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1 Introduction TP

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1 Introduction TP

    Chapter 1

    Introduction to Technical Communication

    What is technical communication (or TC for short)? To put it in a simple way, TC means the effective exchange of information at work工作中的有效信息交流. To make it clearer, TC is the art

    and craft of communicating technical information appropriately and persuasively to intended audiences, in complex contexts, and for particular purposes.

    Although technical communication has existed as long as people have recorded information, it developed rapidly as a profession only during the second half of the twentieth century. TC was initially defined as writing that dealt primarily with scientific and technical information, but today subject matter is no longer sufficient to define TC. In fact, TC now concerns with the effective information exchange not only in the fields of natural sciences and technology, but also in the fields of social sciences, including politics, economy and culture, even the more traditional art and literature.

I. Importance of Technical Communication

    The rapid advancement of science and technology has brought great changes to human life ever since the second half of the last century. Formerly, technology was mainly used by engineers and experts, but now non-technical occupations are more and more involved in technology. Office managers, political activists, small business owners, salespeople, journalists and many others have

    all seen how technology transform their day-to-day activities. Nowadays computers and computer controlled machines are being used in every profession that virtually every person in every field has to learn to use certain kind of technology.

    Along with the rapid development of technology is the explosion in the amount and variety of technical documents, combined with the fact that they are being read by a broader audience than ever before. Whether to make important business or personal decisions or merely to stay informed, the average person today must read a wide variety of technical material, such as computer tutorials, instruction manuals for home appliances and office machines, news reports on chemical hazards, economic forecasts, and articles on medical advances, etc. Therefore, if you want to be successful in your career, you must learn to communicate technical information effectively.

II. Three Essential Criteria of Technical Communication专业信息交流的三项基本标准

    Our age is rightly called an age of information because huge amount of information comes to us continuously at an amazing speed. It is difficult for anyone to handle so much information even in his or her own field. Therefore, we need effective ways to find out the right message quickly from the sea of information and read it quickly.

    Since technology has got into peoples daily life and work, the vast users of technical

    information are now non-professionals. Common people can not understand technical documents written in a professional way. They want these documents to be easy to understand and easy to use. Therefore the effective methods of technical communication should enable people, especially general readers, to find out the required information quickly (accessibility), to understand the

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    information easily (comprehensibility) and to use the information correctly (usability). These are the three essential criteria of technical communication.

1. Accessibility,信息的!可获得性

    Accessibility means easy to find. In more detail, it means to enable readers to get the required message quickly and accurately, especially from a large amount of information. Now let us compare two pieces of writing of the same contents but with different organization, and see which is easier for readers to catch the right information quickly.

Figure 1-1 Wall of Words

    Effective Reading Strategies

    Reading is not simply looking at words on a page, figuring out their meanings, and stringing them together. It is

    a complex process and has less to do with interpreting the meanings of words than with the way readers interpret

    meaning in particular situations. How well people read has a great deal to do with previous knowledge and reading

    strategies. Researchers have a number of theories about how people read, but most accept the following strategies as critical in effective reading: identifying structure and hierarchy, distinguishing main points, and drawing inferences.

    Technical documents usually have a clear and identifiable structure and hierarchy. This structure and hierarchy

    of contents can often be identified by recognizing genre characteristics. A genre is a category of writing marked by a

    distinctive style, form, or content. For example, the abstract of an original research paper usually includes the following parts in sequence: Background; Purpose; Methods; Results; and Conclusions. You are likely to read

    abstracts more quickly and with greater comprehension if you anticipate their elements and structure, and this is also

    true of other kinds of documents you read if you have knowledge of their genre. A paragraph in technical writing is

    generally composed of two kinds of sentences: a topic sentence that states the main points and several supporting

    sentences that help readers understand the relationships among ideas in a paragraph. Sometimes the main points are

    easy to distinguish because the writer has constructed the document so that topic sentences clearly signal the main points. Sometimes, however, the main points may not be clearly marked by any visual cues, and you must be able to

    distinguish the topic sentence from supporting sentences in a paragraph to find out the main points. The following

    guidelines are used to identify the topic sentence. The topic sentence provides the main idea or the topic of the

    paragraph while supporting sentences give detailed explanations to support the topic sentence. The topic sentence

    introduces new information into the paragraph while supporting sentences provide information that is already known.

