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Technical Style Workshop Part 1

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Part 1 of a 2-day workshop to introduce style in technical communication. Presented to beginning students of technical communication on December 1, 2009 at Kyung Hee University in Suwon, South Korea.

Part 1 of a 2-day workshop to introduce style in technical communication. Presented to beginning students of technical communication on December 1, 2009 at Kyung Hee University in Suwon, South Korea.

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  • English sentence structure = SVO (subject + verb + object).
  • English sentence structure = SVO (subject + verb + object).
  • Transcript

    • 1. Technical Style
      A 2-day workshop presented by Edwin Hollon
      December 1 & 8, 2009
      Kyung Hee University – Suwon, South Korea
    • 2. Introduction
      What is style in technical communication?
      How we try to reach our audience
      The tone we use
      The conventions we follow
      The grammatical choices we make
    • 3. The Rhetorical Situation
      Decisions about “style” and “correctness” are determined by the rhetorical situation
      Occasion (when/where)
      Context
      Message (style, tone, delivery method)
      Audience (who)
      Purpose (why/what)
    • 4. Exercise 1
      Match the rhetorical situation to the appropriate type of message.
    • 5. Clarity
      As writers, we attempt to tell our audience a story. We must tell our readers who the characters are and what the story is about.
      What are the subjects of these sentences?
    • 6. Clarity
      Principle 1: To make your writing clear, tell stories about characters and their actions.
      There is opposition among many voters to nuclear power plants based on a belief of their threat to human health.
      Many voters oppose nuclear power plants because they believe that such plants threaten human health.
      Make main characters your subjects and describe their actions with verbs.
    • 7. Clarity
      Principle 2: Use verbs for important actions.
      Where are the actions in these sentences?
    • 8. Clarity
      Nominalization:When we change verbs and adjectives into nouns, we create an abstraction called a nominalization.
      A walk through the woods was taking place by Little Red Riding Hood.
      to walk (verb) > a walk (noun)
      The wolf’s jump from behind the tree occurred.
      to jump (verb) > the wolf’s jump (noun)
    • 9. Exercise 2
      Which are nominalizations and which are verbs?
      What are the verb forms of the nominalizations?
      Change nominalizations to verbs
    • 10. Exercise 3
      Where is the action? Is the action in a verb?
      There is no need for further study of this problem.
      “there is” does not describe any action
      The intention of the committee is to audit the records.
      the action is a nominalization (“intention”)
      The agency conducted an investigation into the matter.
      an empty verb (“conducted”) is used with a nominalization (“investigation”)
      Replace empty verbs and nominalizations with active verbs
    • 11. Review: Clarity
      Readers prefer:
      Characters as subjects
      Action in verbs
      Concrete descriptions (verbs) rather than abstractions (nominalizations)
      Q: How can I revise my sentences for clarity?
      A: With a simple three-step process:
      Diagnose
      Analyze
      Revise
    • 12. Review: Clarity
      Diagnose
      The outsourcing of high-tech work by corporations means the loss of jobs for many American workers.
      Underline the first seven or eight words of the sentence.
      Does the subject include an abstract noun (such as nominalization)?
      Does it take more than six or seven words to reach the verb (the “real” action)?
    • 13. Review: Clarity
      Analyze
      The outsourcing of high-tech work by corporations means the loss of jobs for many American workers.
      Decide who the main characters are (preferably real people or groups of people).
      Look for the actions performed by those characters (especially action in a nominalization).
    • 14. Review: Clarity
      Revise
      The outsourcing of high-tech work by corporations means the loss of jobs for many American workers.
      Change nominalizations to verbs.
      Make characters the subjects of the verbs.
      If necessary, use conjunctions to link sentence clauses (because, if, when, although, why, how, whether, etc).
      Many American workers are losing their jobs, because corporations are outsourcing their high-tech work.
    • 15. Break
      15 minutes
    • 16. Characters
      Readers want characters as subjects. They have the most difficulty with sentences that contain no characters.
      A decision was made in favor of doing a study of the structural integrity of the bridge.
      Who made the decision?
      I did?
      We did?
      They did?
    • 17. Characters
      Principle 3: Write in the active voice to describe characters and actions.
      Active: Subject (a person) + verb + object:
      I lost the money
      Passive: Subject (object or goal)+ “to be” verb in past tense + prepositional phrase (character or maybe missing entirely)
      The money was lost [by me].
    • 18. Exercise 4
      What are the passive verbs in these sentences?
      Success is achieved when valuable skills are learned.
      Different levels of stress are evident when the structure is examined closely.
      Change passive verbs to active verbs
    • 19. Exercise 5
      Rewrite the sentences by changing the passive verbs to active and inventing characters.
      Success is achieved when valuable skills are learned.
      Students who learn valuable skills will achieve success.
