The following review was written by Jonathan Price and published in Technical Communication, volume 51, number 1, p. 144, February 2004.
If you edit the work of scientists or engineers, you may find Technical Style very helpful. J. M. Haile, who teaches thermodynamics, data analysis, and molecular dynamics, has put together his own publishing company (Macatea Productions) to sell paper and electronic versions of his lectures. This book offers advice on how to write well. His recommendations are based on many years of reviewing graduate and undergraduate theses by students in chemical engineering.
The first half of the book will seem familiar to most technical writers and editors, because it covers how to craft solid sentences, develop well-organized paragraphs, and use consistent punctuation. But the second half covers the elements we too often glide over. Here Haile shows how to present equations clearly, make economical tables, and communicate meaningful numerical messages through charts.
Haile must be a good teacher, because he shows us plenty of before-and-after examples, demonstrating the difference between a confusing first draft of an equation, table, or chart, and the graceful revision. His tips reflect a solid grounding in the conventions of mathematics, chemistry, and communication.
The reader, for him, is the ultimate authority. For instance, arguing that every equation should be numbered, he says, "Equation numbers, like everything else on the page, should aid the reader, and since the reader may want to refer to any equation, they should all be numbered" (pp.95-96).
Haile argues that "books on technical writing often ignore the problems writers face in presenting equations and the problems readers face in decoding them" (p. 90). That's often true. And, just as Edward Tufte's books show a passion for truth in statistical charts, Haile's analyses and prescriptions demonstrate how much he cares about clearing away the clutter that stands between readers and the underlying science.
Jonathan Price runs the Communication Circle in Albuquerque, NM. An associate fellow of STC, he also belongs to the American Society of Journalists and Authors. He has coauthored Hot text: Web writing that works, The best of online shopping, Fun with digital imaging, and How to communicate technical information.
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