How is Technical writing used

technical writing how to write instructions and how technical writing is different from general writing
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Dr.KiaraSimpson,United States,Researcher
Published Date:05-07-2017
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HTW_fm01.qxp 8/22/08 8:52 AM Page ix Preface Like previous editions, the ninth edition of the Handbook of Technical Writing is a comprehensive, easy-access guide to all aspects of technical communication in the classroom and on the job. It places writing in a real-world context with quick reference to hundreds of business writing topics and scores of model documents and visuals. Meeting the needs of today’s writers, the ninth edition includes expanded coverage of au- dience and context and reflects the impact that e-mail and other tech- nology have had on workplace communication. This comprehensive reference tool is accompanied by a robust Web site that works together with the text to offer expanded resources online. Helpful Features The ESL Tips boxes throughout the book offer special advice for multi- lingual writers. In addition, the Contents by Topic on the inside front cover includes a list of entries—ESL Trouble Spots—that may be of particular interest to nonnative speakers of English. Digital Tips and Web Links boxes direct readers to specific, related resources on the companion Web site. The Digital Tips in the book sug- gest ways to use technology to simplify complex writing tasks, such as incorporating track changes and creating styles and templates. Ex- panded Digital Tips on the Web site offer step-by-step instructions for completing each task. Web Links in the book point students to related resources on the companion site, such as model documents, tutorials, and links to hundreds of useful, related Web sites. Ethics Notes throughout the text highlight the ethical concerns of today’s technical writers and offer advice for dealing with these con- cerns. A thorough discussion of copyright and plagiarism clarifies what plagiarism is in the digital age and highlights the ethical aspects of using and documenting sources appropriately. New to This Edition As mentioned above, our focus in revising the Handbook for this edi- tion has been to address the impact that technology has had on work- place communication. We have updated our coverage of correspon- dence and other entries throughout the book to show that there is often more than one appropriate medium for a particular message. A report, for example, can be sent as a hard copy, an e-mail attachment, or an ixHTW_fm01.qxp 8/22/08 8:52 AM Page x x Preface e-mail itself. To address this issue, we have expanded our rhetorical ad- vice on analyzing context and audience and have added new informa- tion on instant messaging, blogs, and other means by which today’s writers communicate. We have also thoroughly updated coverage of grammar, usage, and style, and have made the following additional im- provements: • Expanded coverage of the latest types of writing for the Web discusses FAQs and blogs as forms of collaborative writing and promotion. A new entry on content management suggests how writers can use this technology to electronically access, share, and revise a wide variety of digital forms. • New information on environmental-impact statements reflects current environmental policy and ethics. Covering the scope, language, and organization of these statements, the new entry features a link to the Environmental Protection Agency Web site and a full-length example. • A new entry on repurposing explains how writers can use content for multiple purposes and audiences by adapting it for different contexts and mediums. • Detailed job-search entries discuss social-networking Web sites such as MySpace and Facebook and their relationship to current job-search issues. • Updated coverage of research and documentation helps students find, use, and integrate sources effectively in their writing. Real- world documentation models and a visual guide to citing sources make this challenging topic more accessible. • Updated Digital Tips throughout the book focus on using technol- ogy to assist with a variety of writing tasks, such as using wikis for collaborative documents and conducting meetings from remote locations. • New and updated sample documents and visuals reflect the promi- nence of e-mail in the workplace. Other updated visuals include charts, graphs, drawings, tables, internationally recognized sym- bols, illustrated descriptions and instructions, brochure and newsletter pages, presentation slides, and more. • An updated companion Web site at alredtech helps instructors take advantage of the Handbook’s potential as a text for face-to-face, online, or hybrid classes by of- fering lesson plans, handouts, teaching tips, and assignment ideas. For students, the Web site includes additional sample documents, useful tutorials, expanded Digital Tips, and links to hundreds of useful Web sites keyed to the Handbook’s main entries.10996_fm01.qxp 7/8/09 9:20 AM Page xi Preface xi How to