How to write Effective Communication skills

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177 POLITEXT / CIÈNCIES, CULTURA I SOCIETAT POLITEXT This book is intended to be a practical and clear guide to engineering students Carmen Bombardó Solés who need to familiarize themselves with the characteristics of technical writing in Marta Aguilar Pérez order to become efficient writers in their future technical professions. For this pur- pose it includes authentic texts and re- Clàudia Barahona Fuentes ference materials from different degrees (general engineering, telecommunications, computing, civil en- gineering, etc.) and promotes extensive writing practice through a rich variety of tasks. The book also develops active learning methods adapted to the European Higher Education Area fra- mework. It follows three approaches (process, product and genre), the process approach being the central one to which the other two are subsumed. This is reflected in the organization of Technical Writing its contents, which have basically been divided into three main parts. The first is a thorough introduction to technical commu- nication. The second includes three practical chapters that fully A Guide for Effective Communication develop the main stages of the writing process (pre-writing, wri- ting and post-writing) and the third is a useful handbook. The authors are lecturers at the Universitat Politècnica de Ca- talunya (UPC) in the faculties of telecommunications, enginee- ring and nautical studies respectively. They have extensive ex- perience teaching technical communication and have carried out research within the field of English for Academic and Spe- cific Purposes. UNIVERSITAT POLITÈCNICA DE CATALUNYA EDICIONS UPC 9 788483 019665 ISBN 978-84-8301-966-5 Technical Writing Bombardó - Aguilar - Barahona A Guide for Effective Communication For our families Contents Part I. INTRODUCTION TO TECHNICAL WRITING 9 Technical writing at university 11 Chapter 1. What is technical writing? 13 1.1 Why is it important to study technical and professional communication? 14 1.2 Characteristics of technical writing 18 1.3 Functions of technical discourse 22 Part II. THE WRITING PROCESS 31 Introduction to the writing process 33 Chapter 2. Pre-writing stage 37 2.1 Introduction 38 2.2 Analyzing audience 38 2.3 Analyzing purpose 51 2.4 Considering style and tone 56 2.5 Generating ideas 72 2.6 Outlining 78 Chapter 3. Writing stage 85 3.1 Introduction 86 3.2 Drafting 86 3.3 Structuring the paragraph 87 3.4 Developing paragraph patterns 97 © The Authors, 2007. © Edicions UPC, 2007 CONTENTS 4 3.5 Providing intra-paragraph coherence 113 3.6 Structuring the essay 130 3.7 Developing essay patterns 147 3.8 Providing inter-paragraph coherence 151 3.9 Incorporating visual aids 163 Chapter 4. Post-writing stage 179 4.1 Introduction 180 4.2 Revising content and organization 180 4.3 Checking for grammatical accuracy 183 4.4 Editing for style 203 4.5 Proofreading and peer review 220 4.6 Academic and sample texts 224 PART III. HANDBOOK 233 Introduction to the handbook 235 Chapter 5. Grammar, Style and Punctuation 237 5.1 Introduction 238 5.2. Main constituents in language: the phrase, the clause and the sentence 238 5.3 Revision of intra- and inter- coherence 244 5.4 Revision of grammar and style 256 5.5 Punctuation 263 APPENDIX 277 Key to the exercises 279 © The Authors, 2007. © Edicions UPC, 2007 Preface 1. Purpose and approach This book arose from the need to have a textbook to teach technical writing to Spanish engineering students at university. Although there are good books on technical writing as well as on writing in general on the market, we could not find one that suited our students’ needs: they were either too theoretical, too practical or simply aimed at students with a different cultural background. Because of this, we decided to write a book that kept the balance between the theoretical explanations necessary to understand the basic concepts on which technical writing is based and the practical aspects that would enable students to put into practice these theoretical concepts. After all, writing is a communication skill that is mostly learnt and mastered by practising it; it is not enough to have a good command of grammar and punctuation. Writing is a much more complex task requiring other techniques, such as organizing ideas logically and clearly, joining sentences coherently, using the appropriate tone and style, etc. Mastering writing, as any experienced writer knows, takes time and practice and a good way to improve writing that cannot be overlooked is reading. The more you read, the better you will write since reading is a practice that rubs off by improving vocabulary, grammar and writing techniques in general. Thus, students are encouraged to read as much as possible and from almost any kind of reading—magazines, fiction books, newspapers, novels, Internet articles, etc. Although the kinds of documents technical students will be asked to write may not require the same level of subtlety as for example a novel, they still call