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Key terms & concepts

Key Concept: One of the basic principles of style for effective technical writing is that the style must meet the needs of the reader/audience.

Explanation: Effective writers adjust their style to the needs of their readers and their knowledge of the subject. Effective writers try to predict what style readers expect, the readers' level of comprehension about the subject, and the role readers will play when interacting with the document.

Key Concept: Paragraphs are constructed with a topic sentence followed by logically arranged supporting sentences used to build the writer's message.

Explanation: Concise paragraphs that begin with topic sentences, well-structured sentences of moderate length, and careful use of highlighting create a page that is inviting. Technical writers enumerate points and use lists, bullets, and other style techniques to make their documents easy to read.

Key Concept: Active voice is preferred in technical writing because sentences describing WHO or WHAT performs the ACTION are easier to understand.

Explanation: Passive voice sentences often intentionally do not include the actor or agent doing the action to hide responsibility. The result may produce a sentence that is more verbose and less accurate than an active voice version.

Key Concept: The technical writer should consider the following when forming sentences:

  • the level of language to use,
  • how many details to include, and
  • how to keep sentences short.

Explanation: Audiences familiar with your subject will expect complex information. However, in routine reports and messages that you want readers to digest quickly, use writing that is less detailed and focuses on the main ideas. Long sentences are more difficult to read.

Key Term: Writing style
 Definition: "Style" refers to the words and phrases you choose, the sentence structure you use, and the overall way you express your ideas in a document. Style operates principally on the word/phrase/sentence level and the paragraph level.

Key Term: A paragraph
 Definition: A paragraph is a group of sentences that work together to produce a coherent idea. Paragraphs should be kept short to be reader-friendly.

Key Term: Reading comprehension
 Definition: The meaning a reader understands.

Explanation: Reading comprehension level refers to the degree of difficulty in written material that a reader can accommodate without misunderstanding the content. This determines the style you use in addressing a particular reader.

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