Sequence in Technical Documents

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  • 1:38 Clear Introductions
  • 2:54 Focused Paragraphs
  • 4:15 Strategic Information…
  • 5:01 Conclusions
  • 5:57 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.

Arranging your information in a particular order will help emphasize the points you want to make in technical documents. This video provides tips for creating a clear sequence in technical writing.

A Clear Sequence

A few years ago, my mom bought me a bread maker for Christmas. I was so excited! Finally, an easy way to bake one of my favorite foods. Unfortunately, the process is not as easy as it looks. On my first attempt, I looked at the ingredients called for in the recipe, threw everything in the bread maker, and hit the power button. Two hours later, when the finish alarm sounded, I discovered a hard lump that didn't resemble at all the fluffy bread I was hoping for. I called my mom and told her the maker was broken.

She asked me if I had followed the directions exactly as they were written. Directions? Who needs directions? Well, apparently, when baking bread, adding ingredients in a specific order is vital to creating beautiful bread. Oops.

Writing is a lot like bread making. We have lots of ingredients, things we need to share with our target audience, but if we don't put them in a specific order, the information will just be thrown together and jumbled up, and the end result may not be what we want. We need to have a clear sequence, or a specific order in which ideas are presented. Having a clear sequence to our documents will keep our ideas organized and help readers easily determine what is important.

To provide clarity and organization to your documents, follow this sequence, when possible:

  • Provide a clear introduction.
  • Keep paragraphs focused.
  • Arrange information with your audience in mind.
  • Consider including a conclusion.

Clear Introductions

What's the first thing you do when you meet someone for the first time? Most likely, you don't just start talking about random information. You probably first introduce yourself so that the person will know who you are and what you want. The same type of introduction is needed in writing. Before you start going in depth about a problem in the company, you need to provide an introduction to the issue.

Businessmen and women see dozens of documents a day, from emails to memos, so they need to know quickly what your document is about. Start your introduction by answering the three main questions that every business person wants to know:

  • What is the document I'm reading?
  • Why did I receive it?
  • What action do you want me to take?

Writing this information in the beginning of your document provides a clear explanation to your reader of your purpose.

Once you've explained your purpose, you can begin to explain the main points of your document. Similar to a thesis, you need to include a sentence at the end of your introduction that will project what you will discuss in the body of your document. The main points can be listed in the sentence as brief phrases in parallel form. Once you've written a sentence explaining what that document will cover, it's time to start writing your body paragraphs.

Focused Paragraphs

I have a three-year-old nephew and in the span of a minute, he will ask how birds fly, why we can't eat play dough, and when he can get a new toy. His thought process feels like a racquetball being hit from one wall to the other without a hint as to where it may land. If we're not careful, our writing can feel that way as well. Sometimes we have so many different issues to cover, it's hard to stay focused on one topic at a time. But keeping paragraphs focused in technical writing is vital to helping your audience understand your message.

To keep your paragraphs focused, start with a well-written topic sentence. The sentence should clearly state what that specific paragraph will discuss.

When writing the information for your paragraph, make sure that you stick to one idea per paragraph. Trying to focus on more than one topic in a paragraph will confuse your reader. Make sure the information you provide is specific and answers any potential questions your reader might have about the topic.

Finally, keep the paragraph short so that it is easy to skim. Paragraphs should be no more than five or six sentences. If you find the paragraph is becoming much longer, try to break the paragraph into two separate paragraphs, keeping information about similar ideas together and using a headline to cover both paragraphs.

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