Technical Description

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Technical professionals are often required to define or describe a technical object, concept, or process to someone who has little knowledge or experience with the subject at hand.   Technical descriptions are used before products and processes are developed as part of proposals and planning documents, during development in progress reports, for instance, and afterward as part of marketing and promotional literature and technical support documents.

 

This assignment asks you to select a product or process that would be of interest to Montrealers and write a description of it. It's a good idea to select something with which you are already familiar, so you can focus on learning how to write the description rather than focusing on both learning how to write the description and learning about the product or process.


There are two different kinds of technical descriptions to consider. Choose whichever one is appropriate, depending on your topic.


NOTE: There is no single structure or format to use in writing descriptions. Because descriptions are written for different audiences and different purposes, they can take many shapes and forms. However, the following four suggestions will guide you in most situations.

 

  • Clearly indicate the nature and scope of the description
  • Introduce the description clearly
  • Provide appropriate detail
  • Conclude the description


 


Image Flickr.



 Example: How Gasoline Works--Vintage Video





 

Product Description



A product or item description explains the features of a specific device, item or place like a city park or bus pass. Possible topics include the folowing:

 

List of Possible Topics:

  • Meter
  • Montreal courts
  • STM transportation  (the parts)
  • Museum (exhibits)
  • Cuisine
  • Park
  • Language laws

 

 

Process Description

 

A process description explains how a complex event occurs. 

 

List of Possible Topics

  • Bixi bikes
  • Parking
  • Immigration
  • Health care
  • Mafia
  • Taxation
  • Recycling
  • Festival

 

 

It is important to note that a product or process description is not an instruction set. An instruction set provides steps a user would take in order to complete a task (for example, steps to change oil in a car). In contrast, product and process descriptions describe how something works (for example, how oil functions to cool an engine). The contrast is between how to use something and how that thing works (e.g. how to use a microwave versus how the microwave heats food).


For this assignment, you should focus on how things work, not how to use them. The next assignment will ask you to focus on instructions.


 

For Your Consideration


Before you begin to write, make sure to consider the rhetorical situation: audience, purpose and subject in order to construct the most effective argument.

 

Audience and Purpose             


Select an audience from Montreal that would be interested in learning about the process or product you explain. In the assignment you should assume that the description is crucial to the needs of your audience.



Gathering Information 


Take time to learn about the product or process you select. This might require you to read background information or otherwise inform yourself about the topic.



Contents


For product descriptions, start with a sentence definition of the product and its various parts. This could become an extended definition if you think your audience needs more introductory information. Next, describe each part of the product in more detail, including its dimensions, materials, function, and relation to other parts. Conclude with a description of one complete operating cycle for the product.


For process descriptions, start with a definition of the process and the different steps it involves. Again, this could become an extended definition if you think your audience needs more introductory information. Next, describe each step in more detail. Conclude with a summary of one complete cycle in the process.


In either case, though, remember to choose contents based on the audience's level of interest, experience, and knowledge about the topic.

 


 Format


Include design features to help the reader locate information and understand the product or process better: diagrams, headers, bulleted lists and other technical communication conventions. The final paper should be at least 1000 words and should be single-spaced.


 

  Visuals


You have two options here. First, you can develop your own visuals (a rough sketch is fine if you don't know how to prepare one with a computer program). Second, you can use a "reference visual," which is a copy of a published image. If you use a published image, be sure to cite the source and discuss any modification that image needs to fit your context. (For example, if you're describing how a snow blower engine works, you might use an image from the manufacturer's website rather than drawing your own. And if you can't find the exact image you need, you could use a similar image and discuss how your ideal image might be different.)


 

Writer's Checklist for Product Descriptions  

  • Did you provide a one sentence definition of your product in the introduction?
  • Did you clearly indicate the nature and scope of the description?  

 

Follow-up Introduction


  • What is the item?   
  • What does it do?   
  • What is its function?   
  • What does it look like?   
  • What is its principle of operation?   
  • What are its principal parts?  
  • Did you include a graphic identifying all the principal parts?  

 

The Major Components of the Body


  • Did you choose an appropriate organizing principle?  
  • Have you included graphics for each of the components?



The Conclusion


  • Have you summarized the major points in the part-by-part description?  
  • Have you included (where appropriate) a description of the item performing its function or an attempt to motivate the reader to take action?

  

Writer's Checklist for Process Description 


  • Did you provide a one sentence definition of your process in the introduction?
  • Did you clearly indicate the nature and scope of the description?

 

Follow-up Introduction


  • What is the process?
  • What is its function?
  • Where and when does the process take place?
  • Who or what performs it?   
  • How does the process work?
  • What are its principal steps? 
  • Did you include a graphic identifying all the principal steps?


 

The Main Components of the Body  

 
  • Have you discussed the steps in chronological order?
  • Are the causal relationships clear among the steps?  
  • Have you used the present tense?  
  • Did you include graphics for each of the principal steps?


 

Conclusion


  • Have you summarized the major points in the step-by-step description?   
  •  Does your reader understand the importance or implications of the process?
  • Have you motivated the reader to take action?

 

 

End Note






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