Monday, September 20, 2010

Book Review: How to Write & Present Technical Information by Charles H. Sides

Sides, Charles H. How to Write & Present Technical Information. 2nd ed. Phoenix, AZ: Oryx, 1991.

How to Write & Present Technical Information is a brief, informal, informative guide to communicating technical information in a variety of formats. It’s for anyone who writes or presents technical information as part of their work, including, but not limited to, technical writers. Its main audience is workers in high-tech industries, but the principles are applicable to most technical information.

This book differs from some other guides to technical writing in its emphasis on audience analysis. It devotes a chapter to the subject and revisits it several times throughout. Using the recommended questions, one can profile an audience and decide what should be included or left out of a document or presentation and how to present it.

Organization is also a major issue in the books and several ways of organizing technical information are presented. Many of the chapters apply organizing principles to particular types of documents.

A variety of documents is covered in this short book. These include technical documentation, user guides, papers, articles, memos, specifications, procedures, proposals, reports, and product descriptions. It also covers the use of graphics in written documents and visual aids in presentations.

The importance of grammar is discussed, but only a few common grammatical problems are discussed. If readers are looking for a detailed guide to issues of grammar and punctuation, they’ll need to turn to a stylebook.

Though grammar and punctuation is glossed over, editing is covered in some detail. The author recommends a process of editing in layers beginning with the organizational logic (do the ideas flow and make sense?). From there, an editor moves in order to the mechanical development of topics (is the structure of parts, paragraphs and sentences correct, and does it work?), style (is it appropriate and varied?), and manuscript quality (is it orderly and clear, with enough good headings?). Proofreading is tackled last because there is a temptation to think that all the editing is done when the proofreading is done, but proofreading alone may overlook larger problems with a manuscript.

The author draws on his own experience as a technical writer and teacher of technical communications. His experience is the source of several examples and illustrations.

As you might expect from a book that is almost a decade old, some of the references to technology and software are dated. However, the principles of clear communication are the same, which makes this book hold up as a reference.

If you’re interested in this book, you may also be interested in
The Elements of Technical Writing by Gary Blake and Robert W. Bly

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