Use This Book The Handbook of Technical Writing is made up of alphabetically or- ganized entries with color tabs. Within each entry, underlined cross- references such as “formal reports” link readers to related entries that contain further information. Many entries present advice and guidelines in the form of convenient Writer’s Checklists. The Handbook’s alphabetical organization enables readers to find specific topics quickly and easily; however, readers with general ques- tions will discover several alternate ways to find information in the book and on its companion Web site at • Contents by Topic. The complete Contents by Topic on the inside front cover groups the alphabetical entries into topic categories. This topical key can help a writer focusing on a specific task or problem browse all related entries; it is also useful for instructors who want to correlate the Handbook with standard textbooks or their own course materials. • Commonly Misused Words and Phrases. The list of Commonly Misused Words and Phrases on pages 627–28 extends the Con- tents by Topic by listing all the usage entries, which appear in italics throughout the book. • Model Documents and Figures by Topic. The topically organized list of model documents and figures on the inside back cover makes it easier to browse the book’s most commonly referenced sample documents and visuals to find specific examples of technical com- munication genres. • Checklist of the Writing Process. The checklist on pages xxiii–xxiv helps readers reference key entries in a sequence useful for plan- ning and carrying out a writing project. • Comprehensive Index. The Index lists all the topics covered in the book, including subtopics within the main entries in the alphabeti- cal arrangement. Acknowledgments For their invaluable comments and suggestions for this edition of Handbook of Technical Writing, we thank the following reviewers who responded to our questionnaire: Dana Anderson, Indiana University, Bloomington; Daniel Ding, Ferris State University; Daniel Fitzstephens, University of Colorado; Karen Griggs, Indiana University–Purdue Uni- versity, Fort Wayne; Lila M. Harper, Central Washington University; Douglas Jerolimov, University of Virginia; John F. Lee, University of Texas at San Antonio; Joseph P. McCallus, Columbus State University; Barbara J. McCleary, University of Hartford; Laura Osborne, Stephen10996_fm01.qxp 7/8/09 9:20 AM Page xii xii Preface F. Austin State University; Suzanne Kesler Rumsey, Indiana University– Purdue University, Fort Wayne; Michael Stephans, Bloomsburg Uni- versity of Pennsylvania; Babette Wald, California State University, Dominguez Hills; Paul Walker, Northern Arizona University; and Thomas L. Warren, Oklahoma State University. For their helpful reviews of the model documents, we thank Patricia C. Click, University of Virginia; Barbara D’Angelo, Arizona State Uni- versity; Karen Gookin, Central Washington University; Dale Jacobson, University of North Dakota; Nancy Nygaard, University of Wisconsin– Milwaukee; and Linda Van Buskirk, Cornell University. We owe special thanks to Michelle M. Schoenecker, University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee, for her outstanding contribution to the ninth edition, especially for her work on the entries “blogs,” “FAQs,” and “repurposing.” Michelle’s workplace experience and her graduate stud- ies in professional writing were invaluable—her keen analysis and cheerful perspective brought fresh energy to the project. We are indebted to Kenneth J. Cook, President, Ken Cook Co., for his ongoing support of this and earlier editions. For this edition, we thank especially Melissa Marney, Marketing Coordinator, and Wendy Ballard, Technical Writer, both of Ken Cook Co. We thank Dave Clark, University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee, and Matthias Jonas, Manpower Inc., for developing the entry “content management.” Thanks as well go to Stuart Selber, Pennsylvania State University, for his review and advice for the entry “repurposing.” We appreciate the help of Gail M. Boviall, Department of Mathematical Sciences at the University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee, for her advice on the entry “mathematical equations.” We appreciate Rebekka Andersen and Richard Hay, University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee, for their continuing work on “documenting sources.” Thanks especially to Sara Eaton Gaunt for her excellent work in updating this complicated section. Thanks also go to Erik Thelen, Marquette University, and Mohan Limaye, Boise State University, for their helpful advice and counsel. In addition, we are very much in- debted to the many reviewers and contributors not named here who helped us shape the first eight editions. We wish to thank Bedford/St. Martin’s for supporting this book, es- pecially Joan Feinberg, President, and Karen Henry, Editor in Chief. We are grateful to Emily Berleth, Manager of Publishing Services at Bed- ford/St. Martin’s, and Herb Nolan of Books By Design for their pa- tience and expert guidance. Finally, we