Clear Technical Writing
Clear Terms

Quantity Qualifiers

When we write technical documents, we often write about the quantities of things measured or observed. Unfortunately, it's easy to fall into the habit of overspecifying quantities.

We plan to measure the amount of reduction in pH necessary to improve enzyme function.

The problem here is that pH is itself an amount. It doesn't help to refer to an amount of an amount.

We plan to measure the reduction in pH necessary to improve enzyme function.

These example sentences mean the same thing. The second one is easier to read and understand.

Quantity phrases like "amount of" are common in technical writing. Try to spot them and decide if they can be removed for clarity.

The generator can produce a total of 647 megawatts. Adjust the value of the exciter current for optimal power factor. This should reduce the quantity of capacitance required for efficient power distribution.

When a sentence begins with a reference to a quantity that is specifically stated later in the sentence, it is usually best to omit those words from the beginning of the sentence.

The volume of the machine noise exceeds 95 dBm.

The machine noise exceeds 95 dBm.

The composition of the slurry is 50 percent silica.

The slurry is 50 percent silica.

The temperature of the receiver is kept below 70 degrees Farenheit.

The receiver is kept below 70 degrees Farenheit.

Beware the phrase "at a (quantity) of". Often the phrase is partly redundant.

The responses arrived at a rate of 100 emails per hour.

The responses arrived at 100 emails per hour.

The SNR is at a point 10 dB below that required.

The SNR is 10 dB below that required.

Some quantity qualifiers are used because we feel the need to convey a technical word in a comfortable phrase. When you can, avoid this.

Dense material can be used to build a barrier that reduces the noise level.

Dense material can be used to build a barrier that reduces the noise.

For the next barrier you build, please try to increase the density value.

For the next barrier you build, please try to increase the density.

Finally, calling attention to a lower limit or an upper limit should only be done when the limiting is worthy of note. If you are simply describing a range, omit those quantity qualifiers.

Factory production varied from a minimum of 25 to 50 cars per shift.

Factory production varied from 25 to 50 cars per shift.

The temperature ranged from 40 to a maximum of 70 degrees Celcius.

The temperature ranged from 40 to 70 degrees Celcius.

Lesson: Quantity Qualifiers
Module: Clear Terms
Course: Clear Technical Writing