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Technical Communication – Translate Knowledge for a Clear Message

As an expert in your field, you have a deep well of knowledge and skills. When it comes time to share your expertise, building your technical communication skills ensures you convey the information in a way that your audience understands. Regardless of whether your audience consists of peers, potential customers or lay people, you need to translate technical information into a presentation that educates and motivates your audience.

If your presentation is filled with unintended noise and clutter or you are nervous, these distract from your message, confusing your listeners about the point you are making.

To create a strong presentation for technical communication, follow these important steps:

  • Know your audience so you can speak in a way they understand
  • Determine your objective for the presentation. What do you need to accomplish?
  • Decide what you want the audience to do and take action on afterwards
  • Build your presentation about the above three main items
  • Plan your opening to grab attention and your closing to move people into action

"The Knowledge to Impact System"

Laurie recommends working with the Knowledge to Impact System that utilizes three powerful filters to make you a better speaker, reduce noise and increase audience comprehension.

1. Research

While you are an expert on your topic, it's time to become an expert on your audience members too. This allows you to structure your technical communication for greater understanding and value from your listener's viewpoint. Being an expert about who your audience is changes how you write, organize and create visuals for your presentation.

2. Translate

Event though it's tempting and seems efficient to deliver the same presentation to all your different audiences, this is a huge mistake. You need to translate your message for each unique audience or you are in danger of not effectively communicating and losing your listeners. You cannot educate or convince people if they do not understand your point. This is where you focus on eliminating noise and clutter to streamline your message specifically for each audience.

Noise and clutter can also be problematic during delivery of your presentation. For example, nervousness can distract from your message when providing technical communication. Laurie shares a number of relaxation and preparation techniques to calm your nerves and present like a pro. Discover how to feel more confident and at ease. Get tips on body language, gestures, eye contact and vocal quality for your best presentation ever.

PowerPoint Presentation Tips for Technical Communication

Creating a PowerPoint presentation for technical communication requires simplifying the slides if possible, keeping the content to just one idea per slide. Laurie has a wealth of knowledge to help you craft a streamlined PowerPoint document that holds people's attention and clearly communicates your message for lasting impact.

"Throughout my career both military and civil service, I have had opportunities to receive different types of presentation training. The Technical Presentation Skills Class outshone them all. The techniques presented not only met the class needs but they were down-to-earth easy to use. The difference between everyone's first presentation and their last presentation was amazing. " – Michael Mercado, EPA

Laurie Brown Will Sharpen Your Technical Communication Skills

Work with Laurie to improve your technical communication and presentation skills. Learn to engage your audience, convey your message and persuade them to take the next step. Her Knowledge to Impact System has proven immensely helpful to clients around the US and the world.

Contact Laurie now at (248) 761-7510 for Technical Communication Coaching.

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3.1 Defining technical communication

At this point, if you have already read sections 1 and 2 of this text, you have a good idea of what technical communication is and what technical communication does . You know that technical communication is rhetorical: it is goal-driven, audience-focused, and dynamic. Technical communication responds to a specific rhetorical situation. Further, technical communication is dependent upon context. As technical communicators, it is important to consider your goals, your audience’s specific needs, and the context that creates the need for this text.

It may seem odd to take a moment to pause and consider how we define technical communication at this point in the text, after we’ve already spent time discussing technical communication as rhetorical and as engaged with diversity, equity and inclusion. Likely, by now, you already have a good sense of how you would define technical communication (and maybe you already had a definition in mind before beginning this text). You know what technical communication looks like and that it is audience and goal focused, and that it typically involves communicating complex information to a non specialized audience . So why devote an entire section on defining the field of technical communication? How can we define technical communication?

Sheet music

The answer to this question is that, even after reading about and practicing technical communication, defining technical communication can be tricky ; technical communication encompasses many forms, purposes, and genres. The borders and definitions of technical communication are often debated and in flux. Technical communication often involves technology (though not always). Technical communication often involves communicating expert, technical, or highly complex information to a non expert or more general audience. Technical communication often works to convince an audience to take some specific action. Technical communication might define, instruct, inform, or persuade.

Rather than focus on the boundaries of technical communication, it can be useful to focus on what technical communication is trying to do . It might also be useful to define technical communications by looking at a variety of examples, or by considering what technical communication is not ( Section 4.2 covers the genre of technical descriptions and definitions, and describes the various ways to extend a definition, including through examples and through negation).

Key Takeaway: What Does Technical Communication Do?

As discussed at various points of this text, technical communication often explains something to a specific audience. While technical communication looks many different ways, it consistently works to do the work of explaining things. It may be useful to define technical communication by what it does rather than how it looks . Sections 1 and 2 of this text emphasize that readers often interact with technical and professional documents in order to understand or do something very specific, may scan or read documents looking for specific pieces of information. Consider how your reader will interact with your document and try to make it as easy as you can. Ask yourself: how can I make this document as readable as I can for my intended or imagined audience? How will my audience likely interact with this document?

As you consider your purpose and your readers, not only content but also style and format become very important. Be sure that you are audience focused, and that you make decisions about document design, language, and content with your specific audience in mind. What does your audience need from you in order to understand the content? What would make things easier on your audience? What specific experience, expectations, and knowledge does your audience bring with them?

To read more about defining the field, take a look at “ The Case Against Defining Technical Communication ” and consider what the author is describing. How can we define a field that covers so much? Do we define technical communication by genre, by style, or by topic? Does technical communication necessarily need to focus on technology?

To access this article, see the full citation below:

Allen, J. (1990). The Case Against Defining Technical Writing. Journal of Business and Technical Communication, 4 (2), 68–77. https://doi.org/10.1177/105065199000400204

Technical communication vs. technical writing

We use the term communication in place of writing to more clearly encompass the breadth of forms and modes that we consider technical communication . Consider the example of sheet music above, or an infographic that explains how to properly wear a mask. Or, consider a nurse communicating orally with a patient to address their questions about a prescription. Writing is communication, but not all communication happens strictly through writing.

Today, largely due to advances in telecommunication and digital technologies, technical communication includes more than what we might traditionally consider writing. For example, technical communication often relies not only on text, but also on graphics, images, hyperlinks, video, audio, etc. This course does focus on writing, but it invites you to consider all the ways in which elements beyond or outside of “writing” or “text” impact an audience.

We have already talked about the importance of document design, graphics, and images. One reason to use the term “communication” over “writing” is that communication emphasizes the fact that so many elements impact a text. Often when we think of “writing” we think of things like “grammar, punctuation, spelling” or other elements that impact clear writing. Certainly, these things are important for a technical communicator. But technical communicating–and really writing more generally–encompasses so much more than grammar or spelling. It is important to expand what you consider crucial elements of technical communication, because doing so also helps you to consider how you might reach an audience.

Just like document design, images, and other “non writing” parts of technical communication make a huge impact on a text, document design, images, graphics, and multimodal forms of communication also help to make a text more accessible. Remember that accessibility is always the goal with technical communication; shifting the conversation from “writing” towards “communication” helps to frame the work of a technical communicator in a different way. Focusing on communication can be a more inclusive or flexible approach to technical writing, and this small shift in language might help folks to understand that the job of technical writing includes so much.

Key Takeaway: Writing vs Communication

Throughout this text, the term communication is favored over writing . Communication is preferred because it more fully encompasses the broad range of communication modes and methods used by technical communicators, including written communication, oral communication, video, infographic/images, etc..

Consider how you differentiate between “writing” and “communication.”

  • What considerations fall within the scope of technical communications?
  • What different ways, modes, tools, etc. can you use to communicate?

Professional communication

Along with reflecting on technical communication , it is worth taking a minute to reflect on the category of professional communication and to understand the relationship between technical and professional communication. Professional communication is a broad term that could refer to any communication done in a professional setting toward professional ends. Or, professional communication might refer to communications among and within specific professions, which are bound by various community codes, patterns, and expectations.

If you search for the difference between technical and professional communication, you’ll find various opinions. Some argue that technical communication  must  somehow involve technology as its subject matter (this text takes a broader view of technical communication). Some differentiate between the two by defining technical communication as targeting a broader or non specialist audience, while professional communication is more specific to a certain profession or internal to an organization or a field.

These terms–writing, communication, technical, and professional–are not easily defined and do not contain clear borders. While these terms can be differently understood and continually debated, this course encourages you to imagine technical and professional communication in the context of your major and future profession.

How do you imagine professional and technical communication looks in your field?

Activity and Reflection: Technical Communication in Your Field

For this activity, take a moment to consider professional and technical communication in your area of study. What do you think it “looks like” in your field? Try to come up with a scenario in which you will use technical or professional communication. What are some things to consider? What are some “qualities” (clear, simple, concise language; use of graphics or images; responsiveness to audience needs or context and goals;) of that communication situation?

Share what you’ve written with a partner or with a group. Consider differences and similarities among your communication situations. What shared qualities do you notice?

Introduction to Technical and Professional Communication Copyright © 2021 by Brigitte Mussack is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License , except where otherwise noted.

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Mechanical Engineering Communication Lab

Technical Presentation

Structure diagram, criteria for success.

  • The presentation starts with the motivating problem for the research and why it’s being presented.
  • Every slide shows something relevant to the motivating problem.
  • Every slide shows no more information than necessary to convey the message.
  • Slide titles stand on their own; other text supports the visuals.
  • The audience takes away the presenter’s desired message .

Identify Your Message and Purpose

Identify your message and goals as a presenter and use them to organize your presentation. Your message is what you wish to convey to the audience, and is your primary goal. Other goals could include eliciting feedback, receiving a job offer, etc. Use your goals to structure your presentation, making it easier for the audience to follow your logic and identify important points that support your goals.

For example, if your goal is to communicate a new scientific result, focus on the results and broader implications rather than your methodology. Specific methods should take a back seat (e.g. “I measured key material properties,” rather than “I found the thermal decomposition temperature and profile”). Spend more time focusing on what the result means, and how it can be used.

Alternatively, if your goal is to elicit feedback from colleagues on an experimental apparatus, focus more on the experimental methods. Compare the advantages and disadvantages to alternatives. Explain your assumptions, base models and why your proposed experimental design will give more useful results than other designs would.

In less formal settings such as lab meetings, you can explicitly tell your audience what you’re looking for (e.g., “I’d appreciate feedback on my experimental methods”).

Analyze Your Audience

Understanding your audience is of paramount importance for a successful presentation. Highlight how your goals overlap with what audience cares about, so they receive your message. A well-designed presentation will steer the audience’s attention such that you can lead them to the exact point that you want them to take away.

Different audiences have different goals for attending a presentation, and therefore pay attention to different things. For example, at the same talk, an engineer may be interested in using your result to solve their problem, a scientist in the broader scientific advance, a venture capitalist in its impact as a novel product, and clinician about how your device could improve their patients’ care. The introduction of your presentation should speak to the range of backgrounds and experiences in your audience.

That being said, often an audience consists of people with similar backgrounds and interests. Therefore, identify whether jargon is appropriate for an audience, and to what extent. Consider whether other methods, such as images or analogies, are more appropriate to convey concepts that would otherwise rely on jargon.

Plan Out the Presentation

Presentations are constrained by the fact that they progress linearly in time, unlike a written piece of communication, where the reader may jump forwards and backwards to get at the information they seek. Outline the content of the entire presentation first, then begin to design the slides, rather than jumping straight into them.

Lay out the order in which the content needs to be presented to achieve your goals, such that your message flows from point to point, topic to topic. This order may be very different from the structure of the journal paper you’ve already written.

Start by motivating your work with a problem that everyone cares about. Then develop your message step by step, from the background to the final message, so the logic flows clearly.

In many cases (depending on the audience), it might be most appropriate to reveal your conclusions up-front, so that the audience can tie everything else in the presentation back to supporting those conclusions. For instance, technology-focused program managers or engineering sponsors are likely most interested in your results, which will determine whether they are interested enough to pay attention to your process and justification. By contrast, certain scientific communities appreciate being taken through your scientific process to develop their own conclusions before you present yours.

Because the audience cannot immediately see a presentation’s structure like they can with a paper, it is often a good idea to provide a high-level roadmap of the presentation early on. At key points throughout the presentation, remind them of where they are on the roadmap.

Connect Your Work Back to the Broader Motivation

At the beginning of your talk, develop the broader context for your work and lay out the motivating questions you aim to answer. The audience should understand how your answers have an impact on the broader context, and why a solution was not immediately possible without your work.

At the next level down, when showing data and results, make sure it’s clear what they contribute to answering the motivating questions.

Anticipate Questions

If your audience is following along with your presentation, they’ll likely have questions about why you made certain decisions or didn’t make others. Sometimes, the questions could arise from what you’ve said and presented. Other times, they’ll arise from a listener’s knowledge of the field and the problem that you’re working on.

While you design your presentation, think about what kinds of questions may come up, and identify how you will address them. For less formal talks, you can anticipate interruptions to discuss these questions, whereas for more formal talks you should make sure that none of the questions are so big that they’ll preoccupy your listeners. For big questions, decide if you’ll explicitly address them in your talk. For smaller ones, consider adding back-up slides that address the issue.

Remember – while you know all of the information that is coming up in your talk, the audience probably does not. If they develop a question that doesn’t get addressed clearly, they could get distracted from the rest of the points you make.

You can use questions to create strong transitions: “seed” the listener’s thought process with the questions you’re about to answer in an upcoming slide. If a listener develops a question, and then you answer it immediately after, your message will stick much better!

Each Slide Should Convey a Single Point

Keep your message streamlined—make a single point per slide. This gives you control over the pace and logic of the talk and keeps everyone in the audience on the same page. Do not be afraid of white space—it focuses your audience’s attention.

The slide title should identify where you are on your roadmap and what topic the question the slide is answering. In other words, the audience should know exactly where in the presentation and what the slide answers just from the slide title.

Strong Titles Tell a Message

Strong titles highlight where on the roadmap you are, and hint at what question the slide is answering. Weak titles tend to be vague nouns that could be used across many slides or presentations. A rule of thumb is your title should be a clear, single-line phrase illustrating the importance of the slide.

Note that different mechanical engineering fields have different preferences for titles that are phrases versus full sentences. In general, design, system, or product-focused presentations tend to have short titles that only highlight what the speaker is saying, allowing audiences to focus more on the body of the slide, which is usually a figure. In other fields, a strong title might instead be a full sentence that states a message.

Emphasize Visuals

When a new slide is presented, most people will shift their attention from what you’re saying to the slide. People can often interpret figures and listen, but not read text and listen simultaneously. The more words on the slide, the less control you have over your audience’s attention. If you are reading words off the slide, you’ve lost the audience’s attention completely—they’ll just read the slide too.

Use brief statements and keywords to highlight and support the slide’s individual point. Slides are a visual medium, so use them for figures, equations, and as few words as possible to convey the meaning of the slide.

If you have a block of text on your slide, ask yourself what the takeaway message is, and what is the necessary supporting material (data, analysis). Then, identify how text can be reduced to still support your point clearly. Consider…

  • Replacing text with figures, tables, or lists.
  • Eliminating all but key words and phrases, and speaking the bulk of the text instead.
  • Breaking up the slide into multiple slides with more visuals.

Replace blocks of text with easy-to-read pictures, tables or diagrams.

Left: The original slide provides specific information as text, but makes it easy for both speaker and audience to read directly off the slide, often leading to a distracted audience.

Right: The improved slide conveys the same information with a simple graphic and keywords, conveying the chronology more clearly, and allowing the reader to speak the same information without reading off the slide.

Simplify Figures

The purpose of a figure is to convey a message visually, whether it be supporting evidence or a main point. Your audience usually gives you the benefit of the doubt and assumes that whatever you show in the figure is important for them to understand. If you show too much detail, your audience will get distracted from the important point you want them to gather.

An effective presentation figure is often not one made for a paper. Unlike you scrutinizing your own data or reading an academic paper, your audience doesn’t have a long time to pore over the figure. To maximize its effectiveness, ask yourself what minimum things need to be shown for the figure to make its point. Remove anything that doesn’t illuminate the point to avoid distraction. Simplify data labels, and add emphasis to key parts using colors, arrows, or labels.

Additionally, presentations offer different opportunities than papers do for presenting data. You can use transitions on your slides to sequentially introduce new pieces of information to your slide, such as adding data to a plot, highlighting different parts of an experiment (or equation), or introducing text concepts as bullets.