for some of the same skills. The book’s approach to writing is integrative and results from drawing on knowledge of three different approaches—product, process and genre. The process approach is the central one to which the other two are subsumed. We took the process approach as the core or central one because we believe it highly contributes to the development of students’ writing abilities as it gives much importance to the skills or stages involved in writing. In a word, untrained writers, like most of our students, welcome having some sort of guidance to help them get started and organize their ideas, and this approach has proved to serve this purpose. We should emphasize that this approach is by no means prescriptive but acts more as © The Authors, 2007. © Edicions UPC, 2007guidance allowing enough room for manoeuvre so that writers can adapt it to their own writing preferences. However, insofar as the process approach does not cater for certain fundamental teaching aspects such as the linguistic input and the different kinds of texts, it became necessary to incorporate other approaches. In this sense, the product approach accounts for the linguistic knowledge of texts, basically grammar and text structure, and recognizes the importance of the text as a final product. In addition, the genre approach acknowledges that writing takes place in a social context as a response to a particular need and so heeds the writing conventions established by the technical and scientific community. All in all, our approach seeks to merge the linguistic, procedural and social-cultural aspects that intervene in the process of writing technical documents. 2. Book organization This book has been organized into three main parts: ƒ Part I. Introduction to Technical Writing ƒ Part II. The Writing Process ƒ Part III. Handbook Part I, as its name indicates, introduces the basic concepts of technical writing: its importance, definition and main characteristics, as well as a brief description of the main functions found in this register. Part II focuses on the process of writing. Its three main stages—pre-writing, writing and post-writing—are fully developed. Substages and their associated linguistic and structural aspects are also studied in detail. Part III complements the former two by providing a summary of some language-related aspects such as the main linguistic constituents and punctuation rules. Besides, it includes further practice on the grammatical and stylistic points seen in Part II. The parts are internally organized into an introduction and one or more chapters. The introduction is aimed at contextualizing and unifying the content of the part. Likewise, the chapters begin with a somewhat theoretical explanation of the topic in question which is complemented with illustrative examples and, whenever possible, visual information, thus facilitating understanding and appeal. Finally, we would like to highlight the fact that this textbook is best complemented by a good array of the most common technical documents that engineers and technical professionals need to write at the workplace. For reasons of space and length, we decided to devote this textbook to the writing process only, but students should, either simultaneously or after Part II (or Part III), be exposed to a wide range of texts and have extensive and intensive practice in writing all kinds of technical documents for different purposes and situations. © The Authors, 2007. © Edicions UPC, 20073. Methodology Because this book is intended to be a practical and useful manual, the theoretical explanations are followed by a wide range of tasks. In addition, in order to meet our students’ needs, we have selected a variety of authentic texts from different sources (e.g. textbooks, research articles, magazines, lab manuals, Internet web pages and even newspaper articles) so as to cater for diverse engineering specialities. Having a considerable amount of tasks and texts is a valuable resource for teachers as it allows them to select those they find most convenient for their students. Keeping in mind that the activities are fundamentally task-based, combined with some problem-solution ones, the criterion adopted to organize them was to group the tasks according to whether they could be done individually or collaboratively. We should point out that this task division is not fixed or closed in the sense that individual tasks are only meant to be done individually and collaborative tasks only collaboratively. On the contrary, this classification is quite flexible as teachers can decide how the task can be carried out in class. Taking this into account, the different types of tasks included in this book fall into the following categories: ƒ Reflecting on questions. All chapters begin with what we called a reflecting on activity whose main function is to make students aware of different aspects that will be dealt with within the chapter. These awareness-raising questions also anticipate what the chapter is about. ƒ Task-based activities. These tasks aim to make students work