More guidance on technical writing: a review of CRC’s offer

9781138628106 CRCAnthony Haynes writes: In my review of Spring into technical writing for engineers and scientists (Addison Wesley) I said that there exist numerous resources providing guidance to engineers concerning technical writing. Here, then, by way of comparison, is a review of a competing publication, namely Technical writing: a practical guide for engineers and scientists by Phillip A. Laplante (CRC Press).

In an introductory chapter, on the nature of technical writing, Laplante draws on a taxonomy (p. 3) proposed by Montgomery and Plung (1988), according to which technical writing has three orientations, one of which is ‘professional orientation’. (The other two are the pedagogical and theoretical orientations.)

The writing produced under the professional orientation comprises (a) scientific writing, (b) technical reporting, and (c) business communications. Laplante proposes that this taxonomy should be updated to include a fourth type, namely (d) electronic media.

Though it’s a good idea to recognise the importance of electronic media (and Laplante provides a chapter on the topic), this feels rather ‘tacked on’ to me. Though in some ways, writing for electronic media runs parallel to the other three — it brings forth a new kind of writing — in other ways it doesn’t. Electronic media can provide a means of conveying the other three types of writing (scientific, technical reporting, and business) — which is presumably why Laplante feels constrained to use the word ‘media’.

In other words, inclusion of electronic media requires greater integration than Laplante’s adaptation of Montgomery and Plung’s tree diagram admits.

The scope of Laplante’s book is wide. In terms of content, there is, naturally, considerable overlap with the Addison Wesley book. As with that book, there is much worthy content here. I particularly liked the chapters on graphical elements (not always covered in resources on technical writing), business communications (a very solid chapter), and authorial collaboration (an important, and sometimes neglected) topic.

In other places Laplante disappoints. I suspect that this is a result of the book trying to cover too much: whenever that happens, the danger of superficiality arises. Trying to cover blogging in a page and social media in half a page doesn’t really help anyone.*

The overall treatment of CRC Press book (i.e. Laplante) and that of the Addison Wesley book (Rosenberg) are quite different. The former feels more traditional, with plenty of continuous prose; the latter makes greater use of white space and of chunking — which, as result, renders it more suited to dipping into and referring back to.

Though both are helpful resources, in my judgement the editing and design of the Addison Wesley book are more suited to an engineering audience.



*I wrote this sentence with the first edition (2012) in front of me. I believe, though am not certainly, that it applies to the second edition (2018) too.



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