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Using Information in Technical & Functional Texts

Instructor: Christine Serva

Christine is an instructional designer, educator, and writer with a particular interest in the social sciences and American studies.

This lesson describes scenarios when you can use technical and functional texts. You'll learn what they are and how they fit into our everyday lives, including situations when their use is critical.

Where Do You Turn?

You've just driven off the lot of a car dealership with a shiny, new vehicle you just purchased. Two miles down the road, the car makes a strange sound and suddenly won't go over 20 miles per hour. You return to the dealership and they initially help you out since the problem is covered under a warranty.

However, after several more break-downs with the same problem, the dealership tells you they can do nothing more to help you since they can't seem to fix the problem.

Where do you turn for information about your rights in this situation?

When Knowledge Is Power

While you could certainly consult with a lawyer, let's say you just want to start off by first understanding your basic rights before you invest in legal representation.

You do an online search and navigate to the website of the attorney general of your state. This website lists a summary and details about your state's 'lemon law', legislation that addresses your rights in situations like the one you had after buying your car.

This type of information is an example of technical text, or text written for the purpose of helping you understand a specific subject area. The text about the law is considered technical not only because it educates you, but also because it provides the information in a format that is meant to be accessible. Not all technical texts will be easy-to-understand, but the goal of this type of text is to clearly explain a topic, often using formatting designed to lead you through the information step by step.

For instance, the attorney general's website lists its lemon laws alongside other consumer issues, each with a bold heading so you can find the one of interest to you. Under the bold heading of lemon laws, you find several short paragraphs that include exactly the information you need: the name and number of relevant statutes and regulations, what the law entails, how to qualify, and the complaint filing process. It also shows any exceptions to the law for the sake of clarity.

This text is both technical and functional. A functional text is one that describes how to go about accomplishing something.

In this example of the lemon law website, you will be able to use the technical, functional information in order to submit a complaint. In some cases, like with advertisements, functional texts could turn out to include inaccurate or manipulated information. Yet the text is still designed as guidance for how to get something you need or want, which is why it is considered 'functional'.

Help with Everyday Tasks

Success! You worked through the complaint process and your car has been properly replaced by the manufacturer.

Now that the new car is functional, your new problem is that you've having difficulty with learning how to use certain features, like how to operate its built-in navigation system. You have a long trip coming up and want to try out the tool.

You head to the user's manual and learn which buttons to press to setup your system and use it when you drive.

The user's manual of the car is another technical and functional text providing you with step-by-step guidance on the topic and giving you information to complete a task.

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