with the different writing techniques previously explained within the chapter. Their increasing level of difficulty allows students to gradually become skilled at these techniques. This way, students acquire the different skills necessary to succeed in the more global and authentic problem-and-solution tasks. ƒ Problem-and-solution tasks. With these types of tasks technical students will be trained to work under similar circumstances to those they will find themselves in their future professional career. ƒ Critical thinking tasks. At some key points, evaluative thinking tasks have been included to make students critically analyze different topics and situations. These tasks go beyond subject-matter considerations and allow students to identify weaknesses, assess alternatives and evaluate evidence by making reasoned judgements. ƒ Project. This globalizing activity is divided into three main parts corresponding to the three main stages of the writing process and builds on the tasks within each stage. This project can be carried out according to two main approaches, namely top- down or bottom-up, so that students can choose the option that better suits their idiosyncratic learning style. © The Authors, 2007. © Edicions UPC, 2007 PREFACE 8 Both the flexibility of the tasks and the methodology described above enable this book to be used within the incoming European Educational System as it caters for students’ individual needs and learning styles and promotes collaborative learning (which allows for teamwork with assignment of roles) and project work. Besides, the key to the exercises allows for great flexibility and dynamism because teachers can decide which tasks are to be done and corrected in class or at home, peer-reviewed or teacher-reviewed. In a word, the book can also be used as a kind of self-study book, where students become more responsible for their learning process by actively monitoring it. The book can be used with both undergraduate and graduate students. Undergraduate students who have not received any instruction on technical communication will probably need to carefully read the theoretical explanations preceding most chapters and sections. In contrast, more mature students will either skip or merely glimpse at the introductory framework on their own at home and go straight to the tasks that will help them improve those skills in which they might be less proficient. Finally, the materials also adapt to teachers with different teaching styles and with different degrees of experience in written communication. For example, teachers with little experience in written communication may well appreciate a structured and reasoned theoretical explanation before plunging into the tasks, whereas more experienced teachers can exploit this theory as a critical thinking or reflecting on task, thus making lessons more dynamic. Acknowledgements We thank the authors and publishers of the material cited in this book for kindly giving us reprint permission. Although every effort has been made to contact authors and publishers, this has not always been possible so any information from them will be welcome and omissions or errors will be corrected. To our students we owe their kind permission to use their written work and their comments because they greatly contributed to a better version of this book. Thanks are also due to Brian Tomlinson and Hitomi Masuhara from Leeds Metropolitan University for their encouragement and their endless suggestions on innovative possibilities. They made us realize that this book is just a first attempt that will certainly need future revisions, as a textbook can never be a finished product. We are also indebted to Helen East from the Language Unit at the University of Cambridge for her wise and discerning suggestions. © The Authors, 2007. © Edicions UPC, 2007 PART I INTRODUCTION TO TECHNICAL WRITING CHAPTER 1 What is technical writing? © The Authors, 2007. © Edicions UPC, 2007 © The Authors, 2007. © Edicions UPC, 2007 Technical writing at university I’m a university student, I can write well, so... why should I learn to write? Haven’t you ever had this thought, or a similar one? Of course, most of you are more or less competent writers in your first language—maybe some even in English. In fact, many people can get through their lives with just a first language literacy to write postcards, recipes, shopping lists, or odd messages. These documents are quite spontaneous and transient and therefore do not require a large amount of planning. But we are not addressing you as apprentice writers or as English language beginners. Not even as proficient writers in general English. We are addressing you as future skilled professionals who need to perfect their writing skills in English from a professional point of view. This implies that you will need to be acquainted with certain types of documents, known as genres, which have specific characteristics (e.g. layout, content or style). The examples mentioned above (a recipe, a postcard or the shopping list) stand out as everyday life genres