A sample of traditional documents
includes letters, memos, reports, and manuals. These kinds of documents are
central to a company's mode of communication and are important not just to the
high tech fields, but to education and service providers, as well.
As John M. Lannon,
author of Technical Communication, makes clear, letters are primarily
for external communication. This being the case, it's important that the letter
is professional, both in its format and content (365).
The basic kinds of letters include:
good news messages, bad news messages, informative messages, requests for
action, and letters of transmittal (a part of a formal report) (Woolever, 159).
Each of these letters has the same components: heading and date, inside
address, salutation, text, closing, and signature (Lannon 365-368).
While letters typically
deal with external communication, memos stay within the company. They are sent
to keep co-workers and management up-to-date with projects, inform them of
potential problems, and suggest solutions. Author Kristin Woolever describes memos
as an "ongoing conversation" (158).
Memos are added to a project's file
and are generally less formal than letters (Woolever 158). The typical format
includes: heading and date, subject line, topic headings, visuals, memo
verification, and copy notation (Lannon 346).
You may think that all companies
have dropped the memo in favor of emails. But, as Lannon points out, some
bosses still want the structure of the memo. And while saving print and paper
is a goal for most companies, formal hard copies may be needed for legal and
ethical reasons, depending on the project (Lannon 385-386).
Charles H. Sides, How
to Write and Present Technical Information, states that manuals are
"the principal means of communication for teaching and learning"; they
explain "how to assemble, use, maintain, and repair all sorts of
technicians, programmers, and architects, specifications (specs) are the most
important documents tech writers create (Sides 91). Written for highly
technical readers, specs thoroughly cover professional standards and safety
issues, function, and design (Sides 91). Lannon describes specs as "a way
to insure compliance with an authority's rules" (452).
Author Charles Sides points out that
formal definitions can be found in any document that explains new concepts to
its readers, including manuals, proposals, and booklets. The length of a
definition, whether it be a sentence or five pages, depends on the audience and
the purpose (Lannon 424). Every field has specialized terms, or jargon, that
need to be clarified for readers to grasp the meaning (Lannon 424). Tech
writers have a legal and ethical responsibility to provide an accurate and
Summaries are designed
for executives who want to be informed but don't have time to read a report
in its entirety. Summaries should be written at the lowest level of
technicality, allowing the reader to quickly grasp the information (Lannon 175).
Author Kristin Woolever writes, "Technical communicators spend most of
their time writing technical descriptions and summaries—sections within
documents that describe what has been done, how something looks, or how
something works" (202).
are common whenever readers need information about a product's design,
function, and components (Lay et al. 419). Tech writers can describe a product or a process.
The length and depth of such descriptions depend on the needs of the audience
and how they will use the information.
Progress reports cross
all boundaries, from technology to finance, the reason being employees need to
justify the work they are doing and keep management informed (Lay et al. 470).
When writing a progress report, tech writers include what has been accomplished,
what still needs to be accomplished, what problems have arisen and possible
solutions, and what the next step will be (Lay et al. 478). Not surprisingly,
Lay and co-authors state that this form of writing is the most common (470).
Proposals are always
written in response to something, for example, funding for new equipment.
Kristin Woolever, Writing for Technical Professions, explains that all
proposals attempt to market ideas, goods, or services, giving them a highly
persuasive quality (269). Proposal writers, competing for funds, are pressured
to grab readers' attention with a logical, clear, comprehensive, and feasible
Analytical reports are
composed of two elements: research and analysis. A tech writer working on this
kind of document formulates a research question, such as "Is it feasible
to hire four more computer programmers?" then proceeds to gather
information and interview experts. This process of collecting primary and
secondary sources ends with the writer analyzing the information and making
Technical Writing: Memos, Letters, Emails
Professor James Lipuma from New Jersey Institute of Technology provides this 15-minute video, which covers how to format these types of common documents.
Technical Writing: Proposals
In this video, Prof. Lipuma explains the kind of information that you need to include in a proposals, the different types of proposals, and the ways that you can "make your case."
Technical Writing Skills: How to Write a Project Description for a Proposal
This is is a brief video, highlighting what to include in your project description.
John M. Technical Communication. 8th
ed. New York: Longman, 2000. Print.
Mary M.; Billie J. Wahlstrom; Stephen Doheny-Farina; Ann Hill Duin; Sherry
Burgus Little; Carolyn D. Rude; Cynthia L. Selfe; & Jack Selzer. Technical Communication. Boston:
Irwin/McGraw-Hill, 1995. Print.
Charles H. How to Write and Present Technical Information. 3rd ed. Phoenix:
Oryx Press, 1999. Print.
Kristin R. Writing for Technical Professions. New York: Longman, 1999.