wish to thank Amy Hurd Gershman and Rachel Goldberg, our developmental editors at Bed- ford/St. Martin’s, whose professionalism and collegiality helped pro- duce an outstanding edition. We offer heartfelt thanks to Barbara Brusaw for her patience and time spent preparing the manuscript for the first five editions. We also10996_fm01.qxp 7/8/09 9:20 AM Page xiii Preface xiii gratefully acknowledge the ongoing contributions of many students and instructors at the University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee. Finally, special thanks go to Janice Alred for her many hours of substantive assistance and for continuing to hold everything together. G. J. A. C. T. B. W. E. O.HTW_fm01.qxp 8/22/08 8:52 AM Page xv Five Steps to Successful Writing Successful writing on the job is not the product of inspiration, nor is it merely the spoken word converted to print; it is the result of knowing how to structure information using both text and design to achieve an intended purpose for a clearly defined audience. The best way to ensure that your writing will succeed—whether it is in the form of a memo, a résumé, a proposal, or a Web page—is to approach writing using the following steps: 1. Preparation 2. Research 3. Organization 4. Writing 5. Revision You will very likely need to follow those steps consciously—even self- consciously—at first. The same is true the first time you use new soft- ware, interview a candidate for a job, or chair a committee meeting. With practice, the steps become nearly automatic. That is not to suggest that writing becomes easy. It does not. However, the easiest and most efficient way to write effectively is to do it systematically. As you master the five steps, keep in mind that they are interrelated and often overlap. For example, your readers’ needs and your purpose, which you determine in step 1, will affect decisions you make in subse- quent steps. You may also need to retrace steps. When you conduct re- search, for example, you may realize that you need to revise your initial understanding of the document’s purpose and audience. Similarly, when you begin to organize, you may discover the need to return to the re- search step to gather more information. The time required for each step varies with different writing tasks. When writing an informal memo, for example, you might follow the first three steps (preparation, research, and organization) by simply list- ing the points in the order you want to cover them. In such situations, you gather and organize information in your mind as you consider your purpose and audience. For a formal report, the first three steps require well-organized research, careful note-taking, and detailed outlining. For a routine e-mail message to a coworker, the first four steps merge as you type the information onto the screen. In short, the five steps expand, contract, and at times must be repeated to fit the complexity or context of the writing task. xvHTW_fm01.qxp 8/22/08 8:52 AM Page xvi xvi Five Steps to Successful Writing Dividing the writing process into steps is especially useful for col- laborative writing, in which you typically divide work among team members, keep track of a project, and save time by not duplicating ef- fort. For details on collaborating with others and using electronic tools to help you manage the process, see collaborative writing. Preparation Writing, like most professional tasks, requires solid preparation. In fact, adequate preparation is as important as writing a draft. In preparation for writing, your goal is to accomplish the following four major tasks: • Establish your primary purpose. • Assess your audience (or readers) and the context. • Determine the scope of your coverage. • Select the appropriate medium. Establishing Your Purpose. To establish your primary purpose simply ask yourself what you want your readers to know, to believe, or to be able to do after they have finished reading what you have written. Be precise. Often a writer states a purpose so broadly that it is almost use- less. A purpose such as “to report on possible locations for a new re- search facility” is too general. However, “to compare the relative advantages of Paris, Singapore, and San Francisco as possible locations for a new research facility so that top management can choose the best location” is a purpose statement that can guide you throughout the writing process. In addition to your primary purpose, consider possible secondary purposes for your document. For example, a secondary pur- pose of the research-facilities report might be to make corporate execu- tive readers aware of the staffing needs of the new facility so that they can ensure its smooth operation regardless of the location selected. Assessing Your Audience and Context. The next task is to assess your audience. Again, be precise and ask key questions. Who exactly is your reader? Do you have multiple readers? Who needs to see or to use the document? What are your readers’ needs in relation to your subject? What are their attitudes about the subject? (Skeptical? Supportive? Anxious? Bored?) What