you already know very well. Yet, in your professional life you may very well need to write formal business letters and reports of different kinds. Each of these genres has its own characteristics and conventions that make it a genre and, as engineers, you’ll be expected to write them appropriately. One of our objectives in this book is to provide you with an awareness of the differences in language use that are associated with different contexts: engineers today are expected to be multiliterate (i.e. be able to use different registers according to the different communicative situations). As engineers you will soon realize that being literate is not enough and that © The Authors, 2007. © Edicions UPC, 2007 12 PART I. Introduction to technical writing writing an email to a friend is not the same as writing in a job-related context. Although at this point we are just scratching the surface, you should be aware of what readers will expect your documents to look like. You should then be competent enough and deploy writing skills that allow you to adapt your documents to every writing situation. Being multiliterate in the sense defined above is not usually an easy task because you need to have a good command of: ƒ content knowledge: technical and scientific knowledge that is transferred to you at university, ƒ context knowledge: you should be sensitized about the importance of the scientific community or academic context in which your documents will be read, ƒ English language knowledge: level of proficiency in terms of syntax, grammar, vocabulary, etc. in general-purpose English and in technical English, ƒ genre knowledge: knowledge of the different written genres used in the technical professions, and ƒ writing process knowledge: knowledge of the most efficient writing skills and techniques for a writing task. See how the above categories of knowledge can help you identify some of your knowledge gaps and self-assess your current level of writing competence at this very initial stage. More specifically, try to find out with which categories you would encounter difficulties when writing the documents below: 9 Request for detailed figures of faulty end 9 MSc final project or thesis products 9 Technical manual 9 Evaluation of a machine breakdown 9 Brochure 9 Laboratory report 9 Journal (research) article 9 Departmental monthly report 9 Email to a business contact 9 Report on a meeting or visit 9 Letters of rejection, complaint, etc. 9 Newspaper article Finally, there are different techniques that can help you improve your writing skills as engineers. For example, it has been demonstrated that reading plays a crucial role in learning a foreign language and, most importantly, that good readers make good writers. Reading is very beneficial, but only if you read voluntarily, extensively and for pleasure. As you can imagine, however, reading is not enough. Apart from reading, you should also write and write because while you are learning to write you are also writing to learn the language and to be an efficient communicator. The more you read and the more you write, the better writers you will become. Last but not least, it can also be very helpful for you to acquire some autonomy to allow you to actively participate in your learning process, for example by monitoring your learning and choosing the tasks that best suit your needs and preferences. © The Authors, 2007. © Edicions UPC, 2007 CHAPTER 1 What is technical writing? 1.1 Why is it important to study technical and professional communication? 1.2 Characteristics of good technical writing 1.3 Functions of technical discourse Reflecting on… Do you think communication skills are of minor importance in scientific and technical studies? Do you think a technical student can write as well as a humanities student? What characteristics do you think distinguish a technical text from a non-technical one? How can your knowledge of general purpose English help you towards writing technical documents? © The Authors, 2007. © Edicions UPC, 2007 1.1 Why is it important to study technical and professional communication? In a world of rushing and pressure to save time, writing documents seems slow and time- consuming. Why write a letter or a memo if you can make a quick phone call? Why spend time thinking about how to put into words information that can be transmitted spontaneously without the extra effort of heeding syntax and punctuation? This logical reasoning fails, though, when we come to consider the type of documents technical writers need to develop as well as the audience they are addressed to. On many occasions, communication is not just from one emitter to one receiver but rather from one to many, as is the case of memos addressed to company staff, or a report meant to be read by more than one person, for example. In addition, most documents generated in the technical field include information that cannot be easily transmitted unless it is orderly displayed on a document. In other words, oral communication may fall short when we need to transmit the information technical documents require. Hence, writing skills can be considered an important factor in the technical and scientific field because: 1. In many different types of work, writing constitutes an important part of the everyday workload. In a company, people write to inform about a project or activity (progress reports), to help managers in decision-making (recommendation reports), to communicate within the organization (memos), to ask questions (inquiry letters) and to contact colleagues, distributors, and mates in the same workplace (email messages). These various tasks reveal that writing is a key activity for many technical professionals. 