Simplify data, simplify labels for emphasis.

Top: Academic referees and peers would prefer to see the complete theoretical model and experimental data (top), so they can interpret it for themselves. In addition, in papers, space is limited, while time to digest is not.

Bottom: But in a presentation, simplifying the data makes it easy to focus on the feature of interests for the presentation, or even at that moment (different regions may be highlighted from slide to slide). Slides provide plenty of space, while time is at a premium. [Adapted from Wind-Willassen et al., Phys. Fluids 25, 082002 (2013); doi:10.1063/1.4817612]

Introduce Your Data

Make sure your audience will be able to understand your data before you show it. They should know what the axes will be, what points in the plot generally represents, and what pattern or signal they’re looking for. If you’re showing a figure common to a specific audience, you may not need to explain as much. But if you show the data before the audience knows how to read it, they’ll stop listening to you, and instead scrutinize the figure, hoping that a knitted brow will help them understand.

If you are worried your audience won’t understand your data, one approach is to show sketches of what the data would should like if your hypothesis were true or false. Then show your real data.

For an audience unfamiliar with cyclic battery testing as a way to measure corrosion, first show a slide explaining how the electrical signal would appear without corrosion ( top ) before showing the slide with the actual data ( bottom ). Use parallel design across the explanation and data slides. This way, the audience is introduced to the logic of the experiments and how to draw conclusions from the data, making them more likely to follow and agree with the point made on the second slide. [Adapted from AAE2]

Be Critical of Visual and Textual Jargon

If there are discipline-accepted symbols, for example in fluid or electrical schematics, using them is an effective tool to simplify your visual for people in your field. However, if these may be unknown to a significant portion of your audience, be sure to add a descriptive keyword, label or legend.

Use simple, consistent visual design

A clean set of slides will minimize visual noise, focus the audience’s attention and improve the continuity between what you’re showing and telling. The graphical design is also important for setting the tone and professionalism of the presentation.

  • Are colors related to each other? Do some carry intrinsic meaning (e.g. blue = cold, water, red = hot)?
  • Are you using colors that are well-represented when projected?
  • Are your color choices appropriate for colorblind members of the audience? Can you textures or line/point styles to differentiate data instead?
  • Spread out elements on a slide to use space effectively—don’t be afraid of white space! By limiting the amount of information on a slide, you can control what your audience will focus on at each moment in time.
  • Use your software’s alignment and centering features.
  • When items are grouped as a list, make sure they actually belong under a helpful unifying theme.
  • Make sure all text and figures are legible to the back of the room.

Resources and Annotated Examples

Annotated example 1.

This is a technical presentation given by MechE graduate students for a system design class. 13 MB

Annotated Example 2

This presentation was given by a MechE PhD student during interviews for postdoc positions. 1 MB

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Introduction to Technical Communication

The nature of technical communication.

Did you know that you probably read or create technical communication every day without even realizing it? If you notice signs on your way to work, check the calories on the cereal box, email your professor to request a recommendation, or follow instructions to make a withdrawal from an ATM; you are involved with technical, workplace, or professional communication.

So what? Today, writing skills are more important for professionals than ever before. The National Commission on Writing for America’s Families, Schools, and Colleges (2004) declares that writing today is not a frill for the few, but an essential skill for the many. They go on to state that much of what is important in American public and economic life depends on strong written and oral communication skills. A survey by the Workforce Solutions Group at St. Louis Community College asserts many employers are concerned at the large number of college graduates applying for jobs who lack communication skills (White, 2013).

Good communication skills, particularly in writing, are essential for your success in the workplace and in your personal life. The working world depends on written communication because, within modern organizations, almost every action is documented in writing. Furthermore, many kinds of writing, including correspondence and presentations using visuals like PowerPoint, technical reports, and formal reports are prevalent in most workplaces. And the writing must be good, accurate, clear, and grammatically correct. Kyle Wiens (2012) writes in an article in the Harvard Business Review: “If you think an apostrophe was one of the 12 disciples of Jesus, you will never work for me. . . I have a zero-tolerance to grammar mistakes that make people look stupid.”

Check out this video for more ideas about the kinds of writing that will be expected of you, especially if you are in a STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Mathematics) field.

So How Do we Define this Kind of Writing?

In this text, the word “document” refers to any of the many forms of technical writing, whether it be a webpage, an instruction manual, a lab report, or a travel brochure.

Technical communication is the process of making and sharing ideas and information in the workplace as well as the set of genres such as letters, emails, instructions, reports, proposals, websites, and blogs, which comprise the documents you write. The Society of Technical Communications (STC) defines technical communication as a broad field that includes any form of communication that is about technical or specialized topics, uses technology such as web pages or help files, or provides instruction about how to do something.

Specifically, technical writing involves communicating complex information to a specific audience who will use it to accomplish some goal or task in a manner that is accurate, useful, and clear. Whether you write an email to your professor or supervisor, develop a presentation or report, design a sales flyer, or create a webpage, you are a technical communicator.

Where does it come from? According to the Society of Technical Communication, technical communications origins have actually been attributed to various eras dating back to Ancient Greece (think Rhetoric!) and to the Renaissance. However, we can date writing that communicates technology back to the earliest civilizations, as they documented weather patterns, tool creation and usage, and livestock numbers, but what we know today as the professional field of technical writing began during World War I. The occupation of technical communicator stemmed from the need for technology-based documentation for military and manufacturing industries. As technology grew, and organizations became more global, the relevance of and need for technical communication emerged. In 2009, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics recognized Technical Writer as a profession (STC).

What does technical communication or workplace writing look like? For an example, check out this page from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency about climate change. As you look over this document, consider the following questions.

  • Who is the target audience?
  • What information does this document provide?
  • What task or goal will it help to accomplish?
  • What elements of this document do you think make it useful?
  • Does it solve a problem?
  • What about the style of the writing in this government document?
  • Is it concise and accurate?
  • Notice the annotations in the margins of the document. Based on these notes and your answers to the questions above, would you say that this is an effective document?

This is just one example of the many kinds of technical documents you will work with in this course. Read on for further discussion about the characteristics of technical writing.

Characteristics of Technical Writing

Mike Markell (2015), Sidney Dobrin (2010), Sam Dragga (2012), and others all identify similar characteristics of technical writing and emphasize that it must adhere to the highest standards.

Focused on audience : Technical and workplace documents address a specific audience. The audience may be an individual or a group, and they may or may not be known to the writer. While there is always a primary audience addressed, there may be a secondary audience. Thus, an understanding of the reader or user of a technical document is important.

Rhetorical, persuasive, purposeful, and problem-oriented : Technical communication is all about helping the reader or user of a document solve a problem or compel others to act. For example, the syllabus of your calculus class informs students what is expected of them; the university’s website provides information to potential students and current students about educational, financial, and personal resources. Identification of a specific purpose and audience are the first two steps of technical writing.

Professional : Technical communication reflects the values, goals, and culture of the organization and as such, creates and maintains the public image of the organization. Look back at your university’s website to see what public image it conveys. To better understand this, consider this example from the United States Government:

On October 13, 2010, President Obama signed into law the Plain Writing Act of 2010 (the Act) which is designed to promote clear government communication that the public can understand and use. The Act calls for writing that is clear, concise, and well-organized. Check out this resource on Plain Language .

Design centered : Technical communication uses elements of document design such as visuals, graphics, typography, color, and spacing to make a document interesting, attractive, usable, and comprehensible. While some documents may be solely in print, many more use images such as charts, photographs, and illustrations to enhance readability and understanding and simplify complex information.

Research and technology oriented:  Workplace demands often require technical and workplace writing to be created in collaboration with others through a network of experts and designers.  This teamwork depends on sound research practices to ensure that information provided is correct, accurate, and complete.

Ethical : Technical communication is ethical. All workplace writers have ethical obligations, many of which are closely linked to legal obligations that include liability laws, copyright laws, contract laws, and trademark laws. You’ll learn more about these in the next chapter, “Ethics in Technical Communication.”

Socially just : Finally, technical communication should consider social impact and perspective. Since technical communication is used to convey technical ideas and influences the way in which people communicate through and about technical media, it is hard to deny that our work is not a form of social justice. We are presenting ideas to a myriad of audiences, many of whom are not subject matter experts, which means that we do not always know the resources, education, and ability that our readers can access and understand, to assume their background and knowledge are unethical. Technical communicators have the opportunity to make information and knowledge accessible and understandable, and to choose not to do so is not only oppressive but also prevents unheard voices from taking our progress a step further.

Accessible:  A foundational exigent for technical communication practices is to create access to information and instruction for all users. We use our document design expertise such as word choice and organization as well as our knowledge of software tools to develop avenues that make information easier to understand and use. However, historically this work has been targeted to audiences of the dominant population. With the move to digital communication formats, technical communication practices have had the increased opportunity to consider the access needs of all users across the ability and identity spectrum. Technical communicators are uniquely positioned to use their tools and expertise to continue to develop inclusive environments.

What Standards Should We Observe to Make Writing Successful?

As a member of an organization or team, even as a student, you want to produce the absolute best writing you can. Here are the standards you must follow and some tips to help you. You will also have a tremendous advantage in the workplace if your communication and design skills meet these standards.

  • First and most important, your writing must be honest. Your trustworthiness in communication reflects not only on you personally but on your organization or discipline.
  • Your writing must be clear so that your reader can get from it the information you intended. Strive to make sure that you have expressed exactly what you mean and have not left room for incorrect interpretations.
  • Next, good writing is accurate. Do your homework and make sure you have your facts right. There is no excuse for presenting incorrect information.
  • Also make sure you have all the facts, as your writing must also be complete. Have you included everything that your reader needs? Are you addressing all their potential comments, concerns, and access needs?
  • Your audience has neither time nor patience for excessive verbiage, so simplify and cut any clutter. Good writing is always concise writing.
  • Your document should be attractive and pleasing to look at. Just as you wouldn’t eat a hamburger from a dirty plate, your reader will not be moved by a document that is not carefully designed and professional.
  • Finally, your document should be considerate of all your possible audiences. Clear, well-researched, just, and thoughtful writing is the best way to reach anyone who might come across your document.

In professional contexts, grammar, spelling, punctuation, and sentence structure must be correct in order to be respected. It is also important to recognize these grammar expectations are not stagnant nor inclusive to all writing situations. As with any writing element, grammar, spelling, and punctuations are part of the design choices technical communicators make to develop effective and equitable access to information. Therefore, depending on the context, a single grammatical or spelling error can cause your reader to dismiss you as not professional, as not caring enough to edit carefully.

What’s next? Let’s get started!

Technical or workplace writing is intended to solve problems, seek solutions, and provide necessary information that workers find usable. And to do those things well, you, as the writer, must do several things well.

How do you ensure that your document will be useful to your readers? Of course, you will make sure that it adheres to the standards of excellence suggested in this chapter. But for now, let’s get started with some strategies to make your writing accessible, useful, and excellent!

Here are a few simple things to practice right now. Jakob Nielsen (1997) observes that readers, or users, won’t read content unless it is clear, simple, and easy to understand. The late William Zinsser (2006), author of On Writing Well, emphasizes the same points when he states, “Good writing has an aliveness that keeps the reader reading from one paragraph to the next, and it’s not a question of gimmick to personalize the author. It’s a question of using the English language in a way that will achieve the greatest clarity and strength.” (Zinsser, 2006). As you write, consider the language you are using. Could someone outside of your field understand this wording? Are you providing enough context?

First, make sure your writing is legible. Is the font large enough to be read by a variety of audiences? Is it an easy to read font style that is appropriate for the content? If you are writing for digital distribution such as through email or on a website, these considerations are especially significant including considerations of access to assistive technology such as screen reading devices. If there are problems with legibility or accessibility in your document, it will be of little use to your reader.

Then, make sure your writing is readable. If you have identified and analyzed your audience, you are off to a good start. Readable means your document can be easily understood by your target audience, and refers to the formula whereby words, sentence length, and sentence complexity determine how hard or easy your sentences are to read. If your readability is too high for the audience, then they will either take more time getting what they need from your writing, or it won’t be of any use to them at all. If the readability is too low, you may come across as condescending, if not a lousy writer.

Your writing may be legible and readable, but how well can your audience comprehend, or understand it in the way you intended? Is the reader able to use the document in the manner you meant? To enhance the reader’s comprehension, use language and terminology familiar to the reader, and limit paragraphs to one main idea. Strive for brevity if your users will be reading on tablets or mobile devices. Use visuals such as charts or diagrams to present a lot of information in a graphic format. You can evaluate how easy your document is to comprehend by getting another set of eyes on it.

Regardless of how legible, readable and understandable your writing may be, if your reader cannot access it, it doesn’t matter what you create. Accessibility is a major element of the document design process. Whether you plan to distribute your writing through print or digital avenues, the way your reader will access your writing must be a consideration throughout the writing and designing process. Although accessibility is often discussed in terms of guidelines and checklists attached to compliance with legal policies such as the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act), or Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act, accessibility means ensuring all users have an equal opportunity to engage with your writing. As you write and design your documents you need to consider not just the words but how your reader may engage with your writing. For example, a reader may use their eyes to read your writing or they may use a screen reading device. Your reader may need to use a translation device to access your writing.

The tips and standards of excellence detailed in this chapter merely skim the surface of what it takes to be an effective technical communicator. Throughout this text, you will be introduced to strategies and tools to help you write and design documents that are available to a wide spectrum of diverse users and encourage these users to act Your work as a technical communicator has already begun, so let’s build the skills you already have and learn new ones that will make your work easier and more effective!

Activities for Students

Here are a few questions for you to reflect on after reading this chapter:

  • What are some ways you use technical communication every day? In your personal life? In the workplace? In school?
  • What writing skills do you hope to practice in your technical writing course? What skills do you have confidence in?
  • In your future job, how might you use technical communication?

Is there anything in this chapter that didn’t make sense to you? What would you like to know more about?

Adams’ S. (2014).The 10 skills employers want most in 2015 graduates. Forbes. Retrieved from http://forbes.com/sites/susanadams/2014

College Board. (2004). Writing: A ticket to work…or a ticket out. A Report of the National Commission on Writing for America’s Families, Schools, and Colleges. Retrieved from http://www.collegeboard.com/prod-downloads/writingcom/writing-ticket-to-work.pdf

Defining technical communication. (n.d.). Society for Technical Communication.  Retrieved from http://stc.org/about-stc/the-profession-all-about-technical-communication/defining-tc

Dobrin, S., Keller, C.,Weisser, C. (2010). Technical communication in the twenty first century (2nd. ed.) Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Prentice Hall.

Markell, M. (2015). Technical communication (11th ed.). Boston, MA: Bedford/St.Martins.

Nielsen, J. (1997). How users read on the web. NN/g Nielsen Norman Group. Retrieved from http://www.nngroup.com

United States Department of Labor: Bureau of Labor Statistics. (2016). Technical writers. Occupational outlook handbook. Retrieved from www.bls.gov/ooh/media-and-communications/technical-writers.htm

What is technical writing? (2016). Techwhirl.  Retrieved from http://Techwhirl.com/what-is-technical-writing/

White, M. (2013). The real reason new college grads can’t get hired. TIME.com. Retrieved from http://business.time.com/2013/11/10/the-real-reason-college-grads-can’t-get-hired.

Wiens, K. (2012). I won’t hire people who use poor grammar: Here’s why. Harvard Business Review. Retrieved from https://hbr.org/2012/07/i-won’t-hire-people-who-use-poor-grammar

Zinsser, W. (2006). On writing well. New York, NY: HarperCollins Publishers.

An Introduction to Technical Communication Copyright © by sherenahuntsman is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License , except where otherwise noted.

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Technical Presentations: 3 Ways to Get Better at Technical Communication

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3 Ways to Get Better at Presenting Technical Info to Nontechnical Audiences

Technical Presentations

Here are three strategies that you can use to improve your skill at technical presentations and communication, especially when speaking to non-technical audiences.

This is a frequent challenge I see with data scientists, BI analysts, financial experts, and others from a variety of different technical fields.

Many of these individuals have to present to non-technical people among senior executives , clients, internal stakeholders or other colleagues.

So they have to explain concepts in a way that will be relatable and accessible to that audience.

