Technical Writing Essentials

July 17, 2019 | Updated: March 18, 2021
Author: Suzan Last, University of Victoria

This open textbook is designed to introduce readers to the basics of professional communications in technical fields: audience and task analysis in workplace contexts, clear and concise communications style, effective document design, teamwork and collaboration, and fundamental research skills.

Subject Areas
Communication/Writing, Technical Communication

Original source
pressbooks.bccampus.ca

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"Sailboat" by Suzan Last is under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International Licence (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/).

Creative Commons License
Technical Writing Essentials by Suzan Last, University of Victoria is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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Reviews (1) Avg: 4.6 / 5

Michael Sjoerdsma

Institution:Simon Fraser UniversityTitle/Position: Senior LecturerCreative Commons License

Q: The text covers all areas and ideas of the subject appropriately and provides an effective index and/or glossary

The text covers the majority of topics found in most first-year engineering communication courses, including an introduction to technical writing, the importance of knowing one's audience and purpose, working in teams, research methods, proper referencing, and oral and visual communication. Chapter two addresses several issues related to style: positive phrasing, the 7 Cs of professional writing, normalized versus verb-based styles, concise substitutions, unnecessary repetition, active versus passive voice, and the elements of persuasive writing. The discussion on active versus passive voices could have been more in-depth. With regard to style, the book does not cover empty openers (there transforms and it-clefts), embedded phrases, weak endings, noun strings, nor prepositional phrases. The book discusses punctuation, but more detail would be useful. The book does not discuss paragraphs. The writing process and creative strategies are covered in more detail than many other similar textbooks.

The book has a table of contents (with hyperlinks), but it does not have an index nor glossary.

Comprehensiveness Rating: 4 out of 5

Q: Content is accurate, error-free and unbiased

Overall, the content is accurate, error-free, and unbiased. There are a few broken links, minor information that is a bit outdated, and a few minor formatting errors:

p 23 - link to ProjectCartoon.com that goes to a different link;
p 23 - link to the Globe and Mail article works on a computer, but it opens to a paywall on mobile devices;
p 24 - premature carriage return (paragraph 2) in link to Tufte pdf;
p 53 - reference APEGBC, which has been renamed to EGBC for the last several years;
p 53 - EGBC just updated their code of ethics, so the one linked to is now outdated;
p 84 - link to "Understanding and using PowerPoint" is broken;
p 134 - misnaming of logical fallacy post ho ergo propter hoc; book uses "prompter" by mistake;
p 154 - broken link for "Stakeholder Consultation";
p 161 - extra space before first sentence in paragraph;
p 161, 169, 206, 210 - orphaned/widowed heading and content at bottom of page and next page;
p 174 - link to LinkedIn article goes to corrupted site;
p 215 - last paragraph has the words "Learning Objectives" inserted by mistake;
p 233 - broken link for "How to Coordinate a Team Presentation".


Content Accuracy Rating: 4 out of 5

Q: Content is up-to-date, but not in a way that will quickly make the text obsolete within a short period of time. The text is written and/or arranged in such a way that necessary updates will be relatively easy and straightforward to implement

The only out-of-date information was the reference to APEGBC (Association of Engineers and Geoscientists of BC) on page 53. This organization rebranded itself as EGBC (Engineers and Geoscientists BC). Very recently EGBC updated its code of ethics to reflect governmental changes to the act that governs engineers. The textbook links to the old code. Some other examples date back about 10 years; however, they are still relevant at providing real world examples.

Relevance Rating: 5 out of 5

Q: The text is written in lucid, accessible prose, and provides adequate context for any jargon/technical terminology used

The prose are appropriate for first-year students. The book provides several exercises throughout that will allow students to think about the material in each chapter and test their understanding. There are a few places where hyperlinks are provided to other material, which will allow students to explore ideas in more depth. Some of the links are not to external source and instead link to other sections of the textbook. I suggest clearly marking internal links because it can be a bit annoying when clicking on what appears to be an external link and then being taken to another section of the book without notice.