do your readers already know about the sub- ject? Should you define basic terminology, or will such definitions merely bore, or even impede, your readers? Are you communicating with international readers and therefore dealing with issues inherent in global communication? In this discussion, as elsewhere throughout this book, words and phrases underlined and set in an alternate typeface refer to specific alphabetical entries.HTW_fm01.qxp 8/22/08 8:52 AM Page xvii Five Steps to Successful Writing xvii For the research-facilities report, the readers are described as “top management.” Who is included in that category? Will one of the people evaluating the report be the Human Resources Manager? If so, that person likely would be interested in the availability of qualified profes- sionals as well as in the presence of training, housing, and perhaps even recreational facilities available to potential employees in each city. The Purchasing Manager would be concerned about available sources for materials needed by the facility. The Marketing Manager would give priority to the facility’s proximity to the primary markets for its prod- ucts and services and the transportation options that are available. The Chief Financial Officer would want to know about land and building costs and about each country’s tax structure. The Chief Executive Offi- cer would be interested in all this information and perhaps more. As with this example, many workplace documents have audiences com- posed of multiple readers. You can accommodate their needs through one of a number of approaches described in the entry audience. In addition to knowing the needs and interests of your readers, learn as much as you can about the context. Simply put, context is the environment or circumstances in which writers produce documents and within which readers interpret their meanings. Everything is written in a context, as illustrated in many entries and examples throughout this book. To determine the effect of context on the research-facilities re- port, you might ask both specific and general questions about the situa- tion and about your readers’ backgrounds: Is this the company’s first new facility, or has the company chosen locations for new facilities be- fore? Have the readers visited all three cities? Have they already seen other reports on the three cities? What is the corporate culture in which your readers work, and what are its key values? What specific factors, ESL TIPS for Considering Audiences In the United States, conciseness, coherence, and clarity characterize good writing. Make sure readers can follow your writing, and say only what is necessary to communicate your message. Of course, no writing style is inherently better than another, but to be a successful writer in any language, you must understand the cultural values that underlie the language in which you are writing. See also awkwardness, copyright, global communication, English as a second language, and plagiarism. Throughout this book we have included ESL Tips boxes like this one with information that may be particularly helpful to nonnative speak- ers of English. See the Contents by Topic on the inside front cover for listings of ESL Tips and ESL Trouble Spots, entries that may be of partic- ular help to ESL writers.HTW_fm01.qxp 8/22/08 8:52 AM Page xviii xviii Five Steps to Successful Writing such as competition, finance, and regulation, are recognized as impor- tant within the organization? Determining the Scope. Determining your purpose and assessing your readers and context will help you decide what to include and what not to include in your writing. Those decisions establish the scope of your writing project. If you do not clearly define the scope, you will spend needless hours on research because you will not be sure what kind of information you need or even how much. Given the purpose and audi- ence established for the report on facility locations, the scope would in- clude such information as land and building costs, available labor force, cultural issues, transportation options, and proximity to suppliers. However, it probably would not include the early history of the cities being considered or their climate and geological features, unless those aspects were directly related to your particular business. Selecting the Medium. Finally, you need to determine the most appro- priate medium for communicating your message. Professionals on the job face a wide array of options—from e-mail, fax, voice mail, video- conferencing, and Web sites to more traditional means like letters, memos, reports, telephone calls, and face-to-face meetings. The most important considerations in selecting the appropriate medium are the audience and the purpose of the communication. For example, if you need to collaborate with someone to solve a problem or if you need to establish rapport with someone, written exchanges could be far less efficient than a phone call or a face-to-face meeting. How- ever, if you need precise wording or you need to provide a record of a complex message, communicate in