    The topic sentence is usually more general in meaning while supporting sentences are more specific in meaning. Although technical writing values straightforward expressions, not everything that you learn from a text is clearly

    stated. Therefore, you should be able to draw inferences. You should be able to understand the implied meaning of

    certain expression and make connections and draw conclusions beyond the words and visuals that are presented. Three specific strategies will help: identify the implied assumptions on which you believe the document is basedwhat is assumed but not clearly stated; extend the ideas to discover reasonable but unstated

    implicationswhat is implied but not clearly stated; reflect on the effect of the implicationswhat is possible but not

    clearly stated.

    The writing in Figure 1-1 is designed in traditional paragraphs. It uses the same font type字体,

    font size字号, and the same line space行距 without any information indicating labels信息标志.

    Readers have to read it sentence by sentence from beginning to end to get the main idea. It is a slow and time-consuming process.

Figure 1-2 Information Map

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    Effective Reading Strategies

Reading is not simply looking at words on a page, figuring out their meanings, and stringing them together. It is a

    complex process and has less to do with interpreting the meanings of words than with the way readers interpret meaning in particular situations. How well people read has a great deal to do with previous knowledge and reading

    strategies. Researchers have a number of theories about how people read, but most accept the following strategies as

    critical in effective reading: identifying structure and hierarchy, distinguishing main points, and drawing inferences.

Identifying Structure and Hierarchy

    Technical documents usually have a clear and identifiable structure and hierarchy. This structure and hierarchy of

    contents can often be identified by recognizing genre characteristics. A genre is a category of writing marked by a

    distinctive style, form, or content. For example, the abstract of an original research paper usually includes the following parts in sequence: Background; Purpose; Methods; Results; and Conclusions. You are likely to read

    abstracts more quickly and with greater comprehension if you anticipate their elements and structure, and this is also

    true of other kinds of documents you read if you have knowledge of their genre.

Distinguishing Main Points

    A paragraph in technical writing is generally composed of two kinds of sentences: a topic sentence that states the

    main points and several supporting sentences that help readers understand the relationships among ideas in a paragraph. Sometimes the main points are easy to distinguish because the writer has constructed the document so that topic sentences clearly signal the main points. Sometimes, however, the main points may not be clearly marked by

    any visual cues, and you must be able to distinguish the topic sentence from supporting sentences in a paragraph to

    find out the main points. The following guidelines are used to identify the topic sentence.

    ; The topic sentence provides the main idea or the topic of the paragraph while supporting sentences give

    detailed explanations to support the topic sentence.

    ; The topic sentence introduces new information into the paragraph while supporting sentences provide

    information that is already known.

    ; The topic sentence is usually more general in meaning while supporting sentences are more specific in

    meaning.

Drawing Inferences

    Although technical writing values straightforward expressions, not everything that you learn from a text is clearly stated. Therefore, you should be able to draw inferences. You should be able to understand the implied meaning of certain expression and make connections and draw conclusions beyond the words and visuals that are presented.

    Three specific strategies will help:

    ; Identify the implied assumptions on which you believe the document is basedwhat is assumed but not

    clearly stated.

    ; Extend the ideas to discover reasonable but unstated implicationswhat is implied but not clearly stated.

    ; Reflect on the effect of the implicationswhat is possible but not clearly stated.

