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What makes bad technical writing bad? A historical analysis

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1 Author(s)
Tebeaux, Elizabeth ; College of Technology at the University of Houston-Central Campus, Houston, TX 77004

While bad technical writing has specific characteristics, one important cause of bad technical writing is abuse of natural English word order. Since about 1400, English has relied solely on word order to convey meaning, particularly active voice (agent-verb-object). Infusions of large numbers of foreign words from 1100 to 1600 further affected the development of English sentence patterns and their use in modern applied writing. To develop clear sentences, (1) use active voice as frequently as possible; (2) build sentences with clauses rather than phrases; (3) make the agent of the action the subject of the clause; (4) build clauses by concentrating meaning in the subject-verb pairs; (5) choose concrete rather than abstract nouns as subject-agents; (6) use action verbs rather than “be” verbs whenever possible; (7) use passive voice only when its use will not cloud meaning; (8) choose voice carefully when planning sentences; (9) remember that technical writing should inform, and that historically elegant sentence patterns and words are not suitable to express technical information.

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Professional Communication, IEEE Transactions on  (Volume:PC-23 ,  Issue: 2 )