The path to precision

How do I make my writing more precise?

Sometimes it’s the finer details that bring all the flourish both in plants and in your writing. This week, I was called by a supervising engineer in the workplace who asked me how to get his new hires to realize how important precision is to writing technical reports for clients. Here are some ways to improve precision in your writing.

  • Word choice

Coral reef health is significantly related to warmer air and ocean surface temperatures.

Explanation: In technical writing contexts, “significance” and “correlation” convey precise statistical relationships. Chose a less ambiguous word if no statistical test has been used. One fix: Coral reef health is influenced by …”

  • Figurative language

All four plants grew like wildfire.

Explanation: “Grew like wildfire” is an example of figurative language because it has no literal interpretation. In technical writing, state the specific facts. One fix: Growth rates of the 4 plants were determined by measuring from the base of the plant to its highest point using a ruler; plants were measured every 24 hours.

  • Weasel words

Reddish sandstone is pretty dominant here and is kind of sorted and has a brownish matrix.

Explanation: “Pretty dominant” and “kind of” are weasel words because they are intentionally vague. One fix: The southwest corner of the sample site is characterized by beds of sedimentary rock including Aztec Sandstone, which has a red color due to the presence of iron oxide or hematite.

  • Belief or Proof

This is believed to be from anthropogenic input of the smelting ores which proves our study’s hypothesis.

Explanation: Science isn’t a religion. It’s a method of testing and developing knowledge. Proof indicates confirmation to such a degree that there is no other possible outcome. Testing hypotheses results in evidence that may support, reject, or be inconclusive of a hypotheses. One fix: The data support the hypothesis; or the data do not support the hypothesis; or the data support the hypothesis with these exceptions.

  • Value-laden words

The change in income in Pensacola, Florida is worse than that of Florida in most cases.

Explanation: Technical writing may include making recommendations, but the focus is on providing evidence for a preference. Technical writing emphasizes quantification, so using “worse” may have different meanings among readers. One fix: Data USA reports the median household income in Pensacola, FL decreased 193 percent during 2014-2015.

  • Jargon

According to the historical starting and ending days of ODEs calculated above, the data missing period should have a minor influence on the analyses of ODEs happened in both years 2004 and 2005. One fix: Among the limitations of this research is that no testing on ODEs (term defined) occurred during 2004 and 2005.

Be aware what terms are familiar to your audience and avoid needless obfuscation. Yet some words are part of the terminology common to a field of study and may be useful when writing to audiences within this discipline (e.g., conifer versus cone-bearing). When using useful jargon or acronyms, define it the first.

  • Citations

Bituminous coal is a vital energy source and mineral to the global economy and provides over 40% of global electricity and is a key component in over 70% of global steel production.

Explanation: Statistics require citations. Readers use them to determine the credibility of the information. If you are writing about your own ideas or knowledge that is considered common, then citations are not necessary. One fix: Bituminous coal is…(author, date).

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