1. Use Your Old Learning Material

Look at the reading material you used when you were learning these technical concepts for the first time.

How was the information presented?

What kinds of stories, metaphors, anecdotes, and motifs did the textbook use?

How did your professors or online courses explain these concepts?

Once you get 5-10 years into a field, it’s easy to forget how the info was presented originally.

But go back to the earlier material, at least to get a framework and a sense for how the information was delivered.

It’s also great for your empathy and humility as a presenter.

You will remind yourself that there was a time when you didn’t know anything about discounted cash flow, probability, statistics, or machine learning. At some point in the past you didn’t know how to write one line of code.

So going back to the early material helps you put yourself in the shoes of your target audience.

technical presentations

2. Practice Your Technical Presentations in Front of Non-Technical Audiences

There’s three types of audiences that you can experiment with, and get feedback from:

Colleagues that sit in other functional departments: These are people that have no context and no background in your technical field.

Simply ask them for feedback on your presentation and if there was anything they did not understand. You can even quiz them to see if they fully grasped the information.

Children: Believe it or not, practicing your messaging and your delivery in front of children is very informative.

Kids will be brutally honest, and if they’re not interested in what you’re saying, or you’re not entertaining or engaging, they’re gone.

It also forces you to simplify the info and make the technical presentations very accessible for them.

Non-native speakers of English: Look for anybody that is fluent in English but is not a technical expert in your field.

This will force you to speak in a simpler and more accessible way so they can understand what you’re saying.

How to communicate technical knowledge to diverse audiences (without coming across as a know-it-all)

Senior Lecturer Miro Kazakoff addresses hard-hitting questions on communicating technical detail during presentations and writing

Article Featured Image

In a recent webinar on storytelling with data, Senior Lecturer Miro Kazakoff covered some of the tools and techniques you can use to be a more effective communicator within your organization. During the webinar, The Curse of Knowledge: Why Experts Struggle to Explain Their Work , Miro Kazakoff explained why experts are poorer communicators in their own domain than non-experts, how the human brain processes new information, and what all professionals can do to be more effective. 

Following his webinar, Kazakoff addressed hard-hitting questions on communicating technical detail during presentations and writing. Watch the full video Q&A session , or read the transcript below. Join Miro Kazakoff for his upcoming course at MIT Sloan Executive Education, Persuading with Data (April 1 -2) to learn more. There’s still time to register.

Do you recommend using analogies to communicate technical knowledge?

Miro Kazakoff : Analogies are one of the most powerful ways people can communicate technical knowledge. One of the things that happens when we become experts in a field is part of our expertise is based on our ability to generalize, conceptualize, and move away from the concrete.

Analogies can be really powerful because they tend to be much more concrete. They are often a really effective way to communicate to non-technical audiences.

Similar to an analogy (but slightly different) is to use a specific example. Technical people will often struggle with this because a specific example isn't generalized. It may have qualities that don't perfectly generalize. Audiences are much better at going from the specific to the general.

For example, if I were to describe to you someone whose desk was completely empty with just a pad of paper and a pen placed halfway between the top and the bottom of that pad, you would probably generalize – that is a pretty organized person.

But if I told you that someone was organized and then asked you to describe their desk, it is really hard to visualize. Both analogies and specific examples can work really well to communicate to audiences because they are so concrete. One of the ways to communicate better is to use illustrations that are much more concrete.

How do you best correct a non-expert’s misunderstanding of a piece of knowledge in your domain without coming across as a “know-it-all”?

MK : I struggle with this issue. One of the things I’ve learned is first ask yourself – is this really important to correct? I work and study graphs and slides in business communication, and I have learned that if I’m not asked then I should not volunteer my expertise unprompted to somebody else. If you do, make sure that it is an area that they are interested in. Or make sure that it has real importance, other than how much it bothers you. 

More practically, you have to start from where they are. Remember, people often think that other people's misunderstanding is based on the wrong knowledge. Simply, if they are given information then they will change their understanding. There is actually a second component and understanding that's important, which is the idea of a mental model.

People both have a set of information and a model in their head of how the world works, and what that information means (how it is filtered through that model in order to draw conclusions). And so, you actually want to start by getting curious about that other person's knowledge base and their mental model. And with that curiosity, you'll often see better ways to be able to address where either the gaps or misunderstandings in their thinking are, rather than coming in and just trying to teach them a lecture.

That’s not a good idea, unless they have signed up for a lecture … trust me on that one.

What do you do when you realize the audience is not understanding the point you are trying to make?

MK : Sometimes you have done all the planning, you've done all the things right, and you find yourself in front of an audience and it is going sideways . Either they don't understand or the discussion is headed off in the wrong direction. 

One of the first things to do: notice your own reaction. It can be really tempting to overpower the discussion or wrestle the audience back in the right direction. That kind of aggressiveness doesn't tend to work super well in my experience. Instead, you want to:

  • Remind yourself, “it is okay, and these things happen”
  • Let the audience go on for a while
  • Let people ask their full questions and ‘vent themselves out’

Then you have to start over. 

Basically, rewind to wherever you lost them. It can be really frustrating because there's a real chance that you have 10 minutes left in a meeting and 20 minutes of more content to get through, and you lost them 15 minutes ago. 

One of the hardest things is accepting that you can only get people so far in so much time. You have to get back to them later and just continue to work with them over time. I know that is unsatisfying, but that is part of the communications process.

How do you best prepare for mixed cultural audiences?

MK : One of the challenges of mixed cultural audiences is that their context and framework, as well as the way they decode things, can be different. 

The more diverse and the more heterogeneous your audience gets, the simpler your communication has to be. One of the critical things to do (that I don't think people spend enough time on) is really thinking about your audience before every communication to understand: 

  • What are the things that I have in common with this audience?
  • What are the things what are different?

For example, let’s say you are giving a highly technical presentation in your domain field to people from the same domain field but different cultures. Maybe they have been trained in the similar kind of science and technical communication, and maybe they even share the same regional or country culture that you have, but they came up from a sales background versus an engineering background. Different backgrounds can lead to a significant difference in a cultural context.

I have to remember that my audience is diverse and heterogeneous. As a result, the ideas that I am going to express are going to be simpler and more abstract versions with much more focus on the impact. One of the biggest first steps to take is just to think about your audience beforehand, so you can activate the part of your brain that notices that. Over time, as you notice more, you will begin to get better.

If the audience is really culturally dissimilar to you, then you want to seek out someone who can be your translator or your guide. 

Choose someone who is in that culture and understands that cultural context better. They can help you work through which aspects of your communication are going to work and what things you want to think about differently for that specific culture.

How do you translate these concepts from a live presentation to producing something that people will read?

MK : Reading is much more challenging than verbal communication and, in some ways, much easier. One of the ways that it is more challenging is that you have to be much more structured in written than in verbal communication. 

Generally, you do not want to type out your long response to something, or write out a presentation in the order that you thought about it, and send it. When writing, add in a step to go back and edit the structure really carefully, so people can follow. In written communication, you do not have a chance to revise in the middle like you do when you are talking. 

That being said, your audience does get a chance to go back and re-read things at their own pace in written communication. 

While written communications have to be more structured, they can actually have higher degrees of technical detail in them than verbal conversations because the audience can more easily stop and look things up. So, probably take the level of technical detail up a notch for writing compared to what you would present verbally. 

More structure and slightly more detail are available in written communication. 

Miro Kazakoff is a Senior Lecturer in Managerial Communication at MIT Sloan where he focuses on how individuals use data to persuade others. Learn more from during his NEW live online course, Persuading with Data (Apr 1-2) .

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In the fast-paced world of technology, where innovation is the driving force, the ability to convey complex information clearly and understandably is a skill that holds paramount importance. Welcome to our exploration of technical communication, a crucial aspect of the tech landscape that often operates behind the scenes yet plays a pivotal role in shaping our understanding of intricate concepts.

In this journey, we’ll unravel the layers of technical communication, from its fundamental definition to the core skills that make it an indispensable tool for professionals across various industries.

So, let’s dive in and discover the nuances of technical communication that make it an art and science in its own right.

What Is Technical Communication?

Think of technical communication as the unsung hero in the world of tech. It’s like a translator that turns complicated tech into simple, understandable language. This skill is super important because it helps everyone—tech experts and regular folks—get a grip on complex information.

So, what does technical communication involve? It’s not just about writing manuals or reports. It also includes using visuals like diagrams and graphs. And it’s not just about writing—speaking clearly in presentations or training sessions is part of it too.

In simple terms, the field of technical communication is all about making complicated things easy to understand. It’s like being a language expert in the world of technology.

The Importance Of Technical Communication

Technical communication is pivotal in various aspects of the tech industry, and its importance cannot be overstated.

Let’s explore why mastering the art of technical communication is a key ingredient for success:

draft 1 understanding technical communication google docs

1. Clear Documentation

Clear and concise documentation is the key to empowering users with the knowledge they need to navigate and make the most of technological tools. When users encounter a detailed user manual for a smartphone, they not only gain insights into the device’s features but also find step-by-step instructions for troubleshooting common issues.

This comprehensive documentation transforms users into informed and confident individuals, enhancing their overall experience with the technology.

2. Efficient Collaboration

In the dynamic world of technology, collaboration is often multidisciplinary for technical communicators, involving individuals with diverse expertise. Effective technical communication becomes the glue that binds these teams together. Imagine a software development project where developers, UX designers, and quality assurance teams work collaboratively.

Through clear technical communication, such as detailed specifications and regular progress updates, each team member gains a holistic understanding of the project’s goals and progress, fostering efficient collaboration.

3. Problem-Solving

Technical communication shines as a problem-solving tool, providing users and support teams with the means to identify and resolve issues swiftly. Consider an error message in a software application that comes accompanied by a clear troubleshooting guide. This guide not only diagnoses the problem but also guides users through the resolution process.

By offering a structured approach to problem-solving, technical communication minimises downtime, reduces frustration, and enhances the overall user experience.

4. Building Trust

Trust is the cornerstone of any successful relationship, and transparent communication is the pathway to building that trust. In the tech industry, transparency is often demonstrated through clear and open communication about security measures, data protection, and company practices. For instance, when a technology company openly communicates its security protocols to protect user data, it not only builds trust but also establishes a positive brand perception.

This transparency assures users that their privacy is a priority, fostering loyalty to the brand.

5. Continuous Learning

In a field where technology is ever-evolving, continuous learning is essential for professionals to stay competitive. Technical communication acts as a valuable knowledge repository, offering articles, tutorials, and best practices. Imagine an organisation maintaining a knowledge base filled with resources related to a programming language.

This curated collection supports developers in staying updated on new features, mastering coding practices, and keeping pace with industry trends. Through technical communication, professionals engage in a perpetual cycle of learning, adapting, and innovating in the dynamic tech landscape.

Now that we have understood why technical communication is important, let’s understand how to differentiate between the various types of technical communication. 

Types Of Technical Communication

Technical communication is like a toolkit full of different ways to share information for technical communicators.

Documentation, including manuals, reports, and documentation itself are various forms of technical writing.

Each type has a specific job, making it useful in different situations:

draft 1 understanding technical communication google docs 1

1. Written Communication

In written communication, manuals offer step-by-step guidance, reports present detailed tech narratives, and documentation serves as a comprehensive guide for understanding and troubleshooting tech systems.

draft 1 understanding technical communication google docs 2

Manuals: These are detailed guides that help you use a new product or system. They give step-by-step instructions and help troubleshoot common issues. For example, the manual that comes with your new smartphone guides you through setup, feature usage, and problem-solving.

Reports: Think of technical reports as stories about the tech world. They tell you about experiments, projects, or research findings in a detailed way. If you conduct a scientific experiment, your detailed report becomes a story that others can read to understand what you did and discovered.

Documentation: This is like keeping a detailed diary for your tech systems. If someone else needs to understand how things work or fix something, documentation is the go-to guide. For instance, keeping detailed documentation for a software system ensures that anyone new to the project can easily understand and contribute.

2. Visual Communication

Visual communication employs diagrams to simplify complexity, charts to transform data into a visual story, and graphs to represent trends and patterns in data.

draft 1 understanding technical communication google docs 3

Diagrams: Visuals like diagrams make complex things simple. They show you how things work, like the layout of a network or the parts of a software system. For example, a network diagram in an office acts like a map, making it easy for anyone, even without tech expertise, to understand the setup.

Charts: Suppose you’re analysing sales data for a new product. A chart can turn those numbers into a visual story, making it clear which products are doing well and where improvements are needed. A sales chart might visually represent the performance of different products over time.

Graphs: Picture a graph tracking website visits over a year. It helps you see if there are busy seasons or if changes to the website impact visitor numbers. Graphs provide a visual representation of trends and patterns in data.

3. Verbal Communication

Verbal communication includes presentations that combine slides and words for easy understanding and training sessions that offer hands-on learning experiences.

draft 1 understanding technical communication google docs 4

Presentations: These are like talks where slides and words work together. They help explain complex ideas in a way that’s easy to understand. For instance, a tech expert might use a presentation to explain a new software update, using visuals and spoken words to make it accessible to everyone.

Training Sessions: Think of these as learning by doing. They’re hands-on sessions that help you understand technical things better, like coding workshops or system demonstrations. In a coding workshop, instead of just reading about it, you’re guided through writing code hands-on, making the learning experience interactive and practical.

Understanding these different types helps tech professionals choose the right way to share information. It’s like having a variety of tools in your toolbox, and knowing when to use each one is key. 

5 Core Skills For Technical Communication

Mastering technical communication requires a set of essential skills that go beyond just knowing the subject matter.

These core skills are the building blocks for effective communication in the tech world:

draft 1 understanding technical communication google docs 5

1. Clarity And Simplicity

Conveying complex information in a clear and simple manner is like being a translator for technology. For technical communicators, it’s about making jargon understandable and ensuring that anyone, regardless of their technical background, can follow along. Whether it’s writing user manuals or crafting software documentation, the goal or task is for the information to be accessible and user-friendly.

2. Attention To Detail

Being meticulous and thorough in presenting information is a must in the tech realm. It’s about leaving no room for confusion or misinterpretation. When creating detailed troubleshooting guides, every possible scenario and solution needs to be considered. It’s the small details that can make a big difference in helping users navigate and understand complex systems.

3. Adaptability

Tailoring communication to suit different audiences is a valuable skill. From explaining intricate technical concepts to a team of experts to breaking down the same concepts for non-tech users, adaptability ensures that your message resonates with everyone. It’s about using the right language and level of detail for a specific audience, fostering understanding across diverse teams.

4. Visual Literacy

The ability to create and interpret visual elements is like adding a universal language to your communication toolkit. Visual aids such as charts, graphs, and diagrams can convey complex ideas quickly and clearly. Designing engaging infographics, for instance, allows you to visually represent information, providing an overview that is not only informative but also visually appealing.

Understanding the perspective of the audience and anticipating their needs is at the heart of effective technical communication. It’s about putting yourself in the shoes of the end-users and addressing their concerns. Creating user manuals with a focus on common user pain points is an example of how empathy can enhance the user experience, making technical information more approachable and user-centric.

Steps To Follow In Technical Writing

Technical writing is more than just putting words on paper; it’s a structured process that ensures clarity and effectiveness in communicating complex information.

Here are the key steps that technical writers should keep in mind while they are planning technical writing:

draft 1 understanding technical communication google docs 6

1. Planning

Before starting to write, make a plan. Think of it like deciding where to go on a trip. As the French writer Antoine de Saint-Exupéry wisely said, “A goal without a plan is just a wish.” Understand why you’re writing, jot down the main points, and decide how you want to say things.

Consider using the Mind Mapping technique—a visual method where you draw connections between ideas, creating a roadmap for your technical content.

draft 1 understanding technical communication google docs 7

2. Drafting

Once you have a plan, it’s time to put words together. This step is like building the frame of a house—one part at a time. As Maya Angelou puts it, “Easy reading is damn hard writing.” The goal is to make the information clear and make sense, just like making a strong base for a building.

Consider using the Chunking technique —breaking down complex information into smaller, digestible chunks to enhance comprehension.

draft 1 understanding technical communication google docs 8

3. Revising

After writing, go back and make it better. It’s like tuning up a song to make it sound just right. Review and refine the content for clarity, coherence, and completeness. As Ernest Hemingway wisely noted, “The only kind of writing is rewriting.” Check for clearness, fix any confusing parts, and make sure everything fits well together.

