Clear Technical Writing
Special Topics

Helpful Explanations

A significant part of helping your readers understand what you are saying is giving them more than a sequence of statements.

The virus arrives in a capsule and escapes detection.

This sentence talks about two things, arrival and escape. They must be related, somehow. Otherwise, why would we have put them in the same sentence?

Use a participle

The virus arrives in a capsule, escaping detection.

Now we have a relation because our second statement has become an explanation for everything to the left of it.

Consider this rewrite in the abstract:

T + S + S → T + S + E

T = Topic

S = Statement

E = Explanation

We converted a short list into a brief story.

Use an appositive

As long as there are two verbs, there are two statements.

The chemical substance is a pure reagent that causes the desired transformation.

When the first verb conveys a sense of equivalence, we can often turn the first statement into an explanation by writing it as an adjective in apposition to the topic.

The chemical substance, a pure reagent, causes the desired transformation.

T + S + S → T + E + S

As long as the appositive is brief, the reader is more engaged and more informed.

Use a preposition

Again we start with two verbs.

The fusilage has a pitot probe that measures total pressure.

When the first verb conveys a sense of ownership, it's possible to promote the first object to become the new main topic. A preposition along with the initial topic can form an explanation.

The pitot probe on the fusilage measures total pressure.

T1 + S{T2} + S → T2 + E{T1} + S

Edit your writing by underlining opportunities for helpful explanations.

Well-designed protective relays protect equipment from faults and maintain continuous service. One impedance element is a #21 device and measures distance to a fault. The high voltage line has this relay that responds differently for faults upstream or downstream.

Lesson: Helpful Explanations
Module: Special Topics
Course: Clear Technical Writing