Technical communicators are often responsible for writing descriptive (technical definitions, technical descriptions) and prescriptive documents (instruction sets, Job Aids, Standard Operating Procedures).
Descriptive and prescriptive technical documents can be written for other technical communicators (specialists) or for the public (generalists). As such, it is important to carefully consider the audience and what they need from the document in order to help them solve a problem.
Descriptive and prescriptive technical documents also rely upon the coordination of text and images to convey meaning.
Technical professionals are often required to define or describe a technical process to fellow specialists or to generalists (someone who has little knowledge or experience with the subject at hand). For example, an engineering firm might write a proposal to bid on a contract to develop an experimental helicopter rotor blade and mast for the Defense Department; one section of the proposal would be a detailed description of the process behind the new blade and mast technology.
Technical descriptions are used before products and processes are developed (as part of proposals and planning documents), during development (in progress reports, for instance), and afterwards (as part of marketing and promotional literature and technical support documents).
This project asks you to select a process and write a description of it. A process description explains how a complex event occurs, typically mechanical, technological, or natural in nature. Specifically, we will be researching and writing a scientific description related to one of the artifacts in Fabric of Digital Life (FoDL) .
To reiterate: For this assignment we will write and design a process description. A process description explains how a complex event — typically scientific, natural, or mechanical/technical — occurs. It is a “teaching” and explanatory document. It is not a prescriptive, “how to” document. If you find yourself explaining how to do something you are likely writing an instruction set and not a technical description. For example, homebrewing beer, kombucha, and other beverages has increased in popularity recently. A descriptive document (technical description) explains the stages of the fermentation cycle, illustrating for the reader how the different ingredients and natural processes proceed stage by stage until fermentation is complete. In contrast, a prescriptive document (instruction set) would explain “how to” brew beer, ferment kombucha, etc. Our technical description here would focus on explaining and defining the process of fermentation. Rhetorical Situation
Your project manager (me) has assigned each member of our team (you) the task of analyzing on of the artifacts from Fabric of Digital Life and researching a technical process associated with the product.
Audience and Purpose
Your primary audience for this project is the general public. consider this a teaching document on how something works (the process and stages “behind the scenes”). I usually imagine writing this for a family member who is not technologically savvy.
You should write this document as a specialist-generalist document, and with design components like paragraphing, partitioning, sentence length, definitions (sentence and extended), marginal gloss (or a glossary) and effective use of (and labeling of) visuals that show you understand and can apply the concepts covered so far in this course. I do not expect you to be an expert on the process you choose — only to have researched it well enough to explain it clearly to a general reader.
Set aside enough time to learn about the process you identify. This project will require you to read background information or otherwise inform yourself about the topic. You should credit and cite any sources you use in creating your technical description.
Research process example (from Fabric)
When perusing Fabric, I might become intrigued by an entry on “Self-Healing Robots” Further research on Fabric and Google leads me to this article where I learn that “scientists have developed polymers that can heal themselves, creating new bonds after being damaged in as little as 40 minutes. Embedding functional material will soon let robots use artificial intelligence to sense and actuate the self-healing process without the need for human intervention.” I identify a few key terms in this article such as “self-healing polymer” and continue my search. Gradually, I collect enough information in order to identify several applications for this process (Nash Industries can use some our research to begin developing self-healing materials and technologies for different fields.): medical, robotic, etc. My next step is to figure out each step of the process ) and identify visuals (and credit them) that can compliment my written technical description.
Content and Organization
The technical description should consist of and include:
A cover page with a clear and informative title, a clearly defined audience, your name, and the date
Audience and scope: Who is this document intended for and what is the focus — the range or constraints — that this document cover (and if pertinent, what it will not cover)
An introduction with (at least) a strong and effective sentence definition
The contents or parts involved in the process. This section will rely upon definition and it comes before the description of the process itself so that the reader can be familiar with certain terms and concepts that will be referenced later in the description.
A well-developed description of the process itself. Use headings and subheadings, definitions/glossing, and visuals as needed. Describe each stage of the process separately and in enough detail so that a generalist reader can understand.
A conclusion that summarizes the process and briefly explains (reiterates) one complete cycle of the process.The conclusion may also identify the result of the process and how it can be applied (e.g., what the end result of fermentation is and how it can commonly be applied).
A References page that identifies readings and images used and consulted.
Many of the technical communication strategies that we have learned so far will be applied in this document. Remember to design as well as write the document: headings, bulleted lists, visuals (figures and tables), conciseness, and chunking information will all be important components in creating an effective technical description.
At least 3 visuals are required, but you should use as many as you deem necessary. However, please do not use “filler” visuals — if the figure or table does not clearly define and clarify part of the description it should not be included. Some stock images, clip art, etc. are examples of how visuals can be used as filler rather than as definition. Remember to number, label, and refererence visuals.
For the visuals:
All visuals will be listed in APA format in the References page
You may design your own visuals if you are so inclined (and skilled).
You may use an already-existing visual (a “reference visual). However, if you do so you must identify where the original visual was published and whether any modifications were made to it.
You may use images with a Creative Commons designation (when searching, be certain to de-select the “commercial uses” box) and provide the appropriate attribution.
The technical description should be 3-5 pages (excluding the cover page and the References).