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The Quick and Easy Guide to
Technical Descriptions

What Is a Technical Description?

A technical description is text that describes an object or process in terms of its function, organization, parts and details. It is the fundamental "building block" of technical documentation. A technical description can be used alone (e.g., a specification) or as part of a larger document (e.g., a proposal). Often technical documents contain several technical descriptions.

Typically, a technical description follows a pattern. First, the writer names the object or process and describes its function. Second, the writer gives an overview of the object or process, including its size, parts (with organization of those parts) and other relevent descriptors. Finally, the writer details each significant component, providing explanations, locations and physical descriptions of each component.

A technical description may be short, only a few lines long, or it may be many pages long, giving details on size, shape, color, material, etc. for multiple components. The writer must determine which elements of a description to emphasize. Visuals are usually included to help the reader understand both the object/process as a whole and its significant elements. Definitions, analogies, and familiar terms or jargon may be used to help the reader.

Examples:

If these examples seem too technical or long, consider the paragraphs above describing a technical description. (Guess what?)

What Is the Difference Between
a Description and a Summary?

Often writers (and readers) confuse descriptions with summaries. Descriptions focus on structures and characteristics of things (products, organizations, processes), usually in the present tense. Summaries focus on what has or will be done to those things. In other words, if you write about how any equipment request is processed within an organization, you are writing a description. But if you write about how a particular equipment request, or batch of requests, has progressed through the system, then you are writing a summary.

Are Technical Descriptions the Same
as Technical Definitions?

Descriptions and definitions may seem similar, but they actually function very differently. Descriptions are used to specify and characterize. Definitions are used to classify and catagorize. While descriptions detail a particular object or process, definitions are used to group an object or process (or term) with other like objects or processes (or terms) based on shared qualities. However, definitions are often used in technical descriptions. (For further discussion of technical definitions, see the Quick and Easy Guide to Definitions.)
 

What Are the "Tricks" to Writing
Good Technical Descriptions?

Good, basic writing skills and techniques will take you a long way in any technical writing. But there are some key concerns when writing a technical description: The technical description is at the core of all technical documentation. Once you are able to write effective descriptions, your proposals, instructions, specifications and marketing materials will also become more effective. Technical descriptions also demand and develop strong technical writing skills.
 
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Written By: George Knox © 1999
E-mail: wordman@prontomail.com