BASIC PRINCIPLES OF ORGANIZING TECHNICAL INFORMATION
Analyze your audience and purpose
Use conventional patterns of organization
Display your organizational pattern prominently in the document
BASIC PATTERNS OF ORGANIZING INFORMATION Patterns typically used in organizing information: Chronological Spatial General to specific More-important to less-important Comparison and contrast Classifications and partition Problem-methods-solution
The chronological –or timeline- pattern commonly describes events.
Choose words such as step, phase, stage and part. At the paragraph and sentence levels, transitional words such as then, next, first, and finally.
Consider using graphics to complement the text.
Analyze events where appropriate. This pattern doesn’t explain why or how an event happened, or what it means.
e.g background section of a report
reference manual, you explain how to carry out a task by describing the steps in sequence
e.g In an accident report, you describe the events in the order in which they occurred
The earliest archaeological evidence for the use of the Greek abacus dates to the 5th century BC.  The Greek abacus was a table of wood, pre-set with small counters in wood or metal for mathematical calculations. This Greek abacus saw use in Ancient Rome and, until the French Revolution, the Western Christian world. A tablet found on the Salamis in 1846 AD dates back to 300 BC. It is a slab of white marble 149 cm long, 75 cm wide, and 4.5 cm thick, on which are 5 groups of markings. In the center of the tablet is a set of 5 parallel lines equally divided by a vertical line, capped with a semicircle at the intersection of the bottom-most horizontal line and the single vertical line. Below these lines is a wide space with a horizontal crack dividing it. Below this crack is another group of eleven parallel lines, again divided into two sections by a line perpendicular to them, but with the semicircle at the top of the intersection; the third, sixth and ninth of these lines are marked with a cross where they intersect with the vertical line. The writer uses –time pattern to organize the discussion When the writer wants to present detailed information, he shifts away from chronological to technical description.
The general-to-specific pattern is used when readers need a general understanding of a subject.
e.g in a report, you include an executive summary-an overview for managers before the body of the report.
In a set of instructions, you provide general information about necessary tools and materials and about safety measures before providing the step by step instructions.
In a memo, you present the background information before going into details.
“ The three applications for the new chip, each of which is discussed below , are arranged from most important to least important.”
Explain why one point is important that the another.
Consider using graphics.
This document is an update of Air Quality Criteria for Carbon Monoxide , published by the U.S.Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in 1991, and will serve as the basis for reevaluating the currentNational Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS) for carbon monoxide (CO) set in 1994. Carbonmonoxide is one of six ubiquitous ambient air pollutants covered by the Federal Clean Air Act (CAA) requiring an assessment of the latest scientific knowledge as a requisite step in the development of standards to protect public health and welfare. The present document is not intended as a complete and detailed literature review, but it does summarize relevant key information from the previous 1991 document and evaluates new information relevant to the CO NAAQS criteria development, based on pertinent published literature available through 1999. Carbon monoxide, a trace constituent of the troposphere, is produced both by natural processes and human activities. Because plants can both metabolize and produce CO, trace levels are considered a normal constituent of the natural environment. Although ambient concentrations of CO in the vicinity of urban and industrial areas can exceed global background levels, there are no reports of these currently measured levels of CO producing any adverse effects on plants or microorganisms. Ambient concentrations of CO, however, may be detrimental to human health and welfare, depending on the levels that occur in areas where humans live and work and on the susceptibility of exposed individuals to potentially adverse effects. This paragraph, which begins chapter 1 of a lengthy report about the government’s efforts to control the toxic effects of carbon monoxide, is an advance organizer; it prevents the main points that will be discussed in more detail in the discussion that follows. This paragraph presents a general description of carbon monoxide, explaining why the federal govt. monitors and regulates it.
This chapter presents a brief summary of the legislative and regulatory history of the CO NAAQS and the rationale for the existing standards, and it gives an overview of the issues, methods, and procedures utilized in the preparation of the present document. 1.1 Legislative Requirements Two sections of the CAA govern the establishment, review, and revision of the NAAQS. Section 108 (U.S. Code, 1991) directs the Administrator of EPA to identify and issue air quality criteria for pollutants that reasonably may be anticipated to endanger public health or welfare. These air quality criteria are to reflect the latest scientific information useful in indicating the kind and extent of all identifiable effects on public health or welfare that may be expected from the presence of the pollutant in ambient air . This paragraph is an advance organizer for this chapter of the report. Here the writers begin their specific discussion of the legislative requirements that were mentioned briefly in the previous paragraph.
More Important to Less Important The more important to less important pattern recognizes that readers often want the bottom line-the most important information first. e.g In an accident report, you describe the three most important factors that led to the accident before describing the less important factors. In a proposal to design a new microchip, you describe the major applications for the chip then the minor applications.
