Clear Technical Writing
Clear Descriptions

Qualified Qualifiers

Clear Understanding

Qualifiers are sometimes qualified with the use of a hyphen.

Press the front-panel-mounted power switch.

Hyphens can be distracting.

Press the power switch mounted on the front panel.

But this is not as brief, and brevity is needed for clarity, right? Not so fast. The "briefness" we seek is not in word count; it's in how fast the reader can read the sentence and clearly understand it. Multiple hyphens cause pauses.

In technical writing, there are times when even a single hyphen is not the best solution.

Find the wall-mounted receptacle.

Find the receptacle mounted {preposition} the wall.

A preposition can add clarity, by providing information or context not possible with the hyphen. Different prepositions can be used here, each providing a slightly different picture to the reader.

Find the receptacle mounted on the wall.

Find the receptacle mounted inside the wall.

Find the receptacle mounted on top of the wall.

Ease of Reading

Too many qualifiers, hyphenated or not, can slow down the reader.

They will conduct quality tests.
[one qualifier, single word]

They will conduct quality and efficiency tests.
[two qualifiers, one word each]

They will conduct signal quality * and energy efficiency tests.
[two qualifiers, two words each]

At the asterisk, the reader must temporarily hold in memory the question, "signal quality of what?" Things are more clear if we put the object of the verb next to the verb and then we put the qualifiers of the object in a trailing prepositional phrase.

They will conduct tests for signal quality and energy efficiency.

Lesson: Qualified Qualifiers
Module: Clear Descriptions
Course: Clear Technical Writing