writing. If you need to make in- formation that is frequently revised accessible to employees at a large company, the best choice might be to place the information on the com- pany’s intranet site. If reviewers need to submit their written comments about a proposal, you can either send them paper copies of the pro- posal that can be faxed or scanned, or you can send them the word- processing file to insert their comments electronically. The comparative advantages and primary characteristics of the most typical means of communication are discussed in selecting the medium. Research The only way to be sure that you can write about a complex subject is to thoroughly understand it. To do that, you must conduct adequate re- search, whether that means conducting an extensive investigation for a major proposal—through interviewing, library and Internet research, and careful note-taking—or simply checking a company Web site and jotting down points before you send an e-mail to a colleague.HTW_fm01.qxp 8/22/08 8:52 AM Page xix Five Steps to Successful Writing xix Methods of Research. Researchers frequently distinguish between pri- mary and secondary research, depending on the types of sources con- sulted and the method of gathering information. Primary research refers to the gathering of raw data compiled from interviews, direct ob- servation, surveys, experiments, questionnaires, and audio and video recordings, for example. In fact, direct observation and hands-on expe- rience are the only ways to obtain certain kinds of information, such as the behavior of people and animals, certain natural phenomena, me- chanical processes, and the operation of systems and equipment. Sec- ondary research refers to gathering information that has been analyzed, assessed, evaluated, compiled, or otherwise organized into accessible form. Such forms or sources include books, articles, reports, Web docu- ments, e-mail discussions, and brochures. Use the methods most appro- priate to your needs, recognizing that some projects will require several types of research and that collaborative projects may require those re- search tasks to be distributed among team members. Sources of Information. As you conduct research, numerous sources of information are available to you, including the following: • Your own knowledge and that of your colleagues • The knowledge of people outside your workplace, gathered through interviewing for information • Internet sources, including Web sites, directories, archives, and dis- cussion groups • Library resources, including databases and indexes of articles as well as books and reference works • Printed and electronic sources in the workplace, such as various correspondence, reports, and Web intranet documents Consider all sources of information when you begin your research and use those that are appropriate and useful. The amount of research you will need to do depends on the scope of your project. See also docu- menting sources. Organization Without organization, the material gathered during your research will be incoherent to your readers. To organize information effectively, you need to determine the best way to structure your ideas; that is, you must choose a primary method of development. Methods of Development. An appropriate method of development is the writer’s tool for keeping information under control and the readers’ means of following the writer’s presentation. As you analyze the HTW_fm01.qxp 8/22/08 8:52 AM Page xx xx Five Steps to Successful Writing information you have gathered, choose the method that best suits your subject, your readers’ needs, and your purpose. For example, if you were writing instructions for assembling office equipment, you would natu- rally present the steps of the process in the order readers should perform them: the sequential method of development. If you were writing about the history of an organization, your account would most naturally go from the beginning to the present: the chronological method of develop- ment. If your subject naturally lends itself to a certain method of devel- opment, use it—do not attempt to impose another method on it. Often you will need to combine methods of development. For example, a persuasive brochure for a charitable organization might combine a specific-to-general method of development with a cause-and- effect method of development. That is, you could begin with persuasive case histories of individual people in need and then move to general in- formation about the positive effects of donations on recipients. Outlining. Once you have chosen a method of development, you are ready to prepare an outline. Outlining breaks large or complex subjects into manageable parts. It also enables you to emphasize key points by placing them in the positions of greatest importance. By structuring your thinking at an early stage, a well-developed outline ensures that your document will be complete and logically organized, allowing you to focus exclusively on writing when you begin the rough draft. An out- line can be especially helpful for maintaining a collaborative-writing