2. They facilitate communication with co-workers, clients and supervisors, that is, inside and outside the workplace. Engineers and scientists’ writing skills must be of a high standard in order to effectively communicate with the people with whom they work. It is not enough for them to be technically good, they must be skilful in communicating what they are doing and why it is important. As a last resort, their technical and professional value will very much depend on their capacity to convince others of the importance of their work. 3. They are necessary for a successful career. Organizations know the advantages of a well- written document since the way they construct their documents reflects their image. Poorly written documents will reveal not only writers’ inefficiency but also organizations’ lack of seriousness. Thus, engineers who can communicate their thoughts clearly and efficiently are bound to be promoted to more challenging positions. Additionally, being good at written communication skills (in whatever language) is likely to act as an added value that enhances your curriculum vitae and helps you stand out from other applicants in a job selection process. 4. Writing skills contribute to saving time and money. Good technical writing saves time and, therefore, money. If you create a document, a report, for example, for your superior, which is clear and easy to understand, no time will be wasted on pondering the meaning. In © The Authors, 2007. © Edicions UPC, 2007 PART II THE WRITING PROCESS CHAPTER 2 Pre-writing stage CHAPTER 3 Writing stage CHAPTER 4 Post-writing stage © The Authors, 2007. © Edicions UPC, 2007 © The Authors, 2007. © Edicions UPC, 2007 Introduction to the writing process Try to remember the last time you had to write a more or less formal (academic or professional) document. With the help of the questions below, reflect on your usual writing habits and their usefulness. ‰ Did you do anything before beginning to write (for example, mentally scan the main ideas you wanted to transmit and/or jot them down, look for information, schedule your work in terms of time, outline before or after your first draft)? ‰ What did you do when writing (simply sit in front of the computer, create a new document and begin writing your final version, write several drafts)? ‰ What did you do once you had completed your first version (allow for thorough revision, quickly scan for any mistakes, print it and hand it in)? Beginning to write may be a hard task for most people as ideas come mixed up in a disorderly manner. In trying to get started, many different aspects come into mind: content, style, grammar, etc. and it may be difficult to cope with them all at the same time: In order to seek guidance and to acquire confidence, the writer may find it useful to resort to some kind of systematic and integrative approach which takes into consideration the most important aspects of writing. The integrative approach adopted in this book draws on knowledge of different approaches to writing (see Figure 1). On the one hand, it takes into account the linguistic knowledge about texts, namely, grammar and text structure. Mastering syntax, an appropriate use of vocabulary and cohesive devices as well as patterns of information organization become essential to produce well-written texts. This is known as product approach. On the other hand, the integrative approach also pays attention to the writing skills or stages involved in writing. Novice writers should be made aware of writing as a process consisting of different stages (planning, drafting, revising, etc.) when creating a text (process approach). Finally, this approach also heeds the social context, mainly the purpose and audience the document is addressed to, as well as the writing conventions established by the technical and scientific community (genre approach). © The Authors, 2007. © Edicions UPC, 2007 PROCESS APPROACH PROCESS APPROACH Writing skills and stages GENRE PRODUCT APPROACH APPROACH Social INTEGRATIVE Linguistic context WRITING knowledge (audience, (grammar APPROACH purpose and and text writing structure) conventions) Fig. 1 1 At this point it is useful to clarify At this point it is useful to clarify that that the three approaches the three approaches mentioned above will be mentioned above will be co com mb bined into one b ined into one by y su subsum bsuming the ing the product and product and the genre ap the genre