Embrace the Read Aloud technique —reading your work aloud to identify awkward sentences or unclear phrasing.

draft 1 understanding technical communication google docs 9

Editing is not just fixing mistakes; it’s making things perfect. Check for how everything looks and sounds. It’s like adding a final shine to make your writing look professional and put together. As C.J. Cherryh aptly puts it, “It is perfectly okay to write garbage—as long as you edit brilliantly.”

Use the Style Guide technique —a set of rules and standards for writing—to ensure consistency of the document design in style, formatting, and terminology.

5. Publishing

The last step is showing your work to others. Whether it’s a manual, a report, or sharing with a team, it’s like letting everyone see the finished product. As Seth Godin says, “Don’t find customers for your products; find products for your customers.”

Share your polished document with the world, ready for consumption.

In the fast-paced realm of technology, technical communication shines as an icon for the creative. From empowering users through clear documentation to fostering efficient collaboration and problem-solving, it’s a superpower that transforms complexity into clarity.

As you navigate this tech landscape, remember that technical communication is not just a skill; it’s the key to unlocking technology’s full potential. Master this art, refine your skills, and let your clear and concise messages guide the way in this ever-advancing world of tech.

By Rishabh Bhandari

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Collaboration, information literacy, writing process, effective use of powerpoint in professional & technical presentations.

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Online course usage has increased since switching to ANGEL

Regardless whether you are an engineer or a writer, a professional or a student, a business person or a scientist, you will be expected to communicate effectively with your supervisors, colleagues, clients, and the public. For most, that communication includes at least an occasional formal presentation.

Formal presentations in the workplace usually take one of three forms:

  • Informational
  • Instructional

Informational presentations are useful for reporting on research or giving a project update. Persuasive presentations can be used to make pitches to clients or supervisors. Instructional presentations, or “how-to” presentations, are formatted to teach, explain, or train.

In technical presentations, like most other genres of technical communication, good visual information design is essential. Visual aids are useful for increasing audience understanding of both the subject and the organization of a presentation.

Presenters should remember they have an array of options for visual aids from live demonstrations to interactive activities to old fashioned white boards; however, presentation software is the most commonly used option. Among the presentation software choices, PowerPoint is widely available and widely used in the workplace and in educational settings. Other software like Presi or Google Slides are becoming more popular and present may of the same opportunities and challenges that PowerPoint does.

PowerPoint can be a very effective tool for students and professionals if it is used appropriately for the purposes of a technical presentation. Unfortunately, effective use of this tool is not as intuitive as one would think considering its prevalence. To more effectively use PowerPoint often requires unlearning many of the common techniques displayed in the typical college class or even in the workplace.

Pitfalls of PowerPoint

Unfortunately, PowerPoint is controversial. Most students have experienced an ineffective PowerPoint presentation. In fact, a 2015 article on the website The Conversation claims PowerPoint “makes students more stupid and professors more boring” (Sorensen). Although this author and others make good points on the ineffectiveness of PowerPoint, others (Horvath & Lodge, 2015) contend that a tool is only as effective as the person using it. PowerPoint does not make students stupid and professors boring; rather, poor use of this tool makes for ineffective presentations and can lead to laziness in both the audience and the presenter.

One issue with PowerPoint is the preset templates and layouts Microsoft provides. These can guide a novice user to make inappropriate design choices that affect usability. For example, reversed text on a dark background can be challenging for audiences to read. Bullet points do not take advantage of the program’s visual potential. Purely decorative designs can distract from functional visuals and text.

Many of the problems with PowerPoint presentations are the result of a tool that is readily accessible being used by individuals untrained in rhetorical and visual design. Fortunately, students of technical communication can implement a change of strategy and follow a few guidelines to use PowerPoint more effectively.

Rethinking Bullet Points

The key to improving your use of PowerPoint as a presentation tool for technical or professional communication is to rethink the usual layout of presentations you have seen. Most poorly constructed PowerPoints have far too much text, usually in the form of bullet points covering, albeit in shortened form, everything the speaker is going to share. Your purpose should not be a mystery to your audience, but the audience cannot both read and listen to what you are saying at the same time. Rather you should treat your slides as true visual aids that primarily use something other than text to support your points.

Every substantive slide should present a visual that illustrates or supports the point you are making orally rather than summarizing or reiterating that point in text form. In other words, instead of the typical topic and bullet point slide layout, a more effective strategy for PowerPoint presentations slides can be to offer a claim and a visual support in the form of a photo, graph, illustration, chart, etc. (Alley & Neeley, 2005; Markel, 2009).

Sample slide with claim/visual support layout

This claim/support strategy accompanied by various orientation features creates a presentation that is free from visual noise, complimentary to the oral presentation, and easy for the audience to follow. Creating a PowerPoint presentation of this type requires significantly more thought and effort than a traditional summarizing bullet point format, but the payoff is worth the time spent.

Designing a Claim/Support Style Presentation

Although no one size fits all prescription exists for building an effective PowerPoint slide set for a professional or technical presentation, students can use the following steps and stratagems to guide their process.

1. Plan your presentation before making your slide set.

Rather than sitting down at the computer and opening PowerPoint to begin preparing for a presentation, you should start with your topic—the information you need share, the points you need to make, or the process you wish to teach—and determine what types of visual aids will best support your purpose. PowerPoint may not be the right fit for every purpose. If it is the best tool to employ, remember that the slide set is notyour presentation in and of itself but rather a way to visually support your claims and guide your audience through the organization of your presentation.

Follow the same process you would for any piece of academic or professional writing. Research your subject, narrow your scope to fit the constraints of the assignment, analyze your audience, and draft your presentation around your main points. Once you have a strong, organized case to make in support of your purpose, you can begin creating the visuals that will most effectively enhance your claims.

2. Design your template.

When you are ready to build your slide set, first prepare a slide template. This step will save you time formatting each slide and create consistency. Although PowerPoint provides many predesigned themes, avoid them. Creating your own template will give you more control and help you avoid some of the poor design choices represented in many of the preset templates. Using the “Master Slide” feature is a good way to design once and apply your choices throughout your presentation.

When designing a slide template for the body slides of your presentation, keep in mind these suggestions:

  • Opt for a white (or very light) background. Although, many presentation slide sets use a dark background with light text, a more audience friendly choice is a light background and dark text. This combination is universally easier to read especially on a screen. Another benefit of a white background is that you can use a wider variety of image files and types without dealing with the white boxes that often appear in JPEG image files.
  • Prefer a san serif font. As is true for reading on computer screens, san serif fonts are also easier to read on the large screens of PowerPoint slides. This is not to say that all serif fonts are unacceptable but rather a good rule of thumb is to prefer a san serif font.
  • Include an orienting footer. Be sure to design a footer on your slides that includes the title (or abbreviated title) of your presentation, the date of the presentation, and particularly the slide number. This information is helpful for you in archiving the slide set or changing it for future presentations, but it is especially helpful in orienting the audience. It is much easier to ask a specific question at the end of a presentation if one can refer to specific slide number rather than trying to describe the visual after a single viewing.
  • Avoid visual “noise.” In Presentation Zen, Reynolds explains the principle of signal-to-noise ratio and the effects of cluttering a slide with too much visual information that is unrelated to a point being made. He says, “There is simply a limit to a person’s ability to process new information efficiently and effectively” (2012, p. 134). In other words, avoid unnecessary design elements and visuals on slide in a technical presentation. This means eliminating meaningless clip art, images, or even an organizational logo on every slide in order to focus the audience’s attention on the visual that supports your claim. In most cases, less is truly more on a slide.

3. Create your orienting slides.

In addition to acting a visual aid to support the claims of presentation, the purpose of a slide set is also to help the audience understand the organization and follow the speaker’s thoughts more coherently. Many slide sets miss this opportunity. First, be sure to create a title slide that introduces your presentation and you to the audience. Next, slide sets, even for short presentations, should include an outline. The audience wants to know where a talk is going and when they can anticipate its conclusion. Your point in making a technical presentation should not be a mystery; tell the audience what you are about and show them in the form of an outline slide. Revisit this slide to reorient you audience in the middle of the presentation or even before each major point in a long presentation.

Steps to fix images for Powerpoint presentations

Sample of an outline slide

Another orientation feature that you should consider adding is borrowed from pedagogical theory: the advance organizer . A good presentation should help audience members connect new information to previous knowledge and understand why the information is important to them. This is also the purpose of an advance organizer.

Simply put, the advance organizer in slide set is a slide (or several) dedicated to visually introducing background or introductory material so the audience is prepared to accept the claims of the presentation. An advance organizer may take many different forms depending upon the type and purpose of a presentation. One example is visual “list” of supplies needed to perform a task you are teaching. Another might be a definition of a subject or an image of a finished product that the presentation aims to demonstrate the process of creating. Accompanied by the speaker’s oral explanation or even audience interaction, these slides help orient the audience and prepare them to receive the bulk of the material more effectively.

Uses for titrations in Powerpoint

Sample of an advance organizer slide

4. Lay out your organization.

With a template created and orienting slides in place, you can now deal with the body content of the presentation. Follow the same form you would in presenting information effectively and persuasively in any medium by including the following elements: an introduction, several points (or claims), a conclusion, and a call for questions. The audience is familiar with receiving information in this way and will become confused or fail to recall your purpose if you do not sum up your points in a conclusion, for example.

Another organizational feature on the body slides that can become a missed opportunity is the headers. Many presentation slides employ single word or phrase headers. Research shows (Alley & Neeley, 2005) that this may not be the most effective format to persuade or teach. Alley & Neeley and others (Markel, 2009) advocate for the use of sentence case headers on body slides that make a strong, clear claim in a complete thought. Punctuating and capitalizing them as sentences is also recommended.

Evaluations should be simple and quick

Sample of a slide using a sentence case header

Switching to sentence headers can be a challenge for students at first—even the student examples provided below do not fully follow this advice— because it is different from what most of us have experienced. However, using it can be effective when bullet points are eliminated in place of a visual support on each slide.

5. Add your visuals.

The final step, and arguably the most difficult, is adding visuals to the slides to support the your claims. Determining visuals that are effective in emphasizing the points, simple enough to comprehend, within the designer’s ability to create, or available to use without copyright infringement is quite a challenge. The following tips can help you begin to design visually based PowerPoint slides:

  • Consider your options. Although challenging to think through whether an idea can be represented graphically, you have many possibilities available that work well in PowerPoint. Good options for visuals include graphs or charts for presenting data, tables for displaying lists (an alternative to bullet points), photographs or screen shots for showing steps in a process, illustrations or line drawings for simplifying complex images or showing internal workings, and PowerPoint SmartArt graphics for demonstrating relationships and processes. These are only a few of the choices available and a few potential uses for each. Once you have an idea of the type of visual to use, you will need to create or find it.
  • Create your own visual. It is always best to create a visual yourself—if you have the programs and skills to do it—because it gives you complete control of the visual and avoids copyright issues. Although some programs for creating visuals are expensive or require specialized skills, others are readily available and easy to use. Consider screenshots, for example. These are simple to create and excellent for demonstrating a digital process. Likewise, most students can take their own photographs at a quality acceptable for presentations. Graphs are easy to make in Word or Excel and transfer into PowerPoint.
  • Use the drawing tools in the presentation software. PowerPoint supplies easy to use tools, such as SmartArt, for creating visuals. You will find these tools intuitive to use, but you must be careful to select diagrams or graphs that accurately match the concept you are attempting to represent. Markel correctly notes, “Microsoft has always done a better job creating drawing tools than explaining how to choose the appropriate one” (2009, p. 126). You must also be careful to avoid design features on these graphics that make them difficult to read and understand. For example, a three-dimensional pie chart can be not only hard to read on the screen but also misleading, particularly if you use color inappropriately. Again, less is usually more; basic designs and simple color schemes are best.
  • Find an existing visual. Sometimes you will not be readily capable of creating your own visual, and will need to find one somewhere else. If you work for an organization, check with the marketing department for photographs and logo files. (They can also supply you branded fonts and colors and perhaps even predesigned company slide templates.) Subject matter experts within your organization may be able to provide technical diagrams, line drawings, cross sections, etc. As a student, you can glean from the Internet helpful images of this kind, but should use them for educational purposes only. Be careful to credit borrowed images, and do not use images without permission for anything intended for a professional setting or for which you or anyone else will gain a profit.

Pulling It All Together

Shifting your thinking about the purpose and design of presentation slides and using the processes and tips provided is not rocket science, but pulling everything together will require careful thought and planning. The following examples show many of the elements discussed here in action. These are presentations created by real undergraduate students. They are not perfect cases, but they offer creative, real-life solutions to the same challenges you will face in implementing this new style of PowerPoint construction.

Powerpoint sample #1

Powerpoint sample #2

In addition to the strategy discussed in this article, students creating formal presentations using presentation software should study principles of good visual design. Also, study of graphic design tools for creating visual images would benefit students who need to present technical information frequently. This article certainly does not encompass everything you need to know about using PowerPoint effectively, but implementing the strategies advocated should dramatically improve your presentations.

Alley, M., & Neeley, K. A. (November 2005). Rethinking the design of presentation slides: A case for sentence headlines and visual evidence. Technical Communication, 4(52), 417-426.

Horvath, J. C., & Lodge, J. M. (2015, June 26). It’s not PowerPoint’s fault, you’re just using it wrong. Retrieved February 5, 2016, from https://theconversation.com/its-not-powerpoints-fault-youre-just-using-it-wrong-43783

Markel, M. (May 2009). Exploiting verbal–visual synergy in presentation slides. Technical Communication, 56(2), 122-131.

Reynolds, G. (2012). Presentation Zen: Simple ideas on presentation design and delivery. Berkeley, CA: New Riders Pub.

Sorensen, B. M. (2015, April 29). Let’s ban PowerPoint in lectures – it makes students more stupid and professors more boring. Retrieved February 5, 2016, from https://theconversation.com/lets-ban-powerpoint-in-lectures-it-makes-students-more-stupid-and-professors-more-boring-36183.

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1.1: Understanding Technical Communication

Learning objectives.

  • Define technical communication
  • Examine why technical communication skills are important
  • Review a sample of technical communication

What Is Technical Communication?

When you hear the term “technical communication,” what comes to mind? Perhaps you think of scientific reports, specifications, instructions, software documentation, or technical manuals. And you are correct. However, technical communication is so much more than that.

Technical writing is a genre of non-fiction writing that encompasses not only technical materials such as manuals, instructions, specifications, and software documentation, but it also includes writing produced in day-to-day business operations such as correspondence, proposals, internal communications, media releases, and many kinds of reports.

It includes the communication of specialized technical information, whether relating to computers and scientific instruments, or the intricacies of meditation. Since oral and visual presentations are such an important part of professional life, technical communication also encompasses these as well. We might define technical communication, then, as using various modes (oral, written, visual) of communication to manage technical information to analyze a problem, find and evaluate evidence, and draw conclusions in a way that allows people to take action. Thus, technical writing is highly “transactional” as it conveys information to enable specific actions.

Why Are Technical Communication Skills Important?

In a presentation on the topic of Co-op Work Term Reports (McConkey, 2017) the Engineering co-op coordinator for the University of Victoria presented the following statistics regarding the importance of communication skills in the professional world of engineering:

The Reality: Technical Writing and Communication

  • 25-50% Problem solving of some kind
  • 50-75% Communicating (Writing and reading reports, letters, memos, proposals, presentations, discussions w/colleagues, managers, clients)
  • Performance evaluations and job advancement usually depend more on communications skills than on technical skills

He added that engineers who are more advanced in their careers spend only 5-10% of their time engaged in problem solving of some kind and 90-95% of their time engaging in related communications tasks:  researching, writing and reading reports, proposals, emails, letters, memos; giving or attending presentations; discussing and meeting with colleagues, team mates, managers, clients, and so on.

Technical communication is “transactional”; it entails a purposeful transaction between sender and receiver that provides specific information for practical and specific purposes (informing, instructing, persuading) and is usually geared towards the needs of a specific audience. Technical communicators produce a wide variety of documents and other products:

  • Proposals and requests for proposals (RFPs)
  • Technical or research reports
  • Documentation records and product specifications
  • User guides (step-by-step instructions, procedures, manuals)
  • Online help, technical support
  • Reference information (encyclopedia-style information)
  • Consumer literature (information for the public about regulations, safety issues, etc.)
  • Marketing literature (product specifications, brochures, promotional literature)
  • Technical journalism (found in trade magazines, media releases, etc.)