There are a few places in chapter two where the author refers to parts of speech/sentence; for example, subjects and predicates and compound and complex sentences. Students may need a refresher on these terms.

There are several places where the author references or provides material that is directly related to her course at UVic. Instructors from other institutions will have to let their students know about this so the students are not confused. In such cases, instructors will have to provide the similar resource for their own program/institution. See for example pp 68, 69, 72, 89, 92, 93, 101, 102, 127, 148, 157, 178, and 232.

Clarity Rating: 5 out of 5

Q: The text is internally consistent in terms of terminology and framework

The text is consistent in terminology and formatting throughout. There is a consistent style and organization throughout.

Consistency Rating: 5 out of 5

Q: The text is easily and readily divisible into smaller reading sections that can be assigned at different points within the course (i.e., enormous blocks of text without subheadings should be avoided). The text should not be overly self-referential, and should be easily reorganized and realigned with various subunits of a course without presenting much disruption to the reader.

The text is easily divisible by the chapter. I do not recommend taking chunks section by section with the exception of sections in chapter seven. For my teaching, I would probably present the material in a slightly different order by the chapter. I also could see using some chapters in my first year class and other chapters in our design courses. While the chapter stand on their own, an index should be provided so students can locate information if they find something in one chapter and want to check if more or other information is provided in the book.

Modularity Rating: 5 out of 5

Q: The topics in the text are presented in a logical, clear fashion

The organization of the textbook makes sense, but some instructors may want to present the topics in a different order to better align with their own course.

Organization Rating: 5 out of 5

Q: The text is free of significant interface issues, including navigation problems, distortion of images/charts, and any other display features that may distract or confuse the reader

Overall the interface is fine. Here are the broken links I described earlier:

p 23 - link to ProjectCartoon.com that goes to a different link;
p 23 - link to the Globe and Mail article works on a computer, but it opens to a paywall on mobile devices;
p 84 - link to "Understanding and using PowerPoint" is broken;
p 154 - broken link for "Stakeholder Consultation";
p 174 - link to LinkedIn article goes to corrupted site;
p 233 - broken link for "How to Coordinate a Team Presentation".

As I mentioned, there are a few internal links to the document itself that can be interpreted as links to external sources. This confusion can be eliminated by stating that the link is to a particular section of the document.

The images provide are readable and support the concepts discussed.

Interface Rating: 4 out of 5

Q: The text contains no grammatical errors

There are only a few minor errors as I discussed before:

p 134 - misnaming of logical fallacy post ho ergo propter hoc; book uses "prompter" by mistake;
p 161 - extra space before first sentence in paragraph;
p 161, 169, 206, 210 - orphaned/widowed heading and content at bottom of page and next page;
p 215 - last paragraph has the words "Learning Objectives" inserted by mistake;

Grammar Rating: 4 out of 5

Q: The text is not culturally insensitive or offensive in any way. It should make use of examples that are inclusive of a variety of races, ethnicities, and backgrounds

Like every technical writing book I have reviewed, the topic is presented from a Western perspective and assumes structures based on English. The book focuses on writing, so the examples, figures, etc. focus on the output/product. The author does use singular they throughout the book, which is good as she does not default to 'he'. The book also explicitly mentions inclusivity and vulnerable populations. Audience analysis is framed on understanding one's audience, which is a place diversity can be discussed. When discussing the seven Cs of writing, the author discusses being courteous.

The only place where I found an example that may be problematic to some is on p 185, where a figure is used to reference "not that kind of proposal". It shows a man proposing to a woman, and could be critiqued as propagating heteronormativity.

Cultural Relevance Rating: 5 out of 5

Q: Are there any other comments you would like to make about this book, for example, its appropriateness in a Canadian context or specific updates you think need to be made?

I recommend this book because it covers the majority of topics included in first-year engineering writing courses. The only place of weakness is the lack of some elements of style, but those topics can be easily added by instructors if necessary.