    The writing in Figure 1-2 is organized in the form of an information map. It uses various

    information labels to guide the readers to find key information quickly and easily. The design has the

    following characteristics:

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     Bold headings provide an overview of the text.黑体字标题提供文章大意。

     Italic expressions make it easy to scan to locate key information.斜体词便于浏览和查找

    关键信息。

     Related information is chunked into short paragraphs.相关信息组成短段落的信息块。

     Individual topics are separated by double space.话题之间用双倍行距隔开。

     Bulleted items draw attention and make reading easier.项目符号列表引起注意并便于阅

    The two examples show that the traditional paragraph organization is no longer adequate to technical communication. To make things easier for readers to find the required information quickly and easily, you should not only be able to write, but also be able to organize your contents in an effective way. Therefore, document design has become an important measure to increase the accessibility of technical information.

2. Comprehensibility,信息的!可理解性

    Comprehensibility means easy to understand. In more detail, it means to convey your information

    in such a way that the audience can understand it quickly and accurately. For example, read the following sentences and see which is the easiest and quickest for you to understand.

    1) The microcomputer did not come into being until the integrated circuit was invented.

    2) The microcomputer came into being after the integrated circuit was invented.

    3) After the integrated circuit was invented, the microcomputer came into being.

    The English thinking sequence follows Plato-Aristotle Sequence, whose pattern of development is linear, following the cause-to-effect or old-to-new (time) order. According to general cognitive principles of interpretation, we usually assume what is mentioned first happens first, which is the most natural sequence of cognition.

    In the above examples, sentence 1) and 2) put the new information before the old, which goes against the natural sequence of cognition and thus slows down the thinking process. Sentence 3) follows peoples natural way of thinking and is the easiest to understand.

    根据修辞学的研究理论,“英语及其有关的思维模式是从盎格鲁欧洲文化模式发展而

    来的。用英语进行思维所要按照的顺序,从根本上来说是柏拉图亚里士多德的顺序。这一

    顺序在发展形式中主要呈线性”,胡曙中,1993(159!。根据功能语言学语篇功能的信息结构

    理论,“已知信息+新信息”是最常见的信息结构。已知信息先于新信息,朱永生等,2004(

    156!。根据认知的一般原理,人们通常认为先提及的事物先发生。这是思维的自然顺序,也

    是最容易理解的顺序。在例1!中,否定结构犹如迫使人们做思维体操一样,把句子颠倒过来

    才能理解;例2!违反了思维的正常顺序,容易降低阅读速度;例3!才是便于迅速理解的最

    自然的表达方式。

    The above examples show that sentences with the same meaning but different structures may affect the readability可读性 of the sentence. Therefore, to enable the audience to understand easily, quickly and accurately, special rhetorical skills should be adopted in technical communication. Rhetoric is the art of using language effectively and persuasively. It tells how to determine words, grammar, sentence pattern and text organization to make your writing more effective. 修辞,Rhetoric!是使用词语进行有效交流的艺术,其目的在于提高语言的表达效果。传统的

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英语修辞学往往只被认为与英语文学作品有着密切的关系,很少设及对TC的讨论。其实,修

    辞分为美学修辞,Aesthetic rhetoric!和交际修辞,Communicative rhetoric!。美学修辞着重于

    语言表达的生动、活泼、幽雅和感染力,从而取得语言的艺术性表达效果。交际修辞着重于

    语言表达的简明、流畅、准确和有效地发挥语言的交际功能,从而取得语言的实用性表达效

    果。TC的修辞主要是交际修辞,着重研究专业交际的语言规范和技巧,以达到高效进行专业

    信息交流的目的。

     Usability,信息的!可使用性 3.

    Usability means easy to use. In more detail, it means to express your idea in such way that the audience can use it easily and productively, or that they can follow it to complete the task on hand. Now lets assume such a situation. If you have met a technical problem while working on a computer and you have three choices for help, which of the following choices do you prefer?

     Go to the on-line help.

     Call a technician for advice.

     Turn to your friend who is good at computers for help.

    It may be difficult and time-consuming to find the solution in the on-line help; and even if you find the answer, it may be hard to follow. The writer of the on-line help may neglect certain steps in the process which makes it impossible for you to complete the job. The technicians advice can be

    too technical for you to follow. Your friends answer is usually easy to follow because your friend

    knows you as an audience better than others, and thus can give you the answer you understand.