team’s focus throughout a large project. However, even a short letter or memo needs the logic and structure that an outline provides, whether the outline exists in your mind or on-screen or on paper. At this point, you must begin to consider layout and design ele- ments that will be helpful to your readers and appropriate to your sub- ject and purpose. For example, if visuals such as photographs or tables will be useful, this is a good time to think about where they may be po- sitioned to be most effective and if they need to be prepared by some- one else while you are writing and revising the draft. The outline can also suggest where headings, lists, and other special design features may be useful. Writing When you have established your purpose, your readers’ needs, and your scope and have completed your research and your outline, you will be well prepared to write a first draft. Expand your outline into para- graphs, without worrying about grammar, refinements of language usage, or punctuation. Writing and revising are different activities; re- finements come with revision. HTW_fm01.qxp 8/22/08 8:52 AM Page xxi Five Steps to Successful Writing xxi Write the rough draft, concentrating entirely on converting your outline into sentences and paragraphs. You might try writing as though you were explaining your subject to a reader sitting across from you. Do not worry about a good opening. Just start. Do not be concerned in the rough draft about exact word choice unless it comes quickly and easily—concentrate instead on ideas. Even with good preparation, writing the draft remains a chore for many writers. The most effective way to get started and keep going is to use your outline as a map for your first draft. Do not wait for inspira- tion—you need to treat writing a draft as you would any on-the-job task. The entry writing a draft describes tactics used by experienced writers—discover which ones are best suited to you and your task. Consider writing an introduction last because then you will know more precisely what is in the body of the draft. Your opening should announce the subject and give readers essential background informa- tion, such as the document’s primary purpose. For longer documents, an introduction should serve as a frame into which readers can fit the detailed information that follows. Finally, you will need to write a conclusion that ties the main ideas together and emphatically makes a final significant point. The final point may be to recommend a course of action, make a prediction or a judgment, or merely summarize your main points—the way you con- clude depends on the purpose of your writing and your readers’ needs. Revision The clearer finished writing seems to the reader, the more effort the writer has likely put into its revision. If you have followed the steps of the writing process to this point, you will have a rough draft that needs to be revised. Revising, however, requires a different frame of mind than does writing the draft. During revision, be eager to find and cor- rect faults and be honest. Be hard on yourself for the benefit of your readers. Read and evaluate the draft as if you were a reader seeing it for the first time. Check your draft for accuracy, completeness, and effectiveness in achieving your purpose and meeting your readers’ needs and expecta- tions. Trim extraneous information: Your writing should give readers exactly what they need, but it should not burden them with unneces- sary information or sidetrack them into loosely related subjects. Do not try to revise for everything at once. Read your rough draft several times, each time looking for and correcting a different set of problems or errors. Concentrate first on larger issues, such as unity and coherence; save mechanical corrections, like spelling and punctuation, for later proofreading. See also ethics in writing. HTW_fm01.qxp 8/22/08 8:52 AM Page xxii xxii Five Steps to Successful Writing Finally, for important documents, consider having others review your writing and make suggestions for improvement. For collaborative writing, of course, team members must review each other’s work on segments of the document as well as the final master draft. Use the Checklist of the Writing Process on pages xxiii–xxiv to guide you not only as you revise but also throughout the writing process. WEB LINK Style Guides and Standards Organizations and professional associations often follow such guides as The Chicago Manual of Style, MLA Style Manual and Guide to Scholarly Publishing, and United States Government Printing Office Style Manual to ensure consistency in their publications on issues of usage, format, and documentation. Because advice in such guides often varies, some organizations set their own standards for documents. Where such stan- dards or specific style guides are recommended or required by regula- tions or policies, you should follow those style guidelines. For a selected list of style guides and standards, see alredtech and select Links for Handbook Entries.HTW_fm01.qxp 8/22/08 8:52 AM Page xxiii Checklist of the Writing