the nature of the narrator in technical writing
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“The Nature of the Narrator in Technical Writing”. By: Lynn H. Deming Presented by: Anne Crace. Overview. Technical authors should speak to their audience.

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the nature of the narrator in technical writing

“The Nature of the Narrator in Technical Writing”

By: Lynn H. Deming

Presented by: Anne Crace


Technical authors should speak to their audience.

Writing of this type is more personal than other types of writing and should be treated on a personal level. Most often, first person, active voice is the best choice of narrative style.

be a narrator
Be A Narrator!
  • Counter-intuitive to what has been taught in the past

* It is “objective” to use third person

* gives “professional distance”

* helps with credibility

  • scholars now suggest first person is best for most technical documents
  • Written words tend to remove the author from the audience
define your audience
Define Your Audience
  • Speak directly to your audience

* Write as if they are in the room with you

  • Define who they are
  • Determine your Narrative tone of voice (imagine you are speaking to them).

*Are they experts or novices?

* How old are they?

* Is the topic serious or humorous?

  • By including yourself in your writing, it becomes less impersonal
different types of documents require different narrative perspectives
Different Types of Documents Require different narrative Perspectives
  • First Person

* Correspondence (letters, memos, etc.)

* Empirical Research Reports

  • Mixed Narrative

* Proposals (first person-third person combination, predominantly active voice)

* Mechanism and Process Definition (third person, active voice)

* Multiple part documents

  • Active voice

* Instructional Manuals

  • First person is the only choice here.
  • active voice also
  • “I appreciate your support”…Not “Your support is appreciated”
  • It’s also polite!
empirical research documents
Empirical Research documents
  • First person active voice allows an interesting and more personal perspective to research documents
  • allows a researcher to “own” their empirical data
  • Enables readers to identify with the writer
  • Proposals can be brief memos or multi-volume documents
  • For the former, use first person (just like correspondence)
  • For the latter, it is usually the choice of the project manager. (first person, third person combination is an option, but should predominantly be active voice
  • These are user oriented and commands can be predominant
  • Issuance of instructions are common in these documents, a type of veiled first person. “Do this, do that…”, with an implied, “i”, giving the instructions, and “you” receiving them.
mechanism and process descriptions
Mechanism and process descriptions
  • Third person, Active voice is appropriate for these types of documents. You are discussing a mechanism or a process. Focus should be on that topic.
  • Passive voice can be appropriate, if, for instance, the actor or subject is unknown, or could be anyone. Ex: “The subjects of the experiment were either given the drug or a placebo.”

For most Technical writing, the tone should be somewhat personal, as if you are having a conversation with the audience, or speaking in front of them, as if on a stage. Doe s third person make sense for this? There are exceptions, but the main point of this article is to include yourself with the audience and vice-versa.