What Does Technical Writing Look Like?

Technical communications can take many forms, depending on the purpose and intended audience.  Consider the following example of technical writing, which is an excerpt adapted from a book called Scientific Sailboat Racing (Wells, 1950, pp. 94-96). From the excerpt in the box below, what can you determine the intended audience?

The most common question asked by skippers wanting to get to the windward mark faster than they have been doing is “ How can I make my boat point higher?”   Getting to the windward mark first depends primarily on the skill and experience of the skipper; however, having a well-rigged boat will make a significant difference.  Look for the following, in order of importance:

  • Sails: Have good quality sails, and use the appropriate sails for the wind conditions expected.  No one can win races with poor sails, so use the best you can afford.  Keep in mind that the leeches of all sails flutter a little, the jib will backwind the luff of the main on any full or medium sail, and in very light wind, even a perfectly cut sail will probably develop a wrinkle along the front of the battens.  If the sails are obviously no good, replace them.
  • Mast and Centerboard: Ensure that the mast is far enough forward and the centerboard is far enough back so that there is little or no weather helm.  Make sure the stiffness of the mast suits the sails.
  • Jib Fairleads : Ensure jib fairleads are properly located for the type of jib being used and the strength of wind expected.
  • Cleats: Have cleats for both jib and mainsheet; place cleats so that crew can easily make small adjustments for varying wind velocities and hang on the to the jib sheet without having it pop out of the cleat.
  • Traveler : Have a mainsheet traveler that allows the main to be pulled down without pulling the boom in too far; it should allow the sail to be pulled down tightly enough so that the leech does not fall off without pulling the boom in any further than it should be.
  • Tiller: Have a flexible tiller extension that allows you to sit well forward, but can be adjusted so that it does not get in the way when coming about.
  • Boat Weight: Keep the boat as close to minimum weight as possible.  Clearly, a lighter boat is easier to handle, but this is not as critical as other factors.  If choosing between a lighter crew member with less skill and experience, and a heavier crew member who has greater skill, the latter is usually preferable.

Once the boat is properly set up, a skilled and experienced skipper can point significantly higher than expected by understanding and using wind deflection from other boats.  Immediately to leeward of any boat and extending for a distance of about three mast lengths, there is a wind shadow where the wind velocity is greatly decreased.  To leeward of the bow of the boat there is a very small region where the direction of the wind is deflected opposite to the normal deflection and where the velocity is accelerated slightly (see Figure 34).  Except in the direct wind shadow, the deflection of the wind is more important than the decrease in wind velocity, as the decrease in velocity is very slight except in the immediate shadow of the sails of the windward boat.

Wind conditions surrounding a boat

Because of this wind deflection, a boat on the opposite tack cutting behind another boat will be able to point appreciably higher than it normally would.  Many skippers on port tacks who thought they could clear starboard tackers have been fooled by not realizing this fact.  The deflection of their wind in trying to cross in front of the starboard tacker will enable the starboard tacker to point higher without luffing than he normally would be able to do, and the port tacker who thought he could squeeze by suddenly finds that he cannot (See Figure 35).

technical communication presentation

Exercise 1.1.A: Draft a Technical Paragraph

Reflect on the description and example of technical writing above and consider your experience professionally, academically, or personally. What kinds of documents have you written that could fall under the genre of technical writing?

Write a paragraph or two on a topic about which you have specialized knowledge and use specialized terminology to explain the idea or instruct the reader. For example, you might write about effective techniques for executing a precision cut using a circular saw or streak-plating bacterial cultures. Consider your audience when choosing how to write this. Will the audience have to be familiar with the terminology used as in the above sailing example? See if you can write a paragraph that can uses technical jargon and then re-write for a general audience, using plain language. Adapting your writing style to your audience and purpose is an important skill for a technical communicator.

References & Attributions


McConkey S. (2017, March 3). Writing a work term report. ENGR 120 Plenary Lecture, University of Victoria.

Wells,T. (1950). Scientific sailboat racing. Dodd, Mead, and Co.


Content on this page is adapted from Technical Writing Essentials by Suzan Last, which is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License , except where otherwise noted.

Writing in a Technical Environment (First Edition) Copyright © 2022 by Centennial College is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License , except where otherwise noted.

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What is Technical Communications?

At its most basic, communication is the transmission of information in the form of words, images, and sounds. We string words, images, and sounds together to make meaning and to share that meaning with others. How we form the “strings” depends on audience and context. For instance, how we talk, text, or email our friends and personal acquaintances is usually different than how we communicate with our bosses or coworkers.

You might be asking yourself how a technical communications class is different from other academic writing classes. In a traditional academic setting, the writing classroom tends to be about the demonstration of knowledge—expanding on ideas or documenting an understanding of traditional types of papers or essays (explanatory, argumentative, reflective) with the audience being the instructor. In a technical communication classroom, many of the principles are similar—organizing paragraphs effectively, following the writing process—but with an increased focus on the professional context for communicating information and, therefore, even more emphasis on concision, clarity, and accessibility.

Ultimately, the goal of technical communication is to transmit important information as effectively and efficiently as possible—information that allows you and the people around you to do your jobs well.

The other way that technical communications might differ from your concept of a traditional writing class is that it is not limited only to “writing.” Part of transmitting information effectively is recognizing that we have many options for how we can communicate with our audiences. There are, of course, important written forms, such as reports, emails, proposals, and instructions, but you will also need to use visual and oral modes, such as presentations, videos, infographics, or diagrams. Further, web and social media offer professionals even more opportunities to communicate in a wide variety of formats. An effective communicator knows when and how to strategically deploy (or blend) these modes depending on audience and desired response.

The most important “strategy” emphasized in this textbook is that all communication must be designed with audience and purpose in mind. There are almost endless types of documents and forms of communication that will be at your disposal as a professional. In addition to knowing  what  you are communicating (the information, your expertise), you, the communicator, must thoughtfully consider  who  you are communicating to (your audience) and  why  you are communicating (the purpose).

Why is communication so important?

If you asked a professional to tell what they  really  spend their time doing, you might be surprised to learn that most of their workday is spent communicating. In a professional environment, communication becomes a thread that ties together your expertise, your duties, and your professional relationships. It allows you to first get a job and then perform your job well by fulfilling your duties, learning new skills, and maintaining good working relationships with your colleagues.

Sometimes incredibly knowledgeable people forget to consider the  who  and  why , focusing only on the  what , and this can lead to gaps in communication.

Imagine sitting in a lecture on particle physics when you don’t know an electron from a proton. The professor speaks rapidly and offers no pauses for questions from the classroom and assumes that every student, in every seat, is receiving and processing the lecture in the exact same way. As a student, you would feel lost and your focus would be on trying to keep up rather than assimilating any new knowledge on the subject. This professor, in assuming everyone had the same knowledge base, has caused a gap in communication because of a lack of audience awareness. One of the basic tenets of being an effective communicator is to know how to avoid these communication gaps. By understanding an audience’s makeup (education level, background knowledge, values, needs, etc.) and developing communication—in whatever form it may be—we can minimize the possibility of communication failure.

Engineers, especially, must be able to communicate within their teams and also be able to communicate complex information to a variety of audiences with different knowledge backgrounds. As Stephen Pinker (2014) explains,

The curse of knowledge is the single best explanation of why good people write bad prose. It simply doesn’t occur to the writer that her readers don’t know what she knows—that they haven’t mastered the argot of her guild, can’t divine the missing steps that seem too obvious to mention, have no way to visualize a scene that to her is as clear as day. And so the writer doesn’t bother to explain the jargon, or spell out the logic, or supply the necessary detail.

Essentially, anyone who has developed a specific area of expertise needs to be mindful that not everyone around them knows the same information or even sees the world in the same way. Part of being an effective communicator means recognizing that the process of communicating information is dynamic and creative and being sensitive to your audience’s needs and understanding.

Ultimately, the goal of this textbook is to help you develop the tools and critical thinking skills you need to be an effective communicator in your professional life. While we do address specific, common types of workplace documents, it is important to know that the types of communicating you will do in your professional life will evolve and change over time. For instance, people who began their careers in the 1980’s likely did not consider email writing an important skill, but today it is one of the most-used genres of workplace communication. Whatever happens in the future, a nuanced, audience-focused communication strategy will allow you to evolve and thrive. This textbook is a foundation to help you develop an awareness of the adaptability of communication.

Pinker, S. (2104). The source of bad writing. The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved from  http://www.wsj.com/articles/the-cause-of-bad-writing-1411660188

A Guide to Technical Communications: Strategies & Applications Copyright © 2016 by Lynn Hall & Leah Wahlin is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License , except where otherwise noted.

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  • Carmine Gallo

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Five tips to set yourself apart.

Never underestimate the power of great communication. It can help you land the job of your dreams, attract investors to back your idea, or elevate your stature within your organization. But while there are plenty of good speakers in the world, you can set yourself apart out by being the person who can deliver something great over and over. Here are a few tips for business professionals who want to move from being good speakers to great ones: be concise (the fewer words, the better); never use bullet points (photos and images paired together are more memorable); don’t underestimate the power of your voice (raise and lower it for emphasis); give your audience something extra (unexpected moments will grab their attention); rehearse (the best speakers are the best because they practice — a lot).

I was sitting across the table from a Silicon Valley CEO who had pioneered a technology that touches many of our lives — the flash memory that stores data on smartphones, digital cameras, and computers. He was a frequent guest on CNBC and had been delivering business presentations for at least 20 years before we met. And yet, the CEO wanted to sharpen his public speaking skills.

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  • Carmine Gallo is a Harvard University instructor, keynote speaker, and author of 10 books translated into 40 languages. Gallo is the author of The Bezos Blueprint: Communication Secrets of the World’s Greatest Salesman  (St. Martin’s Press).

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Introduction to Technical Communication

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Introduction to Technical Communication. Outline. What is Technical Communication? Using the Technical Communication Guide Written Communication Oral Communication Conclusion. What is Technical Communication?.

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Presentation Transcript

Outline • What is Technical Communication? • Using the Technical Communication Guide • Written Communication • Oral Communication • Conclusion

What is Technical Communication? “Technical Communication” is a method of sharing information about specialized subjects. This is a broad category which includes everything from assembly instructions for a toy, a user guide for software, a store receipt, or a drug prescription. Most importantly for our purposes, it involves executive summaries, memos, reports, and project notebooks for documenting experiments in the lab.

What is Technical Communication? High School Writing Expository Double spaced Essay format Descriptive Length requirement Technical Communication Informative Often Single Spaced Professional format Concise and precise Short is preferred

What is Technical Communication? Technical Communication Style • Use 3rd Person • Use Past Tense • Avoid Emotional Statements • Use Passive Voice Deliberately • Use Short Sentences • Use Bulleted and Numbered Lists

Using the Tech. Comm. Guide The Technical Communication Guide was created to help students in Engineering 1181 and 1182 complete their written and oral assignments.

Using the Tech. Comm. Guide The Technical Communication Guidecontains: • An introduction to technical communication • An explanation of the different types of written and oral presentation assignments in the class • A description of helpful software tools and grammatical rules

Written Communication The written communication assignments in this class will be relatively simple in the beginning, but they will become more detailed and complex as the course progresses. There are four (4) types of documents: • Executive Summary • Lab Memo • Lab Report • Project Notebook D C B A

Written Communication D C B A A) Executive Summary: This short document (1-2 pages) provides a brief overview of the lab and contains key facts, results, and conclusions. B) Lab Memo: This document is formatted like a standard business memo. Its purpose is to report the data, observations, and results obtained in lab. C) Lab Report: This document is a more detailed version of the Lab Memo; unlike the Lab Memo, its format is that of a condensed formal report. D) Project Notebook: This large document (in a 2-3 inch binder) serves to record your team’s activities and progress through completion of an extensive design/build task.

Written Communication Practice Grading Session • Sample lab documents (i.e. Lab Memos) are available on the course website; please follow instructions and refer to the Tech. Comm. Guide to practice evaluating the documents

Oral Communication Presentation Organization • Title • Introduction to the speaker or team • Purpose statement • List of key points • The main “body” of the presentation • Conclusion/Recommendations • References

Oral Communication Planning Presentations • Audience • Message and Supporting Detail • Purpose • Organization Strategy • Figures/Graphics/Illustrations • Other Media?

Oral Communication Summary of Quality Content Features • Clear Message • Content focused on message • Information is obvious • Titles indicate sequence of topics • Title/text font consistent by information type • Research is cited • Content free of typos, spelling errors etc.

Oral Communication Success Criteria for Delivery • Poise • Voice • Consistent Pace • Eye Contact • Hand Gestures • Body Language

Oral Communication Team Presentation Basics • Establish speaker order • Stand quietly to the side (don’t fidget) • Use a verbal transition between speakers

Oral Communication Practice Grading Session • Sample oral presentations (i.e. YouTube videos) are available on the course website; please follow instructions and refer to the Tech. Comm. Guide to practice evaluating the presentations

Summary Technical Communication is: • Different from High School Writing • concise and precise • composed of short sentences and paragraphs • contains bulleted and numbered lists • Specifically styled and formatted (e.g. Lab Memos) • 3rd person, past tense, and passive voice • free of emotional statements • Used for written and oral communication

Resources Technical Communication Guide: http://eeiccourses.engineering.osu.edu/au2013/1181/techcommguide APA Documentation Format: http://owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/section/2/10/ Poster Design: http://www.ncsu.edu/project/posters/NewSite/

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Introduction to Communication

Introduction to Communication

Course Outline. for the purpose of this course, the mass mediawill be considered:as an apparatus;in terms of behavioural/effects research;ethnographically, i.e. in relation to the audience;in terms of cultural

645 views • 44 slides

Introduction to Communication

Introduction to Communication. Marketing, Media &amp; Communication (T) 1.0 Semester 2, 2012 . A Classical Model of Communication (Linear model) . Message. Feedback. A Classical Model of Communication (Linear model) . Offer Supply Product. Acceptance of offer Pay $$$ for product.

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Introduction to Communication

Introduction to Communication. Lecture 7: Conversation and Conflict. Conversation. Opening Can be verbal and non-verbal but mostly both Feed –forward Open the channels of communication (Phatic communication)

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Technical Communication…

Technical Communication…

Technical Communication…. Just another English class??? Or A necessity for any job in our current times?????.

237 views • 11 slides

Introduction to Communication

Introduction to Communication. Lecture 3: Perception in Human Communication. Learning Objectives. This chapter covers the way perceive people and events and how you can make these perceptions more accurate: The stages of perception Perceptual Processes Increasing Accuracy in Perception.

477 views • 18 slides

Technical Communication

Technical Communication. What is technical/professional communication? What does it mean to write clearly and correctly? What does it mean to write concisely? What is a problem-solving approach to writing? What part does audience awareness play in technical writing?. What is being said?.

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Introduction to Technical Style

Introduction to Technical Style

Introduction to Technical Style. TECM 4180 Dr. Lam. Three considerations, One Goal. Constructing sentences Choosing words Choosing a voice (We’ll talk about this tomorrow) Goal of t echnical writing: Choose a style that is best-suited to your reader’s needs. Constructing Sentences.

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Introduction to Communication

Introduction to Communication. Lecture 5: Verbal Messages. Principles of Verbal Messages. Messages are: Denotative and connotative Snarl words Purr words Vary in Abstraction American films and Indian films. Principles of Verbal Messages (Cont’). Vary in Directedness

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Introduction to Technical Mathematics

Introduction to Technical Mathematics

Introduction to Technical Mathematics. The intent of this presentation is to present enough information to provide the reader with a fundamental knowledge of Technical Mathmatics used within Michelin and to better understand basic system and equipment operations.

1.88k views • 150 slides

Introduction to Technical Analysis

Introduction to Technical Analysis

Introduction to Technical Analysis . By Evan Friscia and Parth Thakkar. What is Technical Analysis. Technical analysis is a security analysis discipline for forecasting the direction of prices through the study of past market data, primarily price and volume.

