For example, in Skype conversations you use emoticons. I might use (headbang) after a phrase to express frustration, or I can have a (facepalm) moment, or I can write a joke and add (rofl), etc.

But how do you do this in a technical book (not an animated book)? Not all people might understand what (rofl) stands for. So what alternatives are there, or what techniques to use to express feelings or emotions in a technical book (not one with characters where you might make the characters behave in a certain way that express the feeling/emotions)?

Just an example: a project management book or something. Where you might describe a techniques that drives everyone crazy and never gives good results, but somehow doesn't stop people for using it again and again. For that I might use (headbang).

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    I'd go so far as just describe it. Aug 28 '17 at 20:54
  • We actually have a few technical writers here. I am interested to see what they say compared to my answer, however, I think generally my thoughts on the subject should be within reason.
    – ggiaquin16
    Aug 28 '17 at 21:16

Just don't. Unless you are writing one of those nutty Dummies books, don't put emotion of humor in a technical book.

The reason is not that technical subjects aren't funny or that technical people don't have a sense of humor, it is that audience selection is different for technical books than for other kinds of writing.

For a novel or an essay or even a history, the reader selects the book in large part based on the writing, whether they like the way the author writes or not. In other words, they primarily select the writer. If you decide to tell jokes or show emotions, you will attract readers who like those things. If you are serious, you will attract readers who like serious, and all that is perfectly fine.

But readers of technical books do not choose the book based on its author. They choose it based on its subject matter. The readership is the set of people who care about its subject and that will include people with no sense of humor and people who don't agree with your emotional reactions to things. If you put those things into your technical book, you will be actively hindering those readers from getting the information they came for. This is why most technical books are written very plainly. Because it is not about the writing, it is about the subject matter.

There are exceptions, of course, like the dummies books, but those books are written about very popular subjects for which there are already many books available. Therefore they can segment the readership by the style of writing they prefer and it does become about the writer again.

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    Even in technical documents that are less formal and more "folksy", emoticons of any type are vanishingly rare. I've possibly seen a :-) or :-( in such writing once or twice, but never anything more exotic. Aug 29 '17 at 2:45
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    Further to this, technical books are, predominately, a professional resource used for professional purposes. Emoji's are the opposite of professional. Unless you are writing a 'self-help' book and want to give it an affable, friendly twist, I would personally avoid them.
    – user18397
    Aug 29 '17 at 3:02

Technical books are usually devoid of emotions. Their purpose is to guide people to learn things, not particularly to make them laugh. That is also why you notice most text books are DRY and boring to read. I have found that interesting text books are personable. That is they aren't filled with dry language but more so as if you are having a chat with someone who is an expert and he is explaining it to you.

Once in a while, a joke might be tossed in for laughs on the subject to keep the reading light and enjoyable/change the pacing. Expressing frustrations in a text isn't wrong either, you just have to make sure it isn't complaining but done objectively.

The current hotdog like shape has been used for a long while now, and it seems the industry has not wanted to change it. The shape has remained the same for decades even though we have found new ways to design better aerodynamics.

Okay maybe a poor example because I don't have anything I can write as an example for a technical frustration. The point should still remain the same. You are expressing an issue with the industry/product/topic while not sounding like you are complaining.

Ultimately though, technical writing will be fairly lacking in the emotional department. They are there to explain processes and TEACH something.

It would be kind of weird if you were reading a technical book on making a cake and it went something like:

First you need to whip the eggs,the milk, and sugar together ha ha!

It gives a really weird and informal feel to it and most technical writing is not informal.

  • If you don’t have a good example of technical frustration at hand, read anything about legacy computer hardware or software. Maybe Raymond Chen on the history of hacks for application compatibility in Windows. ptgmedia.pearsoncmg.com/images/9780321440303/samplechapter/…
    – Davislor
    Aug 29 '17 at 7:15
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    I wouldn’t so much say, “devoid of emotions,” as matter-of-fact. The purpose of technical writing is sometimes to persuade people to do something one way rather than another, and that can lead to editorializing, sarcasm, or regret that things happened the way they did. But if we say that a paper has lost its objectivity, we say it’s failed as a technical paper.
    – Davislor
    Aug 29 '17 at 7:19

In instances where we want to convey how our software eases the pain and frustrations of tasks at hand, we generally write special example topics with real life scenarios, and in this regard, we have the liberty to express angst over situations and hopefully joy at how to solve them.

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