    Therefore, if you want your writing to be useful to the reader, you should first understand your reader. You should put yourself in your readers position and make audience analysis读者对象分析.

    Audience analysis concerns with the audiences education, professional experience, cultural

    background, working environment, purpose and motivation, reading level, organizational roles, etc. ,详见第4章(Audience analysis

III. Rhetorical Elements of Technical Communication

    As mentioned previously, rhetoric is the art and craft of communicating appropriately and persuasively. We say that technical communication is rhetorical because it is the art and craft of communicating technical information appropriately and persuasively to intended audiences, in complex contexts and for particular purposes. The rhetorical elements listed in Figure 1-3 provide a broad and useful way to characterize technical communication. These elements apply to all modes of TC, whether they are paper or electronic texts, oral presentation or visuals.

Figure 1-3 Rhetorical Elements Characterizing Technical Communication

    Rhetorical Effective Technical Documents, Oral Presentations and Visuals有效的专

    Elements修辞成业文件、口头表达和视觉效果

    

    Purpose(s)目的 Inform and persuade.告知与劝说。

    Audience(s)对象 Address the identified audiencereaders, listeners, or viewerswho often

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    have different needs针对确定的对象读者、听者或看者他们常常有不

    同的需求。

    Content内容 Present accurate and appropriate technical information adjusted to the

    audience提供准确、适当的专业信息,并调整信息以适应对象需求。

    Context情境、背景 Respond to the organizational situation针对组织机构。

    Fulfill the identified task履行确定的任务

    Update frequently频繁地更新

    Organization组织Organize information so that it is logical, accessible and retrievable, and easy 结构 to understand合乎逻辑的、便于查阅和便于理解的方式组织信息。

    Visuals 图表 Express contents with various kinds of visuals (tables, graphs, diagrams) to

    make it easier and clearer for audience to understand.使用各种视觉手段来表

    达信息,各种图标!,以帮助对象理解和决策。

    Document DesignDesign the format of presentation so that the information is accessible,

    文件设计 comprehensible, and usable设计文件格式,使信息便于查阅、理解和使用。

    Usability可使用性 Provide information in such a way that the audience can understand it

    correctly and follow it to complete an intended task以便于读者能够正确理

    解和正确使用,读者能够按照信息完成预定任务!的方式表达信息。

    Language Provide straightforward information; use clear, simple but stylistically varied

    Conventions语言language; often use short-to-medium-length sentences and word order in

    习惯 active voice提供直截了当的信息;使用明白、简单而又具有风格变化的

    语言;常使用短句或中等长度的句子;常用主动语态。

    These rhetorical elements are very important especially for international technical communicators in planning, drafting, and revising documents, oral presentations and visuals. If you are a technical communicator, you should take the following suggestions into consideration in the process of technical communication.

    ; Consider the above rhetorical elements as well as the content.

    ; Think carefully about the context in which you are working and in which the information

    will be used.

    ; Identify the purpose and audience, and determine ways to adapt, organize, and support the

    information accordingly.

    ; Design effective visuals and create an attractive, usable design.

    ; Conform to the conventions of your organization and profession.

    ; Use these rhetorical elements as evaluation criteria to check whether the document you

    produce is accessible, comprehensible and usable.

    Exercises

    I. In many cases, technical communication is vital, and the failure in communication can have

    drastic consequences. Read the following examples of disaster caused by communication

    failure and try to find similar examples in your knowledge and experience. Have a discussion

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in class on the importance of technical communication.

Example 1: Conveying Wrong Information

    In December 1998, nine months after launching, the spacecraft Mars Climate Orbiter disappeared just before reaching its orbit around the planet. This $2 billion loss was traced to the fact that metric units of measurement had been used by one NASA ground control team and English units by the other (e.g., meters versus yards). As a result, the confusing instructions to the spacecraft caused it to miss its orbit and burn up in the Martian atmosphere.