Process This checklist arranges key entries of the Handbook of Technical Writing according to the sequence presented in Five Steps to Successful Writing, which begins on page xv. This checklist is useful both for following the steps and for diagnosing writing problems. Preparation 389 Writing a Draft 569  Establish your purpose 435  Select an appropriate point of view 385  Identify your audience or readers 42, 448  Adopt an appropriate style and tone 513, 532  Consider the context 98  Use effective sentence  Determine your scope of construction 498 coverage 493  Construct effective  Select the medium 494 paragraphs 367  Use quotations and Research 459 paraphrasing 445, 372  Brainstorm to determine what  Write an introduction 276 you already know 53  Write a conclusion 93  Conduct research 459  Choose a title 529  Take notes (note-taking) 347  Interview for information 270 Revision 490  Create and use  Check for unity and questionnaires 437 coherence 543, 71  Avoid plagiarism 383 conciseness 90  Document sources 129 pace 367 transition 537 Organization 361  Check for sentence variety 505  Choose the best methods of emphasis 167 development 329 parallel structure 370  Outline your notes and subordination 516 ideas 362  Check for clarity 68  Develop and integrate visuals 552 ambiguity 32  Consider layout and design 295 awkwardness 44 xxiiiHTW_fm01.qxp 8/22/08 8:52 AM Page xxiv xxiv Checklist of the Writing Process logic errors 312 agreement 23 positive writing 386 case 62 voice 557 modifiers 334  Check for ethics in writing 177 pronoun reference 405 biased language 46 sentence faults 503 copyright 101  Review mechanics and punctuation 434 plagiarism 383 abbreviations 2  Check for appropriate word choice 568 capitalization 59 abstract / concrete words 6 contractions 101 affectation and jargon 22, 285 dates 115 clichés 71 italics 283 connotation / denotation 96 numbers 352 defining terms 116 proofreading 411  Eliminate problems with spelling 512 grammar 234HTW_fm01.qxp 8/22/08 8:52 AM Page xxv Handbook of Technical WritingHTW_fm01.qxp 8/22/08 8:52 AM Page iiHTW_ch0A.qxp 8/25/08 8:40 AM Page 1 A A a / an A and an are indefinite articles because the noun designated by the ar- ticle is not a specific person, place, or thing but is one of a group.  She installed a program. not a specific program but an unnamed program Use a before words or abbreviations beginning with a consonant or consonant sound, including y or w.  A manual is available online.  It was a historic event for the Institute. Historic begins with the consonant h.  We received a DNA sample.  The year’s activities are summarized in a one-page report. One begins with the consonant sound “wuh.” Use an before words or abbreviations beginning with a vowel or a con- sonant with a vowel sound.  The report is an overview of the year’s activities.  The applicant arrived an hour early. Hour begins with a silent h.  She bought an SLR digital camera. SLR begins with a vowel sound “ess.” Do not use unnecessary indefinite articles in a sentence.  Fill with a half a pint of fluid. Choose one article and eliminate the other. See also adjectives. 1HTW_ch0A.qxp 8/25/08 8:40 AM Page 2 2 a lot A a lot A lot is often incorrectly written as one word (alot). The phrase a lot is informal and normally should not be used in technical writing. Use many or numerous for estimates or give a specific number or amount. many  We received a lot of e-mails supporting the new policy. abbreviations DIRECTORY Using Abbreviations 2 Writer’s Checklist: Using Abbreviations 3 Forming Abbreviations 3 Names of Organizations 3 Measurements 4 Personal Names and Titles 4 Common Scholarly Abbreviations 4 Abbreviations are shortened versions of words or combinations of the first letters of words (Corp./Corporation, URL/Uniform Resource Lo- cator). Abbreviations, if used appropriately, can be convenient for both the reader and the writer. Like symbols, they can be important space savers in technical writing. Abbreviations that are formed by combining the initial letter of each word in a multiword term are called initialisms. Initialisms are pronounced as separate letters (AC or ac/alternating current). Abbrevia- tions that combine the first letter or letters of several words—and can be pronounced—are called acronyms (PIN/personal identification num- ber, laser/light amplification by stimulated emission of radiation). Using Abbreviations In business, industry, and government, specialists and those working to- gether on particular projects often use abbreviations. The most impor- tant consideration in the use of abbreviations is whether they will be understood by your audience. The same abbreviation, for example, can have two different meanings (NEA stands for both the National Edu- cation Association and the National Endowment for the Arts). Like jargon, shortened forms are easily understood within a group of spe- cialists; outside the group, however, shortened forms might be incom- prehensible. In fact, abbreviations can be easily overused, either as an affectation or in a misguided attempt to make writing concise, even