Compressed ("telegraphic") technical writing

Subject: Compressed ("telegraphic") technical writing
From: Ken d'Albenas <kendal -at- AUTOTROL -dot- CUC -dot- AB -dot- CA>
Date: Sat, 2 Oct 1993 05:10:46 MDT

(Subject was: Opinions please)

One of the tech writing tips for Richard Irvine's intro-level
tech writing class was,

> Avoid a compressed, "telegraphic" style, such as,
> "Press key to reset system."

The reason: unless all pronouns, articles, and antecedents
are lined up explicitly, message becomes muddle.

I agree, BUT... Complete, grammatical sentences can also
(a) slow the pace in a list of instructions, and (b) take up
space when space is at a premium. Mushy reading loses readers.

So the generalization is good advice for Tech Writing 1 (which
_is_ the audience it was intended for, I realize), but sentence
compression is also a time-honoured part of the technical
writer's craft. When _I_ have to follow a set of procedures,
I can appreciate a snappy, "let's get on with it" telegraphic
style - as long as the instructions are not ambiguous.

Two examples:

1. "Move cursor to left edge of screen" is down-to-earth.
"Move the cursor to the left edge of the screen" has a laid
back, Sunday-walk-in-the-park flavour. There's a time and
place for each of these constructions.

2. On the sticker on a butane lighter, the following information
is squeezed into less than 1 square inch of available space:
Ignite lighter away from face and clothing. Be sure
flame is completely out after each use. Contains
flammable gas under pressure. Never puncture or put
in fire. Do not keep lit for more than 30 seconds.
Never expose to heat above 120 F (49C) or to
prolonged sunlight.

OK, suppose you're writing emergency procedures; or an
installation guide; or even the back label for a shampoo bottle.
("Apply to hair. Lather. Rinse. Repeat once.") Are there any
rules about when/where compression is appropriate? Any rules
governing the when/where/how of chopping pronouns, articles,
subjects, objects, etc. without damaging the message? Any
authoritative books or old STC Journal articles?

I'd really like to know. Right now, I do by pants seat. :-)


Ken d'Albenas
Replies to: kendal -at- autotrol -dot- cuc -dot- ab -dot- ca
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"It is impossible to make anything foolproof
because fools are so ingenious."
- (Arthur Unknown)


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