Technical Style and Rhetoric
Rhetoric means the art and skill in using language effectively and persuasively. Style is the integration of various rhetorical skills that reflects the characteristics of a certain register, genre or time. The style of modern technical writing follows the three criteria of technical communication: accessibility, comprehensibility and usability.
To follow the technical style, you should adopt specific rhetorical skills that are commonly used in technical communication. These rhetorical skills tell you how to make the choices that determine whether your ideas will be understood or persuasive, how to select the words that will move your readers to accept what you have written, and how to organize those words into the sentences and paragraphs that ultimately will inform and persuade your readers. This chapter classifies these rhetorical skills into four principles. By following these principles you will be able to create your documents effectively.
• Considering audiences
• Selecting appropriate words
• Writing clear sentences
• Organizing documents effectively
I. Considering Audiences
The first principle of effective writing is audience consideration. Whether you are writing a letter, a report, or a manual, you must first know who your readers are. Then you must decide how best to meet the readers’ needs. You should try to motivate your readers so that they are willing to read your document.
1. Addressing Readers Directly
People are generally more receptive to a document if they feel that it is addressed to them. The most direct way of addressing a reader is by name, as in letters and memos. However, some documents, such as user manuals, address a wide audience. In such cases, you may address your readers in second person “you”. This pronoun will give your writing a tone of directness and personal interest. You can compare the following examples and detect the differences in tone and attitude.
Stress depletes both people’s energy and motivation压力降低人们的活力与动机. To get their
stress out, they can learn and regularly practice relaxation techniques学习并有规律地练习松
弛法. They may try sitting there for ten or fifteen minutes and just concentrate on their
breathing. They should try to notice each breath as it comes in and goes out. It might even help
if they count one as they exhale, then as they exhale again, count two, and so on until four.
Then they should start counting all over again. This method helps to focus their attention and
regularizes their breathing, which has both a relaxing and kind of a cleansing effect这种方法具
Stress depletes both your energy and motivation. To get your stress out, you can learn and
regularly practice relaxation techniques. You may try sitting there for ten or fifteen minutes and
just concentrate on your breathing. You should try to notice each breath as it comes in and goes
out. It might even help if you count one as you exhale, then as you exhale again, count two, and
so on until four. Then you should start counting all over again. This method helps to focus your
attention and regularizes your breathing, which has both a relaxing and kind of a cleansing
One of the most popular uses of you for addressing the audience is in advertisements. By using
you, the advertiser creates an impression that the commodity concerns the audience’s life and work
directly and thus causes them to pay more attention to the commodity.
2. Avoiding the Passive Voice
Some writers mistakenly rely on the passive voice because they think it sounds more objective and formal. However the passive voice often makes writing wordy, indirect and evasive because it changes the natural word order of the sentence. Your writing will be clearer and more direct if you write in the active voice. Consider the following:
CONCISE AND DIRECT: I underestimated labor costs for this project.
INDIRECT AND EVASIVE: Labor costs for this project were underestimated.
CONCISE AND DIRECT: The electrician should turn off the power before replacing the light bulb.
WORDY AND INDIRECT: The power should be turned off by the electrician before the light bulb
Use the active voice when you want to emphasize action. Otherwise, your statement will lose power.
WEAK PASSIVE: If my claim is not settled by July 18, Nicholson Business Bureau will be
contacted, and their advice on legal action will be taken.
STRONG ACTIVE: If you do not settle my claim by July 18, I will contact Nicholson Business
Bureau for advice on legal action.
Unless you have a deliberate reason for choosing the passive structure, use the active voice. The active construction gives readers quick, clear and emphatic information.
Avoiding Sexist Language 3.
Sex-specific language (e.g. her pregnancy, his prostate gland前列腺) is acceptable in sex-specific
medical usage. However, such language may change into sexist language when the user arbitrarily imposes sex stereotypes or employs sex-specific pronouns (she, he, her, his) while referring to both
的语言就会成为性别歧视语言。The following are two examples of sexist language:
Each nurse should ask her patient for informed consent before she carries out any treatment. A manager should bring his employee’s initiative into full play充分发挥雇员的积极性 if he
wants to run his business well.
Many common words contain the assumption that “man” represents the entire human
population, or that men are the only people worth mentioning. Exclusive language risks offending
readers排斥性语言会造成读者的反感; at the very least, it will tend to make some of your readers
feel left out or ignored. If any member of your audience feels offended or ignored in any way, then
communication is hindered. You should follow the guidelines below to avoid sexist usages in your
Guidelines for Avoiding Sexist Language
1) Use neutral expressions. If you use any of the terms in the left-hand column below but are
not referring to a specific person, try to use the alternative in the right-hand column.
chairman chair or chairperson
fireman fire fighter
lineman line worker
mailman mail carrier
manmade synthetic; artificial
manpower work force; labor force
2) Rephrase to eliminate the pronoun, but only if you can do so without altering your original
SEXIST: A manager will succeed if he knows the market.
REVISED: A manager who knows the market succeeds.
3) Use plural forms to avoid singular pronouns.
SEXIST: A manager will succeed if he knows the market.
REVISED: Managers will succeed if they know the market.
4) When possible (as in direct address) use you: You will succeed if you know the market. But
use this form only when addressing someone directly.
5) Use Ms. instead of Mrs. or Miss, unless you know that the person prefers one of the
traditional titles, or omit titles completely: Roger Smith and Jane Kelly; Smith and Kelly.
6) Drop diminutive endings去掉表示“小的，表示喜爱或嘲笑等！”词尾， such as -ess and
-ette used to denote females (poetess, drum majorette, actress).
7) Use occasional pairings (him or her, she or he, his or hers): A manager will succeed if he
or she knows the market. But note that overuse of such pairings can be awkward: A
manager should do his or her best to make sure that he or she knows his or her customers.
8) In quoting sources that contain sexist usage, choose these options:
• Insert [sic] (meaning taken from the original text原文如此) following the first
instance of sexist terminology in a particular passage.
• Paraphrase instead of quoting directly.
• Use ellipses 省略号to omit sexist phrasing.
II. Selecting Appropriate Words
When you actually get down writing, the first thing is to choose words. A basic rule of good writing is to make sure that your readers can understand and follow what they are reading. You should always keep in mind your readers’ level of familiarity with the topic, and choose your words with caution. You should ask yourself who will read the document, and whether different people will read different parts. Choose words that are correct and that readers understand. Even expert readers appreciate simple and clear writing.
1. Avoiding Inflated Language
Inexperienced writers may attempt to impress their readers by using “big” words. Pompous writing
is rarely effective because it often confuses readers. Most readers appreciate everyday language so that they can read quickly. So keep in mind that your task in writing is to inform your readers, not to impress them with the size of your vocabulary.
INFLATED: Your conceptualization of our aggregate capability may enhance our producing