Evaluate each item according to the criteria you have established
Organize the discussion either by whole or part by part
Consider graphics using the text
This is an effective pattern to use when the reader can better understand one subject when it is described in relation to another. If the reader is familiar with one topic, the writer can compare or contrast it with another topic to shed insight on it.
For example, suppose a writer's stated purpose is to help the reader make an informed decision about whether to attend a two-year college or a four-year university. One way to arrange the information is to compare and contrast the two educational options along several important dimensions, such as cost, quality of education, and variety of educational programs. In this case, the number of main sections in the outline would depend on how many dimensions or factors were considered (three in the case below). Another way to arrange the information would be to create two main sections, one that describes similarities and one that describes differences (as shown in example # 2). Notice that either format could be equally effective.
Classification and Partition Classification is the process of assigning items to categories. For instance the students at a university could be classified by sex, age, major and any other number of characteristics. Partition is the process of breaking a unit into its components. For example a stereo system could be partitioned into following components: CD player, tuner, amplifier, and speakers. Each component is separate, but together they form a whole stereo system. e.g In an equipment catalog, you use partition to describe the major components of one of your products. In a brochure, you describe how to operate a product by describing each of its features.
Organizing information by Classification or Partition
Choose a basis of classification or Partition that fits your audience and purpose.
Use only one basis of classification or partition at a time.
Arrange the categories in a logical sequence
Consider using graphics to complement the text
Lithium Battery Pack NB-7L
Battery Charger CB-2LZ
Neck Strap NS-DC8
Digital Camera Solution
Interface Cable IFC-400PCU
AV Cable AVC-DC300
Problems-methods-solution The problem- methods-solution pattern reflects the logic used in carrying out a project. The three components of the pattern. Problem. A description of what was not working (or not working as effectively as it should) or what opportunity exists for improving current processes) Method The procedure performed to confirm the analysis of the problem, solve the problem, or exploit the opportunity Solution. The statement of whether the analysis of the problem or capitalize on the opportunity.
http://www.ntsb.gov/publictn/2000/SR0002.pdf The Problem The Safety Board’s 1996 child passenger safety study involving more than 180 restrained children showed that the children tended to be restrained in systems too advanced for their physical development. For example, the report showed that 52 children used vehicle seat belts when they should have been placed in child restraint systems or booster seats. In the summer of 1996 in Washington State, a 4-year-old, 45-pound boy was buckled into a lap/shoulder belt by his mother in accordance with State law. When their sport utility vehicle rolled over in a violent crash, the boy’s lap/shoulder belt remained buckled, but the young boy was ejected from the restraint and the car, and killed. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued a report in February 1999 indicating that 4- through 8-year-olds are not being protected because of gaps in the State laws that govern child safety seats. As a result, the CDC estimates that almost 500 children die on our highways every year because they are not properly secured in restraint systems—booster seats—that are appropriate for their age, height, and weight. Courtesy BoostAmerica
Lessons Learned Seat belts, like air bags, were designed for adults. Children need to be almost 5 feet tall before the vehicle lap/shoulder belt will fit them properly. Although all 50 States and the District of Columbia have child passenger protection laws, in 1996, the Safety Board called on the States to strengthen their child restraint laws to do the following: • Require all children under 4 years old to be in child safety seats. • Require that 4- to 8-year-old children use auto safety booster seats. • Eliminate provisions that permit children under 8 years old to be buckled up in a seat belt. • Require all children under age 13 to ride in the back seat, if a seat is available. Twenty-eight States and the District of Columbia require children of all ages (infants through teenagers) to be buckled up, although most permit seat belts to be substituted for child safety seats or booster seats. Only eight States require all children age 4 and under to be in child safety seats. In addition, 6 out of 10 children killed in traffic crashes are not buckled up at all. The number of children killed each year could be reduced by 50 percent if every child were buckled up. There should be no tolerance for unbuckled children. State child restraint laws should be enforced and supported to reduce the number of children killed and injured in traffic crashes. Safety Improvements Actions taken subsequent to the Board’s safety recommendations include the following: • Washington State and California enacted laws in 2000 to require children under 6 years of age or 60 pounds to ride in a booster seat. • Delaware, North Carolina, and Rhode Island require children to ride in the back seat of air bag-equipped cars. In Louisiana, all children less than 13 years of age must ride in the rear seat when one is available. • NHTSA recently began an education campaign “Boost ’em before you Buckle ’ em” to ensure that 4- to 8-year-olds get buckled up in age-appropriate restraint systems.
Cause and Effect Cause and effect reasoning, therefore, provides a way to answer the following two questions: What will be the effect(s) of X? What caused X? E.g In a memo, you describe a new policy, then explain the effects you anticipate the policy will have. Organizing Information by Cause and Effect Explain your reasoning Avoid overstating your argument Avoid logical fallacies Consider using graphics to complement