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Achieving Completeness in Technical Communication

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  • 0:01 Incomplete Instructions
  • 0:59 Textual Completeness
  • 3:34 Visual Completeness
  • 5:55 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Suzanne Sweat

Suzanne has taught 12 years in the NC Public School System and three years at Campbell University. She has a master's degree in English Education.

Once you've finished writing a technical document, you need to make sure that the information is usable and accurate. This video provides tips on how to make your documents textually and visually complete.

Incomplete Instructions

For Christmas one year, we bought our son a Lego set. The box contained over 700 pieces and had an instruction booklet with step-by-step directions and graphics. My son followed the directions and was halfway through the construction of an airplane when he realized that his instruction booklet was missing a page. He could not complete the assembly because there were no directions or visuals to guide him. We called the company, and they sent us a new booklet, but by then, my son had lost interest in the set because of his initial disappointment.

People expect that when they purchase a product, read a research paper, or receive an email, that the document will be complete. Missing information doesn't just cause frustration, like with my son; in the business world, missing information can cause a loss of time and money. To ensure that you achieve completeness in your technical writing, it is important to examine both the text and the visual components of your document.

In this lesson, we will look at how to achieve textual and visual completeness.

Textual Completeness

Have you ever tried to give someone instructions on how to do something that seems so easy to you but the other person just doesn't understand your directions? The first time I asked my son to vacuum his room and gave him instructions on how to use the vacuum, I thought the task would be an easy one. Thirty minutes later, he still hadn't figured out how to turn the vacuum on.

Sometimes, what we consider to be obvious isn't so apparent to someone else. That's why it's important in technical writing to make sure that you provide enough detail in your document that the document is self-explanatory. Textually complete documents provide the audience with the exact amount of information they need to complete a task or understand a topic.

To ensure textual completeness, writers should:

  • Proofread the document
  • Check for usability
  • Know the intended audience

Once you've finished writing the document, you should always proofread the document yourself to catch any grammatical mistakes. However, it is equally as important to have someone else proofread the document, especially if the document explains a process. Another reader can more easily determine if you've accidentally left a step out that seemed obvious to you. They can also check to see if you have provided enough details without overwhelming the reader with too much information.

Next, check the usability of the document. When examining usability, ask yourself these questions:

  • Is the document easy to understand? Make sure that the language you use is clear and written using terms the general public can comprehend.
  • Is the information engaging? Technical documents aren't going to be the most entertaining items you read, but they should still be written in a way that keeps the reader's attention. Engagement can be achieved by keeping the document concise and breaking the information into small chunks.
  • Is the document effective? For a document to be effective, it must contain enough information for an audience to act or to make an informed decision. Consider answering the 5W questions - who, what, when, where, and why - in addition to asking how so that you provide all the necessary information the reader needs.

Finally, know your intended audience. By understanding who will likely read the document, you can evaluate whether the document has met the needs of the audience. Will the audience be able to understand the language you've used? Will the audience understand the purpose of the document? Have you made it clear what you want the audience to do as a result of reading the information? By understanding your audience, you are able to anticipate and answer any potential questions there might be about the document.

Visual Completeness

My daughter recently tried to put together a gingerbread house. Unfortunately, the directions she received had a picture of a house that was different from the pieces she received in the box. Since all of the drawings went with the pieces that weren't included in our box, my daughter could not figure out how to put the house together, despite having written directions. We ended up just eating the pieces!

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