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The Mayfield Handbook of Technical & Scientific Writing
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Section 1.1

Characteristics of Effective Technical Communication

Learn to recognize and cultivate the qualities of effective technical communication.

Good technical communication is accurate, clear, concise, coherent, and appropriate. In the prose of science and technology, these qualities are sometimes difficult to achieve. Not only do science and technology depend heavily on specialized concepts and terminologies, but they also make extensive use of numbers and graphics.

The following example shows how the different qualities of technical prose work together.

The flow of electrical current can induce the migration of impurities or other defects through the bulk of a solid. This process is called electromigration. In simple electromigration, the force on the defect is thought to have two components. The first component is the force created by direct interaction between the effective charge of the defect and the electric field that drives the current. The second component, called the "wind force," is the force caused by the scattering of electrons at the defect.

--J.A. Stroscio and D.M. Eigler, "Atomic and Molecular Manipulation with the Scanning Tunneling Microscope," Science

The preceding example is accurate in two ways. It is stylistically accurate in its precise use of language. It is technically accurate in its use of specialized terms technical terms such as electromigration, charge, electric field, and scattering, whose meanings are based in the context of a technical discipline. Both kinds of accuracy--accuracy of phrasing and accuracy of technical concept--are of first importance in science and technology writing.

The example is also clear because it is written in simple, direct sentences. Although the technical context is the highly specialized realm of theoretical and applied nanotechnology, the sentence syntax--word order--is restrained and structurally very simple. Part of this clarity is achieved by the rhetorical device of defining a term, electromigration.

The example is concise in its use of a minimum of words to express the basic idea of electromigration. It is not wordy, and it does not digress from the point being made.

The example is coherent because it develops its subject matter in an easy-to-follow line of thinking. The sentences are further linked by referents such as "this process," "the first component," and "the second component."

Finally, the example is appropriate to its purpose of presenting a general description of the process of electromigration, and to its audience, educated readers of Science, who are not necessarily experts in the field of nanotechnology.

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## Effective Technical Communication: Characteristics ##
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