Example 2: Catching Vital Information

    Effective communication is of vital importance in the modern world, especially in military affairs. During the Second World War, the German army made a rapid progress in invading Russia. The Red Army suffered a heavy loss at the beginning of the war and the important cities as Moscow, Leningrad and Stalingrad were in danger. The Red Army along the west front were inadequate to stop the German army’s attack while Stalin dare not transfer the army in the Far East to the west front because they had to prepare for the Japanese attack. Just at that time the intelligence agency of USSR got the reliable information that Japanese army would not attack Siberia in the near future and sent the information immediately to the Red Army headquarters. With the information, Stalin quickly transferred more than 30 divisions from Far East to the west front and the reinforcing army stopped and defeated the German army just in time outside Moscow.

Example 3: Niglecting Vital Information

    Problems caused by the breakdown in communication may bring about heavy loss or may be even disastrous. In the early 1960s, when Castrol卡斯特罗 (Fidel Castro Ruz 1926-) founded

    the first socialist regime in Latin America, the US government took a hostile attitude toward Cuba and devised a plot to overthrow Cuban government. They organized and equipped a Cuban brigade of anti-Communistsformer landlords and ousted army officersto invade

    Cuba. However, the Cuban brigade met with strong resistance and were surrounded on the beach after they got on land. To support the Cuban brigade, the US Airforce decided to make a direct intervention into Cuban affairs and took actions to air raid Havana. They planned a combined action. The bombers would take off from an airbase in Ecuador while the escorting fighters would take off from the aircraft carrier on the Atlantic Ocean, and the bombers and the fighters would meet before they entered the Cuban territory. However, they overlooked that the two places were not in the same time zone. The time in Ecuador was an hour earlier than that of the aircraft carrier on the Atlantic Ocean. The commanders in the two places even failed to check the time before the action. So when the bombers were already flying over Cuba, the fighters were still standing on the deck of the carrier. Without the fighters’ protection, the bombers were in an extremely vulnerable position. Before they had the chance to drop any bombs, they were shot down one by one by the Cuban airforce. The failure of the air raid declared the total bankruptcy of the US intervention of Cuba. It is a typical example of military disaster caused by the breakdown of communication.

    I. Choose five items from the following list of subjects. Identify at least two realistic technical

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    audiences for each one of these subjects. Explain what technical information the audience might need to learn or use.

    1. Arrows: athlete ( to practice shooting); physicist (to study the track of a projectile);

    historian (to trace its origin as a weapon )

    2. Ballet: dancer (to perform the art); doctor (to study the effect of dancing on health);

    photographer ( to take photos to show the beauty of the art)

    3. Butter: cook (to use it as an ingredient in cooking); chemist (to study its composition) 4. CDs: office worker (to use it for office work); computer engineer (to study its way of

    storing information); film producer (to make copies of films out of it)

    5. Condor: hunter (to kill it as a prey); biologist (to study its living style); ecologist (to find

    out its role in the ecological system)

    6. Dreams: doctors (to study its effect on human health); psychologist (to find out its

    relationship to mind activities)

    7. Plastic film: farmers (to make a greenhouse to grow vegetables); chemist (to study its

    composition and the way of synthesis); merchants (to make bags for holding goods) 8. Magnifying glass: teachers (to use it as an aid in reading); doctors (to see small things);

    opticist (to study the nature of light and glass)

    II. Work in small groups to visit any two or three of the following Web pages, or other Web pages of your own choice. Try to identify the accessibility, comprehensibility, and usability of the pages by consider the following questions.讨论题,略。

    III. Find an instruction manual of a mobile phone, or that of your own phone, and read it. Try to determine how quickly you can find the information you want, whether it is easy for you to understand the instruction, and whether you can follow the instruction to operate the phone effectively. And then make a comment in class on the accessibility, comprehensibility and usability of the manual.讨论题,略。

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