Stylistic dilemmas in document design
In technical discourse, the majority of texts are found to be accessible only to a specialist audience, and the feeling is prevalent with some technical genres that they would lose their generic integrity if part of their complexity was removed, since such a change would jeopardize the acceptability of the texts. Technical translators, on the other hand, often feel a strong need to simplify conventional technical writing style, which by convention has a high frequency of passives, nominalizations, nonfinite clauses and compound noun clusters, and omits some definite articles. Halliday (1994) and Halliday and Matthiessen (1999) have referred to some of these configurations (nominalizations, nominal groups, and nonfinite clauses) as grammatical metaphor (GM). Following Halliday’s argumentation, I have suggested an extension of the GM range to also include the passive and definite article omission (see, for example, Lassen, 1997, pp. 67–83), making possible a discussion of the characteristic stylistic features in technical discourse under the umbrella term GM. This article discusses the stylistic dilemmas involved in negotiating between the two conflicting aims of observing genre conventions and facilitating comprehen- sion. The empirical basis of the discussion is a survey in which the attitudes of different audiences to text accessibility and acceptability were investigated by means of a questionnaire distributed to a variety of professional groupings, including technical writers, translators, engi- neers, and technical language instructors, as well as a nonspecialist group of respondents with mixed occupations who were unfamiliar with technical writing style. The respondents were encouraged to state their attitudes to accessibility and acceptability on the basis of three text versions. One version was an original text, the second a text from which the grammatical metaphors had been removed, and the third was a version with short sentences.
Keywords: Accessibility and acceptability, grammatical metaphor, genre and discourse analysis, technical communication, technical manuals, text types, translation work, style
Published online: 25 March 2002