Clear Technical Writing
Clear Terms

Generic Nouns

This course is titled, Clear Technical Writing. If it had been titled, Clear Technical Communications, you might have wondered, "What type of communications?"

It's easy to fall into the habit of using generic nouns.

He said the software had errors in it.

When you can, you should use a noun that more precisely identifies what it is you are talking about.

He said the operating system had errors in it.

He said the user interface had errors in it.

He said the app had errors in it.

When you do this, readers will expend less mental effort as they read your words and try to understand your thoughts. The problem isn't that readers are lazy; it's that they are busy. Make their lives easier by judiciously avoiding generic nouns.

Here are some other common examples:

vehicle = car, truck, SUV, ...

computer = server, tablet, PC, ...

document = report, manual, PDF, ...

Edit your writing by underlining generic nouns.

We arrived early at the facility to fix the assembly-line controller. I used my equipment to measure the voltage and current. When we were done with the work, we turned the controller back on.

Your reader can think of many synonyms for every one of your generic nouns.

facility = factory, office, laboratory, warehouse, hospital, ...

equipment = multimeter, printer, oven, conveyer, defibrillator, ...

work = repairs, design, research, distribution, stabilizing, ...

So—your reader absolutely loves it when you make things clear.

We arrived early at the factory to fix the assembly-line controller. I used my multimeter to measure the voltage and current. When we were done with the repairs, we turned the controller back on.

Lesson: Generic Nouns
Module: Clear Terms
Course: Clear Technical Writing