679 views • 43 slides

Introduction to Communication

Introduction to Communication. Prepared By Dr. Hany Taher Modified by: Dr. Mouaaz Nahas. Text Book. Contents. Contents (Cont.). Contents (Cont.). Comm. System (Cont.). ). that converted by input transducer. Comm. System (Cont.). Comm. System (Cont.). Comm. System (Cont.).

2.15k views • 195 slides

Technical Communication: Introduction

Technical Communication: Introduction

Technical Communication: Introduction. Instructor: Lisa Over [email protected]. INTRODUCTION. TECHNICALITIES OF STYLE. ORGANIZING FOR USERS. DESIGN &amp; USABILITY. PERSUASIVE CONSIDERATIONS. Course Schedule. Week 1 Introduction Technicalities of Style

3.39k views • 99 slides

Technical Communication Introduction

Technical Communication Introduction

Technical Communication Introduction. Dr. Nancy S Freeman Dr. James J Freeman. Introduction. Outline Different Types of Written Communication Introduction to Some Basic Concepts Some Tips Sentence Structure Paragraphs Articles – a, an, the. Introduction. Informal Communication

287 views • 15 slides

Introduction to Communication

Introduction to Communication. Marketing, Media &amp; Communication (T) 1.0 Semester 2, 2012. A Classical Model of Communication (Linear model). Message. Feedback. A Classical Model of Communication (Linear model). Offer, Supply Product. Acceptance, Pay for product.

512 views • 8 slides

Introduction to Technical Communication

412 views • 18 slides

Introduction to Technical Writing

Introduction to Technical Writing

Introduction to Technical Writing. &lt;(“&lt;) &lt;( “ )&gt; (&gt;”)&gt;. Jonathan Frishman. TEKS Objectives. (1)  The student writes for a variety of purposes and audiences. (2)  The student selects and uses recursive writing processes for self-initiated and assigned writing.

605 views • 20 slides

Introduction to Communication

Introduction to Communication. CCSS.ELA Literacy. RST.11‐12.2 Determine the central ideas or conclusions of a text; summarize complex concepts, processes, or information presented in a text by paraphrasing them in simpler but still accurate terms.

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Technical Communication

Technical Communication. - as a service in the IT consulting industry. Anupama Gummaraju. In this Presentation. Why define technical writing / technical communication as a service? Attempt to define the scope of the service Service defined – what next? Challenges

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Introduction to Communication

Introduction to Communication. Common Core/Next Generation Standards addressed. WHST.6‐8.1-Write arguments to support claims with clear reasons and relevant evidence. ( MSLS2‐4)

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Resources and Daily Activities

  • Critical Theory/MRG 2023 Presentation
  • PCA/ACA Conference Presentation 2022
  • PCAS/ACAS Presentation 2021
  • SEACS 2021 Presentation
  • SEACS 2022 Presentation
  • SEACS 2023 Presentation

SEACS 2024 Presentation

  • South Atlantic MLA Conference 2022
  • Dr. Toscano’s Homepage
  • Ethical Dilemmas for Homework
  • Ethical Dilemmas to Ponder
  • Mapping Our Personal Ethics
  • April 12th: Writing Ethically
  • April 17th: Ethics Continued
  • April 19th: More on Ethics in Writing and Professional Contexts
  • April 24th: Mastering Oral Presentations
  • April 3rd: Research Fun
  • Epistemology and Other Fun Research Ideas
  • February 13th: Introduction to User Design
  • Making Résumés and Cover Letters More Effective
  • February 1st: Reflection on Workplace Messages
  • February 20th: The Rhetoric of Technology
  • February 22nd: Social Constructions of Technology
  • February 6th: Plain Language
  • January 11th: More Introduction to Class
  • January 18th: Audience & Purpose
  • Duty Format for Résumés
  • Peter Profit’s Cover Letter
  • January 25th: More on Résumés and Cover Letters
  • Prose Practice for Next Class
  • Prose Revision Assignment
  • Revising Prose: Efficiency, Accuracy, and Good
  • Sentence Clarity
  • January 9th: Introduction to the Class
  • Major Assignments
  • March 13th: Introduction to Information Design
  • March 15th: More on Information Design
  • March 20th: Reporting Technical Information
  • March 27th: The Great  I, Robot  Analysis
  • May 1st: Final Portfolio Requirements
  • Rhetorical Principles of Information Design
  • Prejudice and Rhetoric
  • Robin Williams’s Principles of Design
  • Classmates Webpages (Fall 2017)
  • December 4th: Presentations
  • Major Assignments for ENGL 4182/5182 (Fall 2017)
  • Designing with Color
  • Important Images
  • November 20th: Extra-Textual Elements
  • November 27th: Presentation/Portfolio Workshop
  • November 6th: In Living Color
  • October 23rd: More on Type
  • October 2nd: MIDTERM FUN!!!
  • Beerknurd Calendar 2018
  • Theory, theory, practice
  • September 18th: The Whole Document
  • September 25th: Page Design
  • August 23rd: Introduction to the Class
  • August 30th: Rhetoric, Words, and Composing
  • December 6th: Words and Word Classes
  • Major Assignments for ENGL 4183/5183 (Fall 2023)
  • November 15th: Cohesive Rhythm
  • November 1st: Stylistic Variations
  • Rhetoric of Fear (prose example)
  • November 8th: Rhetorical Effects of Punctuation
  • October 11th: Choosing Adjectivals
  • October 18th: Choosing Nominals
  • October 4th: Form and Function
  • September 13th: Verb is the Word!
  • Parallelism
  • September 6th: Sentence Patterns
  • February 13th: Religion of Technology Part 3 of 3
  • February 15th: Is Love a Technology?
  • February 1st: Technology and Postmodernism
  • February 6th: The Religion of Technology (Part 1 of 3)
  • February 8th: Religion of Technology (Part 2 of 3)
  • January 11th: Introduction to the Course
  • January 16th: Isaac Asimov’s “Cult of Ignorance”
  • January 18th: Technology and Meaning, a Humanist perspective
  • January 23rd: Technology and Democracy
  • January 25th: The Politics of Technology
  • January 30th: Discussion on Writing as Thinking
  • Major Assignments for Rhetoric of Technology
  • February 15th: St. Augustine’s On Christian Doctrine [Rhetoric]
  • Aristotle’s On Rhetoric, Book 2
  • Aristotle’s On Rhetoric, Book 3
  • February 8th: Isocrates
  • January 11th: Introduction to Class
  • January 18th: Plato’s Phaedrus
  • January 25th: Aristotle’s On Rhetoric, Book 1
  • Rhetorical Theory Assignments
  • April 11th: McCarthyism Part 1
  • April 18th: McCarthyism Part 2
  • April 25th: The Satanic Panic
  • April 4th: Suspense/Horror/Fear in Film
  • February 14th: Fascism and Other Valentine’s Day Atrocities
  • February 21st: Fascism Part 2
  • February 7th: Fallacies Part 3 and American Politics Part 2
  • January 10th: Introduction to the Class
  • January 17th: Scapegoats & Conspiracies
  • January 24th: The Rhetoric of Fear and Fallacies Part 1
  • January 31st: Fallacies Part 2 and American Politics Part 1
  • March 28th: Nineteen Eighty-Four
  • March 7th: Fascism Part 3
  • Rhetoric of Fear and Job Losses
  • Pedagogical Theory for Study Abroad
  • August 22nd: Science and Technology from a Humanistic Perspective
  • August 24th: Science and Technology, a Humanistic Approach
  • August 29th: Collins & Pinch’s The Golem (Science), Ch. 2
  • August 31st: Collins & Pinch’s The Golem (Science), Ch. 3 and 4
  • December 5th: Video Games and Violence, a more nuanced view
  • November 14th: Boulle, Pierre. Planet of the Apes. (1964) Ch. 27-end
  • November 16th: Shelley, Mary. Frankenstein. 1818. Preface-Ch. 8
  • November 21st: Shelley, Mary. Frankenstein. 1818. Ch. 9-Ch. 16
  • November 28th: Shelley, Mary. Frankenstein. Ch. 17-Ch. 24
  • November 30th: Violence in Video Games
  • November 7th: Boulle, Pierre. Planet of the Apes Ch. 1-17
  • November 9th: Boulle, Pierre. Planet of the Apes, Ch. 18-26
  • October 12th: Lies Economics Tells
  • October 17th: Brief Histories of Medicine, Salerno, and Galen
  • October 19th: Politicizing Science and Medicine
  • October 24th: COVID-19 Facial Covering Rhetoric
  • October 26th: Wells, H. G. Time Machine. Ch. 1-5
  • October 31st: Wells, H. G. The Time Machine Ch. 6-The End
  • October 3rd: Collins & Pinch’s The Golem at Large (Technology), Ch. 7 and Conclusion
  • September 12th: Collins & Pinch’s The Golem (Science), Ch. 7 and Conclusion
  • September 19th: Collins & Pinch’s The Golem at Large (Technology), Prefaces and Ch. 1
  • September 26th: Collins & Pinch’s The Golem at Large (Technology), Ch. 2
  • September 28th: Collins & Pinch’s The Golem at Large (Technology), Ch. 5 and 6
  • September 7th: Collins & Pinch’s The Golem (Science), Ch. 5 and 6
  • April 13th: Virtually ‘Real’ Environments
  • April 20th: Rhetoric/Composition Defines New Media
  • April 27th: Sub/Cultural Politics, Hegemony, and Agency
  • April 6th: Capitalist Realism
  • February 16: Misunderstanding the Internet
  • February 23rd: Our Public Sphere and the Media
  • February 2nd: Introduction to Cultural Studies
  • January 26th: Introduction to New Media
  • Major Assignments for New Media (Spring 2021)
  • March 16th: Identity Politics
  • March 23rd: Social Construction of Gender and Sexuality
  • March 2nd: Foundational Thinkers in Cultural Studies
  • March 30th: Hyperreality
  • March 9th: Globalization & Postmodernism
  • Jodi Dean “The The Illusion of Democracy” & “Communicative Capitalism”
  • Social Construction of Sexuality
  • Assignments for Science Fiction and American Culture
  • August 21: Introduction to to “Science Fiction and American Culture”
  • August 23: More Introduction
  • August 28: Gender Studies and Science Fiction
  • August 30th: Robots and Zombies
  • December 4: Witch Hunt Politics (Part I)
  • December 6: Witch Hunt Politics (Part II)
  • November 1: Octavia Butler’s Dawn (Part I)
  • November 13: The Dispossessed (Part I)
  • November 15: The Dispossessed (Part II)
  • November 20: In/Human Beauty
  • November 27: Wall-E and Trash
  • November 6: Octavia Butler’s Dawn (Parts I and II)
  • November 8: Octavia Butler’s Dawn (Parts III and IV)
  • October 11th: Zone One (Part III)
  • October 16th: Babel-17 (Parts I & II)
  • October 18th: Babel-17 (Parts III, IV, & V)
  • October 25: Inception (2010)
  • October 30th: Interstellar (2014)
  • October 4th: Zone One (Part 1)
  • October 9th: Zone One (Part II)
  • September 11th: William Gibson, Part I
  • September 13th: William Gibson, Part II
  • September 18: The Matrix (1999)
  • September 20: Hackers (1995)
  • September 25: Firefly and Black Mirror
  • September 27th: All Systems Red
  • September 6th: Alien Other and Worlds Beyond
  • Teaching Portfolio
  • A Practical Editing Situation
  • American Culture, an Introduction
  • Cultural Studies and Science Fiction Films
  • Efficiency in Writing Reviews
  • Feminism, An Introduction
  • Fordism/Taylorism
  • Frankenstein Part I
  • Frankenstein Part II
  • Futurism Introduction
  • How to Lie with Statistics
  • How to Make an Argument with Sources
  • Isaac Asimov’s “A Cult of Ignorance”
  • Langdon Winner Summary: The Politics of Technology
  • Marxist Theory (cultural analysis)
  • Oral Presentations
  • Oratory and Argument Analysis
  • Our Public Sphere
  • Postmodernism Introduction
  • Protesting Confederate Place
  • Punctuation Refresher
  • QT, the Existential Robot
  • Religion of Technology Discussion
  • Analyzing the Culture of Technical Writer Ads
  • Rhetoric of Technology
  • Visual Culture
  • Visual Perception
  • Visual Perception, Culture, and Rhetoric
  • Visual Rhetoric
  • Visuals for Technical Communication
  • World War I Propaganda
  • I, Robot Short Essay Topics
  • Civilization, an Analysis
  • The Sopranos
  • Why Science Fiction?
  • Zombies and Consumption Satire
  • April 14th: Phallocentrism
  • April 21st: Video Games and Neoliberalism
  • April 7th: Video Games and Conquest
  • Assignments for Video Games & American Culture
  • February 10th: Aesthetics and Culture
  • February 17th: Narrative and Catharsis
  • February 24th: Serious Games
  • February 3rd: More History of Video Games
  • January 13th: Introduction to the course
  • January 20th: Introduction to Video Game Studies
  • Marxism for Video Game Analysis
  • Postmodernism for Video Game Analysis
  • March 24th: Realism, Interpretation(s), and Meaning Making
  • March 31st: Feminist Perspectives and Politics
  • March 3rd: Risky Business?

Original Title: The Rhetoric of World Dominance: American Culture and Interventionist Slogans More-Suited Title: The Rhetoric of Saviors: American Ideology and Imperialism Settled Title: The Cold War Never Ended (or Maybe It Just Paused)

Scope of the Presentation

  • “Good Guy” Rhetoric and Ideology
  • American Exceptionalism

Orwellian Faith

  • So-Called Irrational Actors
  • Interventionist Rhetoric and Ukraine

Interventionist Statements in Recent History

  • “When America is engaged … we are a force for peace and stability.” –James A. Baker, III ( circa 1990 )
  • “…take the fight to the enemy in Afghanistan, in Iraq, and across the world.” –President George W. Bush ( 8/28/2007 )
  • “Our relationship serves as a cornerstone for security, democracy, and human rights in Ukraine and the broader region.” — The White House (9/01/2021) & Antony J. Blinken

Unpacking the Rhetorical Layers in the Above Statements

  • Beyond the scope of a 15-20 minute presentation
  • Requires a discussion of historical context
  • With an 86%-90% (Gallup) approval rating following 9/11, he had a ‘god’ complex

Wayne Slater , Austin bureau chief for the Dallas Morning News , co-wrote Bush’s Brain: How Karl Rove Made George W. Bush .

Bush believes very much in the core ideas of Christianity….Now, publicly he’s very, very wise not to say, “I’m God’s candidate”….Privately, he has said those things. He said he believes that he is God’s candidate–that God has chosen him. –General Slater, Wayne . “The Spirituality of George W. Bush.” Frontline.com, 29 April 2004.

Definitions of Rhetoric

  • Cy Knoblauch : “the theory and practice of public discourse, the arts of communication, argument, narrative, and persuasion” (21)
  • Aristotle : “Let rhetoric be [defined as] an ability, in each [particular] case, to see the available means of persuasion” (1.2.1, Kennedy p. 37)
  • Cultural Studies : how meaning is conveyed through concepts, discourse, and artifacts.

Rhetoric of the “Good Guy”

  • John Gast’s “American Progress” (1872)
  • General William “Jerry” Boykin in 2003: “told a church gathering in Sandy, Ore., that foes like bin Laden and Hussein ‘will only be defeated if we come against them in the name of Jesus'” (Thompson)
  • “sacrificed for god and country” (11:53.00)
  • “under austere conditions” and the world’s most expensive military (11:07.00)
  • Jerry Falwell claims “The United States Constitution has as its cornerstone the Ten Commandments” (Winters para. 8)
  • Spiritual fitness in the armed services: “a basic tenet of spirituality: an individual understanding of and experience with that which transcends the self” (38).
  • National Defense University Press (2012)
“An organization that serves a higher purpose and has a moral and ethical culture has the potential to positively influence members’ worldviews, especially concerning purpose, values, and identity.” Sweeney, Patrick J., Jeffrey E. Rhodes, and Bruce Boling. “Spiritual Fitness: A Key Component of Total Force Fitness.” Joint Force Quarterly , vol. 66, July 2012, p. 40.

