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6 Common Errors in Technical Writing and How to Avoid Them

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It might be tempting to see technical writing as data entry. After all, it’s just meant to give the reader information, right? Though technical topics may be a bit dry and your technical writing isn’t going to become the next great American novel or win a Pulitzer, a little attention to the mechanics of writing can still draw a strong distinction between bad writing and good. As you’re writing, be sure to avoid these six common technical writing errors:

Not understanding the purpose of the abstract – An abstract isn’t the same as an introduction. An abstract summarizes your document in a way that an expert would understand, while an introduction serves as a lead-in to your paper and helps orient a wider audience who might not have as much technical knowledge as your team.

  1. Messing up your units – When you’re writing, spell out units of measurement. Use “five inches,” not “5 in.” This is especially important if you’re writing about computer memory. For example, the abbreviation kB (or kilobyte) can often be confused with kb (or kilobit, 1/8th the size of a kilobyte). This error might not be obvious to a non-technical audience, but it could cause consternation among technical readers.
  2. Misusing hyphens – Hyphens can, among other duties, be used to create compound adjectives. For example, in a “10-year-old system,” 10-year-old acts as an adjective. By contrast, you would write “The system is 10 years old” without hyphens.
  3. Not knowing how to cite – Whatever system you’re using, be it APA, ASME, MLA, or the Chicago Manual of Style, keep yourself up-to-date on their guidelines.
  4. Capitalizing or italicizing Latin terms – Common Latin terms and abbreviations, such as “etc.,” “ibid.,” and “et al.” don’t need special treatment in your text.
  5. Letting grammatical errors through – Language counts! Pay attention to the mistakes everyone makes  and keep an eye out for them.

6 Common Errors in Technical Writing and How to Avoid Them

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