A Comparison of Selected Stylistic Features in Technical and Non-Technical Writing
Vick, Richard D.
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The problem. Most technical writing texts say something about technical writing style, and some devote an entire chapter to it. This study attempted to determine whether there are quantifiable stylistic differences between technical and non-technical writing affecting readability, conciseness, precision, and vigor. Procedure. Ten 15-sentence samples from journals in science and engineering were compared with ten 15-sentence samples from journals in the humanities. Readability was measured by average sentence length, average T-unit length, percentage of sentences using subject-verb-object or subject-verb-complement order, number of syntactic chunks per major closure, and ratio of propositions to arguments. Conciseness was measured by the number of words per proposition. Precision was measured by the ratio of nouns and verbs to adjectives and adverbs. Vigor was measured by the percentage of passive verbs, the percentage of nouns that are nominalized verbs, a comparison of the Noun-Word Quotient with the Verb-Word Quotient, and the ratio of nouns and verbs to adjectives and adverbs. Findings. The samples were compared at the .05 level of significance. It was found that the technical writing samples had shorter sentences, shorter T-units, a higher percentage of sentences using subject-verb-object or subject-verb-complement order, and fewer syntactic chunks per major closure. It did not have a higher ratio of propositions to arguments. It was found thst technical writing did not have a significantly lower number of words per proposition nor a significantly higher ratio of nouns and verbs to adjectives and adverbs. It was found that technical writing did not have a lower percentage of nominalizations, a lower ratio of NWQ to VWQ, or 9 lower percentage of passives. Conclusions. It was concluded that the most significant stylistic differences between technical and non-technical writing were in readability. No evidence was found to indicate that technical writing was significantly more concise, precise, or vigorous than nontechnical writing. Recommendations. It was recommended that information such as that contained in this study be used in technical writing texts.
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