Lesson from Billy Graham, Pastor to Presidents

  • George W. Bush claims, “Graham’s words planted the ‘mustard seed in my soul’ that eventually led to a decision to “recommit my heart to Jesus Christ” ( BGEA Staff , 2024)
  • “People like Billy Graham framed the Cold War as a moral conflict. It is evil versus good. It is godless communism versus a God-fearing America.”
  • “…he was able to cast his message as one of God-fearing America against godless communism.”
  • William Randolph Hearst “puffs Graham” and elevates him on the national stage
  • “[R]evival of evangelical expectation” following the Soviets acquiring a nuclear bomb: “Billy Graham…assailed the Antichrist of godless communism and warned the wayward of the imminence of Armageddon” (Noble 109).
  • Cafeteriazation of Religious Beliefs
  • The mystical mind is already primed–through immersion or force–to be moved by good vs evil narratives
  • Truth Social video (to 1:30.00): “on June 14, 1946, God looked down on his planned paradise and said, ‘‘’I need a caretaker,’’ so God gave us Trump.”
  • Many evangelicals believe Trump is ordained by god

Barry Hankins, historian and expert on evangelicalism:

“[Trump’s] support has gone from begrudging to enthusiastic. Many evangelicals now see Trump as their champion and defender — perhaps even savior….Unwittingly, in my view, many evangelicals are welcoming authoritarianism and courting blasphemy. Kornfield , Meryl et al. “‘Ordained by God’: Trump’s Legal Problems Galvanize Iowa Evangelicals.” The Washington Post , 14 Jan. 2024.

American Exceptionalism and Its Limits

  • “We believe in American Exceptionalism. We belive the United States of America is unlike any other nation on earth” (p. 1)
  • “…the people, not the government, are the best stewards of our country’s God-given natural resources.” (p. 1)
  • Interestingly, Al Gore, Jr.’s Earth in the Balance (1992) invokes christian stewardship as a way to protect the environment, but laments that “critics have gained currency in part because of the prevailing silence with which most denominations have reacted to the growing evidence of an ecological holocaust. Nor does it help that some religious leaders have seemed to encourage environmental recklessness.” (p. 245)
  • Discussion of LBJ not infusing moralistic terms surrounding the Vietnam War
  • LBJ feared an anti-communist moralism would fuel a McCarthy-esque witchhunt
Support for a war is as moralistic as resistance to it. To endorse a war and call on people to kill others and die for the country, Americans must define their role in a conflict as being on God’s side against Satan –for morality, against evil. Lipset, Seymour Martin. American Exceptionalism: A Double-edged Sword . Norton, 1997, p. 20.

American Rationality and Everyone Else

  • Markets good
  • Consumerism
  • Utility Maximization: “The rational actor chooses the action, from among those given, which maximizes utility” (Simon)
  • Choose based on self interest
  • Knoblauch derives his definition of discourse from Wittgenstein’s (1968) concept of a “‘language game,’ a system of conventions governing the game’s players (speakers, writers, hearers, readers)” (21).
  • Ability to predict behavior (for game theory)
  • Not doing what the United States claims is “appropriate” is irrational
  • Officials use the term perjoratively to denote madness
  • Axis of Evil: Iran, Iraq, North Korea
  • Geroge W. Bush on Saddam Hussein being an “evil doer”
  • Bush saw into Vladimir Putin’s soul… (Robertson)
  • As the US’s irrational actions in Iraq and Afghanistan deepened, Putin wasn’t on board
  • Putin apparently warned Bush that a terrorist attack was coming to the United States (Stent)

Irrational Actors

  • Cuba, Iran, North Korea, Syria (US State Department)
  • Vladimir Putin
  • Kim Jong-il
  • Iran supports a variety of “terrorist” groups with weapons (US Dept of State)

Irrational Actions (what gets you on the list)

  • Anti-tank weapons, assault rifles, training, etc.
  • Being allied with Iran (Syria)
  • Restricting free expression, the press, and the internet, censorship
  • Harsh Prison Conditions
  • Allowing human rights abuses

Righteousness as Absolute Truth

  • Absolutist views of one’s divine guidance create blinders
  • Powerful rhetorical move for those like-minded…entire political parties
  • Preachers, Presidents, Promoters
  • Bush’s righteousness blinded him to the calls from religious authorities (Pew Research Center)
  • Black and Brown groups are “terrorists”
  • White people are … (Byman)

Definition of state sponsor of terrorism, State Dept Assessment of Cuba

“For decades, the Cuban government has fed, housed, and provided medical care for murderers, bombmakers, and hijackers, while many Cubans go hungry, homeless, and without basic medicine.” US Embassy in Cuba. “U.S. Announces Designation of Cuba as a State Sponsor of Terrorism.” 11 January, 2021.

Works Cited

Aristotle. On Rhetoric: A Theory of Civic Discourse . 2nd ed. Trans. George A. Kennedy. Oxford, UP: 2007.

Cole, Brendan. “George Bush Reveals Shock at Realizing Prigozhin Served Him: ‘I Survived’.” Newsweek . 11 Sept 2023, https://www.newsweek.com/bush-prigozhin-russia-ukraine-yaltast-petersburg-1825907

Gast, John. American Progress. 1872. Painting. Chromolithograph created by George A. Crofutt, 1873. http://loc.gov/pictures/resource/ppmsca.09855/.

Gore, Al, Jr. Earth in the Balance: Ecology and the Human Spirit . Houghton Mifflin, 1992.

Knoblauch, Cy. Discursive Ideologies: Reading Western Rhetoric . Utah State UP, 2014.

Kornfield, Meryl, Colby Itkowitz, Hannah Knowles, and Marianne LeVine. “‘Ordained by God’: Trump’s Legal Problems Galvanize Iowa Evangelicals. The Washington Post , 14 Jan. 2024, https://www.washingtonpost.com/elections/2024/01/14/trump-evangelicals-iowa/

Lipset, Seymour Martin. American Exceptionalism: A Double-edged Sword . Norton, 1997.

Moore, James and Wayne Slater. Bush’s Brain: How Karl Rove Made George W. Bush . Wiley, 2003.

Noble, David F. The Religion of Technology: The Divinity of Man and the Spirit of Invention . Penguin, 1999.

Orwell, George.  1984 . The New American Library of World Literature, 1961.

Pew Research Center. Religion News Service. “Religious Groups Issue Statements on War with Iraq.” 19 March 2003, https://www.pewresearch.org/religion/2003/03/19/publicationpage-aspxid616/

Robberson, Tod. The Dallas Morning News . “I looked the Man (Putin) in the Eye and Saw … The Enemy.” 29 June 2010. https://www.dallasnews.com/opinion/2010/06/29/i-looked-the-man-putin-in-the-eye-and-saw-the-enemy/

Simon, HA. “Rationality in Society.” International Encyclopedia of the Social & Behavioral Sciences . Edited by N. J. Smelser and P. B. Baltes. Pergamon, 2001, pp. 12782-12786.

Stent, Angela. “The Impact of September 11 on US-Russian Relations.” Brookings . 8 September 2021, https://www.brookings.edu/articles/the-impact-of-september-11-on-us-russian-relations/

Sweeney, Patrick J., Jeffrey E. Rhodes, and Bruce Boling. “Spiritual Fitness: A Key Component of Total Force Fitness.” Joint Force Quarterly , vol. 66, July 2012, https://ndupress.ndu.edu/Portals/68/Documents/jfq/jfq-66/jfq-66_35-41_Sweeney-Rhodes-Boling.pdf?ver=2017-12-06-115617-820

Thompson, Mark. “The Boykin Affair.” Cnn.com. 27 October 2003. https://www.cnn.com/2003/ALLPOLITICS/10/27/timep.boykin.tm/

U.S. Department of State. Bureau of Counterterrorism. Country Reports on Terrorism 2021: Cuba . https://www.state.gov/reports/country-reports-on-terrorism-2021/cuba/

U.S. Department of State. Bureau of Counterterrorism. Country Reports on Terrorism 2021: Iran . https://www.state.gov/reports/country-reports-on-terrorism-2021/iran/

U.S. Department of State. Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor. 2019 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices: Democratic People’s Republic of Korea . https://www.state.gov/reports/2019-country-reports-on-human-rights-practices/north-korea/

U.S. Department of State. Bureau of Counterterrorism. Country Reports on Terrorism 2021: Syria . https://www.state.gov/reports/country-reports-on-terrorism-2021/syria/

Winters, Michael Sean. “How the Ghost of Jerry Falwell Conquered the Republican Party.” The New Republic , 5 March 2012, https://newrepublic.com/article/101296/falwell-gop-winters


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Update on economic, financial and monetary developments

At its meeting on 25 January 2024, the Governing Council decided to keep the three key ECB interest rates unchanged. The incoming information broadly confirmed its previous assessment of the medium-term inflation outlook. Aside from an energy-related upward base effect on headline inflation, the declining trend in underlying inflation has continued, and the past interest rate increases keep being transmitted forcefully into financing conditions. Tight financing conditions are dampening demand, and this is helping to push down inflation.

The Governing Council is determined to ensure that inflation returns to its 2% medium-term target in a timely manner. Based on its current assessment, the Governing Council considers that the key ECB interest rates are at levels that, maintained for a sufficiently long duration, will make a substantial contribution to this goal. The Governing Council’s future decisions will ensure that its policy rates will be set at sufficiently restrictive levels for as long as necessary.

The Governing Council will continue to follow a data-dependent approach to determining the appropriate level and duration of restriction. In particular, the Governing Council’s interest rate decisions will be based on its assessment of the inflation outlook in light of the incoming economic and financial data, the dynamics of underlying inflation and the strength of monetary policy transmission.

Economic activity

The euro area economy is likely to have stagnated in the final quarter of 2023. [ 1 ] The incoming data continue to signal weakness in the near term. However, some forward-looking survey indicators point to a pick-up in growth further ahead.

The labour market has remained robust. The unemployment rate, at 6.4% in November, has fallen back to its lowest level since the start of the euro and more workers have entered the labour force. At the same time, demand for labour is slowing, with fewer vacancies being advertised.

Governments should continue to roll back energy-related support measures to avoid driving up medium-term inflationary pressures. Fiscal and structural policies should be designed to make the euro area economy more productive and competitive, as well as to gradually bring down high public debt ratios. Structural reforms and investments to enhance the euro area’s supply capacity – which would be supported by the full implementation of the Next Generation EU programme – can help reduce price pressures in the medium term, while supporting the green and digital transitions. Following the recent ECOFIN Council agreement on the reform of the EU’s economic governance framework, the legislative process should be concluded swiftly so that the new rules can be implemented without delay. Moreover, it is imperative that progress towards capital markets union and the completion of banking union be accelerated.

Inflation rose to 2.9% in December 2023 as some of the past fiscal measures to cushion the impact of high energy prices dropped out of the annual inflation rate, although the rebound was weaker than expected. [ 2 ] Aside from this base effect, the overall trend of declining inflation continued. Food price inflation dropped to 6.1% in December. Inflation excluding energy and food also declined again, to 3.4%, due to a fall in goods inflation to 2.5%. Services inflation was stable at 4.0%.

Inflation is expected to ease further over the course of 2024 as the effects of past energy shocks, supply bottlenecks and the post-pandemic reopening of the economy fade, and tighter monetary policy continues to weigh on demand.

Almost all measures of underlying inflation declined further in December. The elevated rate of wage increases and falling labour productivity are keeping domestic price pressures high, although these too have started to ease. At the same time, lower unit profits have started to moderate the inflationary effect of rising unit labour costs. Measures of shorter-term inflation expectations have come down markedly, while those of longer-term inflation expectations mostly stand around 2%.

Risk assessment

The risks to economic growth remain tilted to the downside. Growth could be lower if the effects of monetary policy turn out stronger than expected. A weaker world economy or a further slowdown in global trade would also weigh on euro area growth. Russia’s unjustified war against Ukraine and the tragic conflict in the Middle East are key sources of geopolitical risk. This may result in firms and households becoming less confident about the future and global trade being disrupted. Growth could be higher if rising real incomes mean spending increases by more than anticipated, or if the world economy grows more strongly than expected.

Upside risks to inflation include the heightened geopolitical tensions, especially in the Middle East, which could push energy prices and freight costs higher in the near term and hamper global trade. Inflation could also turn out higher than anticipated if wages increase by more than expected or profit margins prove more resilient. By contrast, inflation may surprise on the downside if monetary policy dampens demand by more than expected, or if the economic environment in the rest of the world worsens unexpectedly. Moreover, inflation could decline more quickly in the near term if energy prices evolve in line with the recent downward shift in market expectations of the future path for oil and gas prices.

Financial and monetary conditions

Market interest rates have moved broadly sideways since the Governing Council’s monetary policy meeting on 14 December 2023. The Governing Council’s restrictive monetary policy continues to transmit strongly into broader financing conditions. Lending rates on business loans declined slightly, to 5.2% in November, while mortgage rates increased further to 4.0%.

High borrowing rates, with the associated cutbacks in investment plans and house purchases, led to a further drop in credit demand in the fourth quarter of 2023, as reported in the January 2024 euro area bank lending survey. While the tightening of credit standards for loans to firms and households moderated, they remained tight, with banks concerned about the risks faced by their customers.

Against this background, credit dynamics have improved somewhat but overall remain weak. Loans to firms stagnated in November 2023 compared with a year earlier – after contracting in October – as the monthly flow of short-term loans rebounded. Loans to households grew at a subdued annual rate of 0.5%.

Monetary policy decisions

The interest rate on the main refinancing operations and the interest rates on the marginal lending facility and the deposit facility remain unchanged at 4.50%, 4.75% and 4.00% respectively.

The asset purchase programme portfolio is declining at a measured and predictable pace, as the Eurosystem no longer reinvests the principal payments from maturing securities.

The Governing Council intends to continue to reinvest, in full, the principal payments from maturing securities purchased under the pandemic emergency purchase programme (PEPP) during the first half of 2024. Over the second half of the year, it intends to reduce the PEPP portfolio by €7.5 billion per month on average. The Governing Council intends to discontinue reinvestments under the PEPP at the end of 2024.

The Governing Council will continue applying flexibility in reinvesting redemptions coming due in the PEPP portfolio, with a view to countering risks to the monetary policy transmission mechanism related to the pandemic.

As banks are repaying the amounts borrowed under the targeted longer-term refinancing operations, the Governing Council will regularly assess how targeted lending operations and their ongoing repayment are contributing to its monetary policy stance.

At its meeting on 25 January 2024, the Governing Council decided to keep the three key ECB interest rates unchanged. The Governing Council is determined to ensure that inflation returns to its 2% medium-term target in a timely manner. Based on its current assessment, the Governing Council considers that the key ECB interest rates are at levels that, maintained for a sufficiently long duration, will make a substantial contribution to this goal. The Governing Council’s future decisions will ensure that the key ECB interest rates will be set at sufficiently restrictive levels for as long as necessary. The Governing Council will continue to follow a data-dependent approach to determining the appropriate level and duration of restriction.

In any case, the Governing Council stands ready to adjust all of its instruments within its mandate to ensure that inflation returns to its medium-term target and to preserve the smooth functioning of monetary policy transmission.

1 External environment

Global economic activity moderated in the fourth quarter of 2023. Tailwinds to consumer spending as a result of tight labour markets are beginning to wane, while past monetary policy tightening continues to be transmitted to the economy. Core inflation continued to decline in the fourth quarter, but further progress might be sluggish as wage growth is still high, remaining above long-term averages. Oil prices rose during the period between the Governing Council’s monetary policy meetings in December and January, amid some volatility, as attacks on tankers in the Red Sea have intensified geopolitical tensions in the Middle East, while European gas prices have fallen amid continued low demand and high levels of gas storage in the EU.

Global economic growth moderated at the turn of the year. The global composite output Purchasing Managers’ Index (PMI) points to a decline in the rate of real GDP growth in the fourth quarter of 2023. High frequency indicators, such as global retail sales, also suggest a slowdown in consumer spending towards the end of the year. This reflects waning tailwinds to consumption across large advanced economies as labour markets are gradually becoming less tight, nominal wage growth is moderating and the stock of excess savings built up by households has been subsiding. At the same time, past monetary policy tightening continues to be transmitted to the global economy.

