Friday, October 9, 2009


For this fun exercise, please peruse sample "instructions" posted online (there are many websites that specialize in how-to's or instructions). After looking at several, please choose one set of instructions that you would assess as unsatisfactory, for reasons of graphics, text, or a combination of both. Please be sure to think about the guidelines your book offers for effective instructions. Let these guide your assessment. Post a link and your assessment in your comment.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Graphics and Ethics

In Chapter Twelve, your textbook discusses and provides examples of effective and ineffective graphics, which include graphs, charts, illustrations, and images. As your book mentions, sometimes graphics can be unethical, in that they misrepresent data or a product or a research finding. Can you find a graphic online that you find unethical? Use the images your book includes as examples of the types of images to look for. Do not use advertising images for this posting, but rather other kinds of graphics that serve as interesting (but in this case unethical) instances of technical communication.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Appropriate Sentence Length

Choose an Appropriate Sentence Length

People write too long of sentences because they have too much to say and then it all gets blurred together and sounds super funny and then doesn’t make sense at all which confuses the reader which gives us a bad grade on the write up.

To improve the previous sentence:

People write too long of sentences because they have too much to say. The words get all blurred together, and they sound super funny. So, the sentence doesn’t make sense at all, which confuses the reader and gives us a bad grade on the write up.

Writing long sentences is boring. I like to write short sentences. Then I don’t have to worry about run-on sentences. I just have problems with commas.

To improve the previous sentences:

I like to write short sentences because long sentences are boring. If I write short sentences, I do not have to worry about run-on sentences. I simply have problems using commas.

For sentences that are too long and confusing, just break them up into smaller multiple ones that are easier to follow. Sentences with over 35 words are generally too long. For sentences that are too short and choppy, combine them with the appropriate punctuation(s) and/or conjunctions. Sentences that are less than 15 words are generally too short.
Sentences that contain 15-20 words are effective for most technical communication.


There are three accepted levels of formality. The three levels are informal, moderately formal, and highly formal. The audience your writing is directed towards determines the level of formality. Writing a letter to the Dean of Students requires a higher level of formality than writing a letter to a friend. Also, subject matter can affect the level of formality required. Subjects that are serious require a higher level of formality. The purpose also affects how formal your writing needs to be. If you are writing a newsletter, there is more leeway for informal writing. However, writing for a peer reviewed journal requires a high level of formality. If there is a question, err of the side of formality. Informal writing has a tendency


Using Modifiers Effectively:

Modifiers are words or phrases that provide information about either subjects or objects in a sentence. Modifiers can be integral to the meaning of the sentence or can supplement that meaning. A misuse or a lack of modifiers can confuse the reader or inadvertently change the meaning of the sentence itself.

The three main errors made when using modifiers are (1) failing to distinguish between restrictive and nonrestrictive modifiers, (2) misplacing modifiers, and (3) using “dangling” modifiers. A description and example of each kind of error is given below.

Restrictive and Nonrestrictive Modifiers
A restrictive modifier identifies and distinguishes its referent (i.e., what the modifier modifies). A nonrestrictive modifier simply provides additional information.

Here’s an example of a restrictive modifier:
“Joe’s office is under the stairs to the right of the photocopier.”

Here’s an example of a non-restrictive modifier:
“Joe’s office, which is at the bottom of the stairs on the left, is always open.”

Misplaced Modifiers
A misplaced modifier can change the entire meaning of a sentence. For example, “We did our homework in Weir Hall on geothermal studies,” is fundamentally different from “We did our homework on geothermal studies in Weir Hall.”

Dangling Modifiers
A dangling modifier could refer to one of two or more sentence elements, but is not clear which element it refers to. For example: “Trying to solve the problem, the instructions seemed unclear.” This sounds like the instructions are trying to do the problem.

"Real verbs"

A common problem is the use of a *nominalized *verb—a verb that has been changed into a noun then connected with a weaker verb. To construct becomes to begin construction, nominalizing the verb makes sentences longer and awkward. Normalizations are often not errors; they can effectively summarize ideas from previous sentences. You can easily identify most normalizations by searching for tion, ment, sis, ence, ing, and ance, as well as the word of.

*Strong* The committee agreed on a project.

*Weak* The committee reached an agreement on the project.

Active and Passive voice

Topic: The use of Active and Passive voice

Active voice is the voice used to indicate that the grammatical subject of the verb is performing the action or causing the happening denoted by the verb. Active voice works with leading community advocates, educators, policymakers and social entrepreneurs.

Bob Baker flew the airplane from Chicago to Albuquerque.
Bob Baker is the subject of the sentence; he is the doer of the action within the sentence.

Passive voice is the voice used when the recipient of an action is the subject of the sentence. The passive voice is especially helpful (and even regarded as mandatory) in scientific or technical writing or lab reports, where the actor is not really important but the process or principle being described is of ultimate importance.

The airplane flew from Chicago to Albuquerque with the assistance of Bob Baker.
The airplane is the subject of the sentence; the airplane received Bob’s help with flying.

"The Real Subject"

The “Real” Subject

The presence of the sandwich gladdened the heart of the student.
In the sentence above, the literal subject is “presence”, which is a weak subject. The sandwich is the strong subject, so a stronger sentence would be: “The sandwich gladdened the heart of the student.” The weak subject in the first example hides the strong subject, making the sentence ambiguous.

Hiding the real subject in a sentence may result from trying to increase sentence length, take the reader’s focus off of the real information at hand (either consciously or unconsciously), or make the sentence fancier.

Another way that the focus is taken off the real subject is by the improper use of expletives. Expletives are words that have no real meaning but serve a grammatical function in a sentence. A few common expletives are:” it is”, “there is”, and “there are.”

Below is an example of a weaker sentence using expletives and a stronger one with the expletives removed:
Weak: There are many options for us to choose from.
Strong: We have many options to choose from.

To avoid using weak subjects and expletives, you can search your document for expletives and anything preceding the word “of”, which often indicates you are using a weak subject.

In summary, the real subject should stand out in every sentence.