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Understanding the Evil of Technical Text Books

You know the types. We're talking the highly cerebral stuff here; those awful texts dealing with chemistry, statistics, calculus, computer programming and the like. These kinds of texts require a different approach than the more conventional texts. Skimming and scanning these types of texts can get one in serious trouble. It is absolutely essential in approaching these types of texts that you proceed in a logical, unhurried and deliberate fashion. The reason for this approach is simply that these types of texts typically build one concept on top of another. Unlike a frontier western movie, you can't come in twenty minutes late and grasp the plot within five minutes. It is important to take things in order and approach the material in the following manner:

  1. Look first at how the text is organized. Your goal is to work to understand where the text is going and how it is getting there. Try to identify the progression of thought and follow it. Remember that concepts are going to build on top of each other and expand. If you don't understand what is covered in the first twenty pages, you won't be able to understand what is presented in the next twenty pages. So there is no going forward until you master the page before you.
  2. Most technical texts have a style that compresses information. Words are chosen very carefully and have distinct meaning. It is virtually impossible to waddle on down the path without a clear and concise knowledge of the definitions of terms and concepts as they are introduced. Typically, the technical text will make use of the following:
    • Terms and definitions; learn the vocabulary as you go. Determine to do this or drop the course.
    • Examples: The life preservers the authors offer to keep you afloat. Understand them.
    • Classifications and Listings: Used to organize like detail into groupings.
    • Contrasting: Showing differences.
    • Cause and effect actions: Associated with science and research. What is happening and why is it happening?

Definitions and terms will likely include some unique to the study at hand. Some may be very complex. You are learning a language here. Failure to invest the time and effort to get this first step accomplished each time a new term or concept is introduced leaves you out of the communication process moving ahead.

Examples are proof that even technical writers can have a sense of mercy. They include examples as a way of linking something totally unfamiliar to us, to something with which we can relate and therefore, have an outside chance at comprehending complex theories. Make every effort to examine and study each example.

Classifications and listings become important in sorting like kinds into groups. This is done extensively in biology, for instance, where insects are grouped into orders, and classes and species and the like. In many cases, if you know the definition and make-up of a class or order, you can figure out which class a particular animal or insect should be placed into.

Comparing and contrasting aids understanding by holding up one concept and showing how it differs from another concept or how it may be similar to one covered earlier or with another term we may be familiar with.

Cause and effect relationships are the basis of scientific research. These may be involved, with one cause producing several different effects. Be aware of these types of relationships when presented.


Last Updated: 08/20/2013

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