you might think, and demand for technical writers who can do a good job is always strong. Any piece of modern technology from computers to cars, and microwaves to watches, all require lots of technical writing during their conception, development, production and marketing. Scientific research, articles in technology magazines, and even gardening magazines; can all be technical writing. Obviously research reports, but also research funding submissions and many other types of submissions, are also technical writing.

Consider Writing Manuals/ Instructions/ Guidelines

These are documents intended to show people how to do something, e.g. how to use a particular piece of equipment, how to make something e.g. recipes, construction, or gardening, how to care for something e.g. property maintenance, health care, or animal care, or workplace or management procedures. There are too many to review here so we'll look at a select few.

User Guide

User guides or manuals are written to accompany a variety of goods e.g. televisions, DVDs, computers, and computer software. They may be a single document or they may be one of several documents that accompany a product where other documents could include safety instructions, installation instructions or data sheets.

When writing a user guide it is good practice to think about how a person using the guide will approach it. In most cases, people do not read a whole guide from start to finish. In reality, they are most likely to look for specific parts of the guide because they are more likely to read the guide when they have a problem. User guides then should address tasks and how to complete them rather than elaborate on product details. If you think like a user, you are more likely to write what a user needs to know.

The key to writing user guides is to use an active voice (it emphasises the user if the subject and verb in a sentence is clear), focus on the reader (use "you" to address the reader), and write with clarity (the user needs to know how to complete a task form reading the instructions). A typical user guide would have the following sections:

 

  • Cover Page - Title of Guide
  • Copyright information (if necessary) - this should be on the cover and title page (if separate).
  • Disclaimer - the terms and conditions of using the guide.
  • Preface (if necessary) - this section can be used to make reference to any other documents released with the product (e.g. warranty, service).
  • Table of Contents - this is necessary because people will use it to quickly find what they are looking for. For smaller documents of about 10 pages or less it is not a requirement. Instead the document might be titled a Quick Reference Guide, or similar.
  • Procedures - these are included in the main body of the text, separate from reference material. The procedure outline the tasks required for using the product. These include how, when and why to undertake tasks and what will happen as a result. It may also be necessary to use specific examples. Illustrations could be incorporated to provide a visual aid. 

When writing procedures it is helpful to work out what the main tasks are, and if necessary break them down into smaller tasks or subtasks. Step-by-step approaches are very useful to explain each task, and each step should be numbered. For decisions that a user might make, you could use and "if-then" style e.g. If you plug the printer in, then a window on the computer task bar should pop-up with "Found new hardware". 

If you break information down into separate sections, use a consistent format for each so that a user becomes familiar with the layout and can easily navigate through it.

  • References - it may be necessary to include a references section. Here, any additional specific information which applies to the guide can be included for those who seek more information. This is also the place to put a troubleshooting guide and FAQs.
  • Glossary - it may be useful to include a glossary of terms. This can include and technical terms and jargon used in the main body. If the glossary is only short it can be placed after the preface and before the table of contents. Longer glossaries should go at the end of the document before the index.
  • Index - for longer documents, e.g. 20 pages or more, an index is needed at the rear to make the document user-friendly. Like a table of contents, the index enables a user to quickly source information.

Other Considerations

A user guide may be presented in more than one format or just one. For example, it may be a printed document, it could be presented on a CD, or it may be published online. The presentation of the document will differ slightly depending on the format. Also, consider where the document will be used. If it is to accompany a piece of machinery or chemicals for outdoor use, it may need to be presented on glossy, durable paper and the font size may need to be larger. A recipe book might need to have pages that don't absorb foodstuffs and have pages which are spiral bound. 

Improve your job and career prospects by improving your technical writing skills.

ACS student comments: I think the course is a valuable learning experience as I feel I’m being challenged along the way. Generally, I am impressed with the service I have received from ACS since enrolling. The enrolment process was very quick and all email support has been prompt and helpful. The tutors seem very pleasant and helpful in their remarks, and this keeps me motivated. It is very encouraging when they offer additional information or ask questions of me/my writing.
 Sally Vanston, Malaysia - Technical Writing course.

 

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Course Contributors

The following academics were involved in the development and/or updating of this course.

Jacinda Cole

Former operations manager for highly reputable Landscape firm, The Chelsea Gardener, before starting her own firm. Jacinda has over 20 years of industry experience in Psychology, Landscaping, Publishing, Writing and Education. Jacinda has a B.Sc., Psych.C

Dr Robert Browne

Zoologist, Environmental Scientist and Sustainability, science based consultancy with biotechnology corporations. Work focused on conservation and sustainability.
Robert has published work in the fields of nutrition, pathology, larval growth and develop

Rosemary Davies

Businesswoman, Journalist, Editor, Broadcaster, Teacher, Consultant for over 30 years.

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