approach under proach under the process the process approach which, in turn, will serv approach which, in turn, will servee as the as the guide to organizing the infor guide to organizing the inform mation in the ation in the following cha following chap pters. Howev ters. Howeve er, the writing appro r, the writing approach presented below is by ach presented below is by no m no means intended eans intended to be prescriptive. Instead it to be prescriptive. Instead it has been designed to provide guida has been designed to provide guidan nce allowing enough r ce allowing enough room oom for manoeuvre so that writ for manoeuvre so that writers can adapt ers can adapt these these guidelines to their own writing preferences and guidelines to their own writing preferences and sty style. We vie le. We view w writing as a non-linear and recu writing as a non-linear and recursive process co rsive process com mp posed of three main stages: osed of three main stages: 1. 1. Pre-writing. Pre-writing. Before beginning to write y Before beginning to write yo ou should i u should invest so nvest som me e time planning what time planning what to write and to write and how to transmit the information. how to transmit the information. In order to do this y In order to do this yo ou should c u should consider onsider (a) (a) audience and p audience and pu urpose rpose (who you are writing to and why (who you are writing to and why) ), (b) , (b) ttone and sty one and style (how le (how you transm you transmit the inform it the informatio ation), (c) n), (c) gathering of inf gathering of info ormation rmation (brainst (brainstorm orming, analysing ing, analysing sources of information, etc.) and (d) sources of information, etc.) and (d) o ou utli tlining ning ( (o organization of inf rganization of info or rm mation). ation). 2. 2. Writing Writing. Once y . Once yo ou have gathered and organized the inform u have gathered and organized the information, ation, y yo ou can begin u can begin writing a first draft. At this stage, it is writing a first draft. At this stage, it is iim mportant to portant to consider the main parts of the consider the main parts of the text, paragraph developm text, paragraph development ent and coherence as well as genre co and coherence as well as genre conventions. A nventions. Ass y yo ou u revise and consider all these aspect revise and consider all these aspects, it may s, it may be helpful to be helpful to use representative use representative models models as a ref as a refe erence rence.. 3. 3. Post-writing Post-writing. The final stag . The final stage of the e of the writi writing process in ng process involves (a) volves (a) revising content revising content and and organizati organization on, (b) , (b) checking checking for gramma for grammatical accurac tical accuracy y (c) (c) editing editing for style and for style and (d) (d) proofreading and peer proofreading and peer revi review. ew. These steps will help These steps will help you spot you spot any any inconsistencies in inconsistencies in your docum your docume ent so as to pr nt so as to produce a flawless final versi oduce a flawless final version. on. © The Authors, 2007. © Edicions UPC, 2007The three main stages of the writing process together with their corresponding substages are shown in Figure 2 below. The Writing Process Fig. 2 Some of the benefits that can be obtained from adopting this process approach are outlined below: ƒ It helps the writer overcome the blank page syndrome and therefore get started. ƒ It serves the writer as a guide to writing since it suggests possible steps to follow in the writing process. ƒ It makes the writer aware of contextual considerations such as audience and purpose. ƒ It promotes awareness of the writing process. ƒ It accounts for individual variation, that is, it encompasses different learning styles and preferences. © The Authors, 2007. © Edicions UPC, 2007 36 PART II. The writing process The chapters that follow develop in detail the three main stages of the writing process–pre- writing, writing and post-writing—to help you improve your writing skills. Chapter 2 focuses on the pre-writing stage, in which you must examine your purpose(s), determine your audience, consider the style and tone to adopt, gather data and decide how to organize information. Chapter 3 is based on the writing stage itself. In this chapter you will learn to develop paragraphs, to order information and to provide coherence to your document while drafting your text. Chapter 4 deals with the final stage of the writing process, the post- writing stage. This stage is essential for successful writing as it allows you to polish your document for a perfect final version. For practical purposes, the three stages of the writing process are described in this book in the order described above but remember that this process is dynamic and flexible, and that the different stages often overlap. Therefore, you may go back and forth at your convenience while you draft your document. © The Authors, 2007. © Edicions UPC, 2007