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Practical Application: Writing Technical Descriptions

Instructor: Angela Janovsky

Angela has taught middle and high school English, Business English and Speech for nine years. She has a bachelor's degree in psychology and has earned her teaching license.

The written word often involves describing physical objects. Try these practice activities to help you hone your skills at writing technical descriptions of objects.

Technical Descriptions

Let's get technical here. On a daily basis we are describing objects, ideas or events to other people. What did you have for lunch? How was the movie? What did you do on vacation? These are questions we have all answered at some point in our lives.

So when you answered a question like that, what sort of details did you include? How did you decide what details to give and which ones to omit? These decisions are the true art of giving a description.

Here we will practice giving a technical description of an object. Determining which details to include will depend on what sort of description you are required to give.

In the lesson Writing Technical Descriptions you learned that a technical description is a written explanation of the physical qualities of an item. Physical qualities include size, weight, shape, texture, and color. Here you will get a chance to flex your technical writing skills.

Keep in mind that a technical description doesn't always discuss the function of that object or how it is used. But we'll return to that later when we try a long description.

Short Description

Let's practice writing two different descriptions. The first is a short technical description with a length of two to five sentences. This type of description focuses on identifying the object and giving the most important physical qualities. Again, you give the most important qualities, not every single physical trait.

You are likely at your computer at this very moment. For our first technical description, write a few sentences about your laptop or desktop computer. Think of the following concepts before you write.

  • Identify any unique features of the object. Are there any terms that a reader might not know?
  • Is there any background information the reader should know?
  • Are there several parts to the object? Should you describe each part or the object as a whole?
  • What adjectives show the size, color, weight, shape and texture?

Once you have brainstormed ideas to answer the previous questions, write a two to five sentence technical description of your computer.

Example

Perhaps your description looks a bit like this:

This computer is an HP Pavilion laptop. Weighing less than 5 pounds, it is 15 inches long, 8 inches wide and 2 inches thick. It has a rectangular shape with round corners. It is a shining silver color made with smooth plastic. There are ports on the side for USB, HDMI, headphones and the power cord.

In these five sentences I give the basic physical qualities of my computer. I began with identifying the object. Then I continued to give the approximate size, weight, shape, color and texture of my laptop computer. However, I kept it concise and did not go into every little detail about my computer.

How does your technical description compare? Are there are important details you left out?

Long Description

At times it will be necessary to provide a longer technical description of an object. For these, focus on three steps.

  1. Define the item according to a category it may belong to or any special features.
  2. Give a brief explanation of the function of the item. What does it do and how does it work?
  3. Discuss the physical traits of the object.

As you can see, for a long technical description, the function or how the object operates can be given.

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