      Multiple levels of stress were evident when the structure was examined closely.
      When we examined the structure closely, we found evidence of multiple levels of stress.
      Invent characters if necessary (and if known)
    • 20. Cohesion & Coherence
      Cohesion: “a sense of flow;” the way sentences fit together (how one sentence ends and the next begins)
      at the sentence level (sentence + sentence)
      Coherence: “fitting together;” the way a series of sentences or paragraphs work together logically
      at the paragraph, section, chapter, or document level (multiple sentences, multiple paragraphs, etc.)
      When our writing is both cohesive and coherent, it flows naturally and makes sense to our readers.
    • 21. Cohesion
      Principle 4: Begin sentences with familiar information.
      Principle 5: End sentences with new information.
      Old information first (learning)
      New information last (applying)
      Old/New pattern
    • 22. Cohesion
      Begin sentences with information familiar to your readers.
      Information from the previous sentence is “familiar.”
      General knowledge about the subject is “familiar.”
      End sentences with information that is unexpected or cannot be anticipated.
      Scientists have raised some astonishing questions about the universe by studying black holes in space. Black holes are created when dead stars collapse into a point no larger than a marble.
    • 23. Exercise 6
      Rearrange the paragraph so that it follows the old/new pattern:
      By compressing so much matter into such a small volume, the fabric of space is changed in puzzling ways. Black holes are created when dead stars collapse into a point no larger than a marble. Scientists have raised some astonishing questions about the universe by studying black holes in space.
      3
      2
      1
    • 24. Coherence
      Readers expect information in a paragraph to be related. Our writing should show a logical connection between topics.
      If cohesion is like two Lego pieces fitting together, then coherence is like an entire structure made of Lego pieces.
    • 25. Coherence
      Coherence is based on related strings of topics in a paragraph.
      Sayner, Wisconsin is the snowmobile capital of the world. The buzzing of snowmobile engines fills the air and their tanklike tracks crisscross the snow. The snow reminds me of Mom’s mashed potatoes, covered with furrows I would draw with my fork. Her mashed potatoes usually make me sick—that’s why I play with them. I like to make a hole in the middle of the potatoes and fill it with melted butter. This behavior has caused long discussions between me and my therapist.
      v
    • 26. Coherence
      To create coherence, we must:
      Make the subjects of our sentences related.*
      Make the sentences share a common theme or idea.
      Make the whole paragraph focus on a single point (“thesis” statement and supporting sentences).
      * Before, I said coherence is based on strings of topics. Subjects and topics are not always the same thing, but for clarity, they should be. If you make characters the subjects of your sentences, then those subjects will be your topics.
    • 27. Review: Cohesion & Coherence
      Cohesion is:
      The way two sentences fit together (two Lego blocks)
      Based on the old/new pattern
      Based on what is familiar to your audience
      Coherence is:
      The way multiple sentences fit together (a Lego castle)
      Based on topic strings (use characters as subjects!)
      Focused on a single topic
      Q: How can I revise my sentences for cohesion & coherence?
      A: With a simple three-step process:
      Diagnose
      Analyze
      Revise
    • 28. Review: Cohesion & Coherence
      Diagnose
      The particular ideas toward the beginning of sentences define what a passage is “about” for a reader. Moving through a paragraph from a coherent point of view is made possible by a sequence of topics that make up a limited set of related ideas. A seeming absence of context for each sentence is one result of making random topic shifts. Feelings of dislocation, orientation, and lack of focus in a passage occur when that happens.
      Underline the first seven or eight words of the sentence.
      If you can, underline the first five or six words of every clause (main & dependent clauses).
    • 29. Review: Cohesion & Coherence
      Analyze
      The particular ideas toward the beginning of sentences define what a passage is “about” for a reader. Moving through a paragraph from a coherent point of view is made possible by a sequence of topics that make up a limited set of related ideas. A seeming absence of context for each sentence is one result of making random topic shifts. Feelings of dislocation, orientation, and lack of focus in a passage occur when that happens
      Do the underlined words make up a relatively small set of ideas?
      Do those words name the most important characters?
      What are the main topics and characters?
    • 30. Review: Clarity
      Revise
      In most (not necessarily all) of the sentences, use subjects to name the topics.
      Put the subjects close to the beginning of the sentences (close to the beginning of main and dependent clauses)
      Readers look for consistent topics of sentences to tell them what a whole passage is “about.” If they feel that its sequence of topics focuses on a limited set of related topics, then they will feel they are moving through that passage from a coherent point of view. But if topics seem to shift randomly, then readers will begin each sentence feeling dislocated and disoriented and the passage will seem out of focus.

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