Technically Speaking– Meredith Oldham, Bel Floratine Custom Designs

Hello Fellow Ad-VENTURA-ers!

It’s been a couple weeks since I last blogged (remember when I was Moroccan and Rolling?) but today I come to you to write about writing!

In POE class, we’re learning about technical writing (for our ebook), which is something we’ve not done a lot of in school. Engineering isn’t typically thought of as very language arts-y, but it very much is, as it’s vital that you properly convey/communicate your ideas and projects to others. Most engineers communicate their ideas through technical writing, which is mostly denotative.

What does denotative mean? That’s a great question! To the casual onlooker it may sound like some sort of dinosaur language, but strictly speaking, denotative is the word’s dictionary definition. A denotative phrase would be: Ally loves the taste of pickles. There’s not too much extraneous connotation with this sentence. Ally loves the flavor of pickles and that’s that– there’s no deep metaphor or hidden meaning.

Now consider the opposite of denotative: connotative. Think connotation and the way certain words convey emotion. A connotative phrase would be: Ally adores the tang of pickles. Suddenly the phrase has more depth and is a bit more subjective. Sure the word’s tang and taste have similar denotations, but their connotations are very different. The connotative phrase is up to more interpretation which is what you DON’T want in technical writing. If everyone reads a phrase differently, they’re all going to follow direction differently. In technical writing, you want to be clear and concise so people get at least a similar message as to how something is done.

To get a better understanding of denotation and connotation, lets look at the denotation and connotation of a single word. Consider the word Morocco. The denotation of this word would be essentially it’s dictionary definition or the “literal meaning”– so something along the lines of, “a nation located in Northwest Africa with coasts extending from the Mediterranean Sea to the Atlantic Ocean.” However the connotation of this word would be completely different– something like “cultural, spiffy, ravishing, colorful, diverse, adventurous,” and so on.

Writing is even important for engineers! (personal photo)

Writing is even important for engineers! (personal photo)

Like I said, technical writing is supposed to be denotative. In English class we’re often taught more connotative writing as we embark on short stories and poetry, so strictly denotative writing can surely be a bit of an adjustment. Think of writing an expository essay, and make it even less connotative– that’s how denotative writing should be. Give five people the same technically written instructions to make a paper airplane, and the result should hypothetically be five identical paper airplanes. (Now, everyone has their own flair, so this is unlikely– but theoretically!) If you gave five people connotatively written instructions for making a paper airplane, you’d probably end up with five completely different airplanes because Ally thought “clasp cooperatively” meant hold and Miranda thought “clasp cooperatively” meant fold.

A few words really can make all the difference! So choose your words wisely, not only in technical writing, but in speaking, note-taking, and every other word-related activity. Especially when you’re trying to convey an idea, one word can really be the difference! That’s all I have for today. Remember, keep Ad-VENTURA-ing!


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