The 4 Cs of Technical Writing

The four Cs are clear, concise, complete, and correct writing. All four are imperative in both technical and business writing.

Clarity ensures your reader understands your communication without any difficulty. This means there are no obscure words that he or she must look up; there are no extraneous words that hide the real message; and there is a logical flow to the communication.

Conciseness is using as few words as possible to get the message across the the reader. In other words, leave out the adjectives unless they help clarify the message. Keep your sentences simple and to the point.

Completeness, of course, is ensuring the reader has all the information they need to understand the message, make a decision, and take an action. If you leave out something, the reader might make an incorrect decision.

Correctness is imperative. Do not mislead your reader. Reread your message before you send it, whether it is an e-mail message, letter, report, proposal, or any other document. Incorrect information can cost your company thousands, even millions, of dollars.

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Published in: on January 12, 2009 at 7:00 AM  Comments (2)  

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  1. Kia ora Lauri.

    You have an interesting take on technical writing. You last point leaves me wondering where it’s all going though.

    You mention the million$ that it may cost to ‘your’ company. Presumably the writer in this case is writing for the same company who employs the writer. I’d be interested on your perspective about this. ‘Correctness’ can mean a lot of different things depending on ‘your’ relationship with ‘the company’.

    Catchya later
    from Middle-earth

    • Ken,

      In technical writing, there is no room for error. If you leave out a 0 in a figure, if you have steps out of order, or if you have incorrect steps, you can cause your reader annoyance (at the low end) or even death (at the high end). Your work must be correct.

      If you are a technical writer in a permanent position, then, yes, “your” company is the one where you are employeed.
      If you are freelance or contract, then your client is the “your” company. Whether you work for the company that employees you or hires you for a project, correctness is still extremely correct.

      Technical writing is black and white. There is no gray area – if one action takes you one way and another takes you somewhere different, the tasks are different. If there are alternative ways to complete a task, the technical writer needs to add the alternate steps, but just as that – alternate steps.

      There is no opinion in technical writing. In some technical writing, there is interpretation of results, such as when writing a laboratory report. Something like that is in the realm of scientific or medical writing. Other than that, I cannot think of any place where “opinion” is necessary or allowed.


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