Global trade growth is expected to improve further, but disruptions to shipping pose downside risks. Merchandise trade growth momentum returned to positive territory in October 2023, amid broad-based improvements across countries globally. Global trade has been supported by the unwinding of post-pandemic factors that had weighed on trade last year, such as companies’ reduction of inventories built up in 2022. However, there are downside risks to this normalisation of trade growth as some shipping companies have suspended services through the Red Sea and the Suez Canal following attacks on cargo vessels. Delivery times are lengthening as ships are being rerouted around the Cape of Good Hope, while spot rates for container shipping have increased, particularly between China and Europe (Chart 1). Although the situation remains highly uncertain, it has so far had much less of an impact on trade flows than the pandemic-related trade disruptions seen in 2021-22. This is due to the comparatively lower growth in demand for goods, higher spare shipping capacity and reduced congestion in ports currently being observed.

Global shipping costs

(indices: January 2019 = 100 (left-hand panel), November 2023 = 100 (right-hand panel))

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Sources: Bloomberg, Freightos, HARPER PETERSEN and ECB staff calculations. Notes: The Freightos Baltic Index (FBX) tracks directional freight costs (for forty-foot equivalent unit shipping container prices) between China and the United States, and between China and Europe, among others. The global charter rate (HARPEX) is the HARPER PETERSEN Charter Rates Index, which tracks the cost of chartering container vessels operating on all routes globally. The latest observations are for 21 January 2024.

In December 2023 core inflation across member countries of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) continued to decline, but further normalisation could be sluggish. Annual headline consumer price index (CPI) inflation across OECD member countries excluding Türkiye decreased to 3.4% in November, down from 3.6% in October, owing to some easing in food price inflation (Chart 2). Core inflation (headline inflation excluding food and energy) also declined in November, falling 0.2 percentage points to 4.1%, but remains elevated. The PMI input and output price indices, which have strong leading indicator properties for global core goods and services inflation, point to core services inflation continuing to be persistent and slow to return to its long-term average. This partly reflects easing, albeit still tight, labour markets.

OECD consumer price inflation

(annual percentage changes; percentage point contributions)

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Sources: OECD and ECB staff calculations. Notes: OECD inflation excludes Türkiye and is calculated based on national consumer price indices and annual private final consumption expenditure weights expressed in purchasing power parity (PPP) terms. Core inflation refers to headline inflation excluding food and energy. The latest observations are for November 2023.

Developments in energy commodity prices have been mixed since the Governing Council’s meeting in December 2023, amid higher oil prices and lower gas prices. Oil prices in US dollars have risen by 10.4% amid concerns that attacks on ships in the Red Sea could affect shipments of oil through the Suez Canal, which serves as a key passage for global oil traded by sea (Chart 3). According to the International Energy Agency, the global oil market is expected to remain balanced in the first quarter of 2024, amid deeper voluntary production cuts implemented at the start of the year by some member countries of the Organisation of the Petroleum Exporting Countries plus other oil-producing countries (OPEC+). However, the supply of oil is likely to be in surplus for the rest of the year, reflecting upward revisions to US oil supply and weakening demand from advanced economies, among other factors. European gas prices have fallen, down by 18.2%, amid continued low demand, with gas consumption remaining below historical norms for the heating season, owing to a combination of mild winter weather, changes in consumer behaviour and weak industrial activity. At the same time, central and eastern European countries made use of their ability to draw gas from Ukrainian storage facilities, which also helped to keep EU gas storage levels high.

Commodity price developments

(left-hand scale: USD/barrel (oil), index: 2020 = 100 (all commodities excluding energy); right-hand scale: EUR/MWh (gas))

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Sources: LSEG, HWWI and ECB calculations. Notes: “Gas” refers to the Dutch TTF gas price. The vertical line marks the date of the Governing Council’s monetary policy meeting in December 2023. The latest observations are for 24 January 2024 for oil and gas, and 19 January 2024 for commodities excluding energy.

Non-energy commodity prices have been stable amid slightly higher metal prices, but lower food prices. Since the December meeting of the Governing Council, metal prices have increased by 1%, driven mainly by higher prices for tin, lead and aluminium. Some volatility was seen in aluminium prices owing to worries about growing tightness in the aluminium market as the UK government imposed sanctions on Russian metals trading, and an explosion at a fuel depot in Guinea in December raised fears of a bauxite shortage that could affect aluminium production in China. Food commodity prices have declined by 1.7% on the back of falling soybean and grain prices.

In the United States, economic growth was expected to show some signs of moderation at the end of last year, following strong growth in the third quarter. [ 3 ] High frequency indicators, such as credit card spending, suggest a deceleration in consumer spending at the turn of the year. At the same time, rising consumer loan delinquencies indicate that household balance sheets are coming under increasing pressure. In December 2023 US headline CPI inflation rose by 0.3 percentage points, up to 3.4%, as the contribution of energy prices became less negative. Core inflation fell by 0.1 percentage points to 3.9%, as core services inflation continued to recede, albeit slowly. Meanwhile, the Federal Reserve System left interest rates unchanged at its December meeting for the second time in a row. It also revised downwards its projections for inflation and interest rates in 2024, signalling that demand is likely to weigh on the economy during the year.

In China, economic activity slowed in the fourth quarter of 2023 as the real estate sector continues to pose headwinds. Quarter-on-quarter real GDP growth slowed to 1.0% in the fourth quarter of 2023, down from 1.5% in the previous quarter. For the year 2023 as a whole, GDP growth reached 5.2%, which is well in line with the government’s growth target of “around 5%” for 2024. The real estate sector is still acting as a drag on the economy. House prices continue to decline, while construction activity remains low, weighing on overall investment. Although consumer spending growth is positive in year-on-year terms, consumption of goods and services related to housing (such as furniture) is still contracting. Meanwhile, annual headline CPI inflation rates remained in negative territory in the fourth quarter, with prices falling by 0.3% in December, owing primarily to lower food prices. By contrast, annual core inflation remained positive at 0.6% in the same month. In the near term, inflationary pressures are likely to remain subdued, reflecting low food prices alongside weak domestic and external demand.

In Japan, consumer spending is showing signs of a modest recovery, while inflationary pressures persist. Economic activity indicators point to a gradual strengthening of domestic demand, as consumer confidence is improving amid expectations of higher wages. Nevertheless, uncertainty related to the economic impact of the New Year’s Day earthquake in central Japan prevails, but at this stage supply chain disruptions appear to be relatively limited. Meanwhile, headline consumer price inflation slowed in December to 2.6%, down from 2.8% in the previous month. At the same time, core inflation picked up slightly by 0.1 percentage points, to reach 2.8% in December, signalling persistent underlying price pressures. While the Bank of Japan kept its policy rate unchanged in December, a shift towards a tighter monetary policy stance in 2024 is widely expected.

In the United Kingdom, economic activity remains modest, while inflation is expected to ease further. GDP growth in the third quarter of 2023 was revised downwards to ‑0.1% in quarter-on-quarter terms. Recent high frequency data signal greater resilience, suggesting that GDP growth improved modestly in the fourth quarter of the year. Looking ahead, economic activity is expected to remain subdued in the coming quarters, as past monetary policy tightening and higher financing costs for firms are expected to weigh on demand. However, a recent fall in mortgage rates has stimulated new mortgage borrowing and could boost consumer spending to some extent. Headline CPI inflation surprised mildly on the upside in December, rising by 0.1 percentage points year on year, up to 4.0%, having fallen sharply in previous months. Inflation is expected to continue to decline in the months ahead, albeit more slowly, as pressures stemming from still elevated wage growth are expected to persist, reflecting continued tightness in the labour market.

2 Economic activity

The euro area economy is likely to have stagnated in the final quarter of 2023, following a year of broadly flat growth. [ 4 ] This comes on the back of the prolonged weakness in global trade and of strong monetary policy transmission. Incoming data show signs of a modest strengthening of growth in the first quarter of 2024. The labour market remains resilient, although more recent indicators suggest signs of cooling following the protracted period of weak economic activity. The euro area economy is expected to start gradually improving over the course of this year. Growth is expected to be supported by rising real disposable income, which in turn should benefit from declining inflation and robust wage growth. At the same time, exports should catch up with improvements in foreign demand.

Euro area real GDP growth is expected to have remained weak in the final quarter of 2023 . The euro area economy contracted slightly in the third quarter of 2023 (Chart 4), following a period of stagnation over the past year. Changes in inventories were the main negative driver behind the third quarter outcome. Domestic demand contributed positively, while net trade had a neutral impact. Incoming data for the fourth quarter point to continued weak output growth. In October and November 2023, euro area industrial production stood 1.2% below its average level for the third quarter, a decline that was widespread across various industrial sectors. Moreover, services production shrank by 0.9% month on month in October, to stand 0.7% below its third-quarter average, indicating that the feeble growth dynamics spread throughout the economy. More timely survey data, encompassing the full fourth quarter, corroborate this picture of slow growth – or even falling output – during that period. The composite output Purchasing Managers’ Index (PMI) for the euro area declined from 47.5 in the third quarter to 47.2 in the fourth quarter, but recovered from 46.5 in October to 47.6 in December 2023, reflecting developments in both industry and services (see Box 2 ).

Euro area real GDP, composite output PMI and ESI

(left-hand scale: quarter-on-quarter percentage changes; right-hand scale: diffusion index)

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Sources: Eurostat, European Commission, S&P Global Market Intelligence and ECB calculations. Notes: The two lines indicate monthly developments; the bars show quarterly data. The European Commission’s Economic Sentiment Indicator (ESI) has been standardised and rescaled to have the same mean and standard deviation as the composite output PMI. The latest observations are for the third quarter of 2023 for real GDP, December 2023 for the ESI and January 2024 for the composite output PMI.

Although euro area output growth remains weak, it is expected to show some improvement at the beginning of 2024. PMI data for January show continued weakness at the beginning of the year, on the back of the growing impact of weak global trade and of strong monetary policy transmission. However, the composite output PMI improved slightly, further reflecting a robust increase in manufacturing output, alongside a small decline in services sector business activity (Chart 5). New orders for both the manufacturing and services sectors continued to increase between December 2023 and January 2024, signalling a slight improvement in the first quarter of this year. The main findings from the ECB’s recent contacts with non-financial companies (see Box 3 ) also suggest that growth will gradually strengthen. In the same vein, the results from the most recent ECB Survey of Professional Forecasters (conducted in January) indicate that economic activity will slowly start to recover in the first quarter of 2024.

PMI indicators across sectors of the economy

Source: S&P Global Market Intelligence. Note: The latest observations are for January 2024.

The labour market remains resilient, albeit recent indicators signal a cooling following weaker economic activity. Employment growth continued to be robust in the third quarter of the year, at a quarterly rate of 0.2%. The rise in employment levels masked a decline in working hours as a result of continued high levels of sick leave and some labour hoarding. As the labour force continued to grow, the unemployment rate returned to its lowest level since the beginning of the euro, standing at 6.4% in November, down from 6.5% in October 2023 (Chart 6). Recent short-term indicators suggest a further loss of momentum in job creation amid weaker economic developments overall. In the same vein, the PMI employment indicator for the whole economy suggests a slowdown in employment dynamics in the second half of 2023. According to the flash estimate, the PMI for employment in January stood at 50.1, slightly above its neutral value of 50. In terms of the different sectors, this estimate suggests that employment has been declining in the manufacturing sector but has continued to moderately increase in the services sector. The improvement compared with December 2023 notwithstanding, the PMI composite employment indicator has, overall, followed a downward trend since April 2023. Contacts from the corporate telephone survey reported weaker employment growth in the fourth quarter of 2023. An increasing number of firms reported slight reductions in employment rates overall, mainly as a result of not replacing staff who had either retired or left the company.

Euro area employment, the PMI assessment of employment and the unemployment rate

(left-hand scale: quarter-on-quarter percentage changes, diffusion index; right-hand scale: percentages of the labour force)

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Sources: Eurostat, S&P Global Market Intelligence and ECB calculations. Notes: The two lines indicate monthly developments; the bars show quarterly data. The PMI is expressed in terms of the deviation from 50 divided by 10. The latest observations are for the third quarter of 2023 for employment, January 2024 for the PMI assessment of employment and November 2023 for the unemployment rate.

Private consumption growth remained weak in the last quarter of 2023, reflecting continued subdued spending on goods. This was indicated by the ongoing weakness in retail sales volumes, which in October and November stood, on average, at the same level as in the third quarter of 2023. At the same time, in the fourth quarter of 2023, new passenger car registrations stood 0.6% below their third-quarter level, after a strong recovery in the third quarter resulting mainly from orders of electric cars that had previously been delayed. While the European Commission’s indicator for consumer confidence improved further in December, it remains well below its long-term average.

Incoming survey data continue to point to overall weakness in spending on goods alongside strong spending on services at the beginning of the year. The Commission’s indicators for expected retail trade business and for expected major purchases by consumers remained subdued in December 2023, despite a small improvement in the latter. By contrast, there was no strong downward correction in expected demand for contact-intensive services, which continued to hold up in December, remaining above its historical average (Chart 7). Similarly, the ECB’s Consumer Expectations Survey for December suggests resilient expected demand for holiday bookings. Likewise, the ECB’s recent contacts with the non-financial sector indicate that demand for contact-intensive services is likely to remain relatively strong, while demand for goods, particularly durable goods, is expected to remain weak. The transmission of tighter financing conditions to the real economy is likely to continue to curb household borrowing, resulting in high savings and keeping consumer spending growth subdued in the near term. At the same time, consumer spending should benefit from improving purchasing power on the back of falling inflation and a still resilient labour market.

Expectations for the production of consumer goods, retail trade business and services demand

(percentage balances)

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Sources: European Commission and ECB calculations. Notes: “Contact-intensive services” refers to the weighted average of accommodation, food and travel services. The latest observations are for December 2023.

Business investment growth is likely to have slowed in the fourth quarter amid weak demand and tight financing conditions. Following an increase of 0.5%, quarter on quarter, in the third quarter of 2023, subdued capital goods indicators suggest that business investment growth, excluding intangible investment in Ireland, is set to have weakened in the fourth quarter. At the same time, while PMI new orders remained in contractionary territory in the fourth quarter of 2023, the existing stock of orders still assured capital goods production for a longer period than they did in pre-pandemic times, according to the European Commission’s business and consumer survey (Chart 8, panel a). This may have supported investment at the end of last year. At the same time, bankruptcies in the euro area increased in the first three quarters of 2023 compared with the same period in 2022, albeit from low levels. This came as policy support related to the pandemic and energy crises was phased out and financing conditions tightened. Such corporate vulnerabilities, together with weak demand and high uncertainty about geopolitical and financing conditions, could weigh on investment this year, as suggested by the weaker investment outlook reported by corporate contacts (see Box 5 ).

Business and housing investment and short-term indicators

a) Business investment

(quarter-on-quarter percentage changes, deviations from the mean)

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b) Housing investment

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Sources: Eurostat, European Commission, S&P Global Market Intelligence and ECB calculations. Notes: The lines indicate monthly developments; the bars show quarterly data. Business investment is proxied by non-construction investment and excludes Irish intellectual property products. Business investment and PMI new orders for capital goods are expressed as deviations from the 1999-2019 average. Months of assured capital goods production out of existing orders are expressed as deviations from the 1999-2019 average. The latest observations are for the third quarter of 2023 for investment, the fourth quarter of 2023 for the months of assured production and December 2023 for the other variables. The index for building construction production is computed as the percentage change over the average level in the previous quarter. The European Commission’s index for building construction activity over the past three months is calculated as the change from the average level in the fourth quarter of 2021. The PMI for housing (i.e. residential construction) output is expressed as deviations from 50. The latest observations are for the third quarter of 2023 for housing investment, November 2023 for building construction and December 2023 for the other variables.

Housing investment is likely to have fallen further in the fourth quarter of 2023, as shown by hard and soft indicators. Building construction output – a leading indicator for housing investment – fell by an average of 1.1% in October and November compared with its average level in the third quarter. In addition, survey-based activity measures, such as the European Commission's indicator for building construction activity in the last three months and the PMI for residential construction, remained in contractionary territory until December 2023, although they improved slightly in the last two months of the fourth quarter of the year (Chart 8, panel b). According to the European Commission business and consumer survey on factors limiting construction activity, insufficient demand was cited by firms more frequently in the fourth quarter than in the third quarter of 2023 and remained the most cited factor, followed by labour shortages. Building permits for residential buildings (measured by floor space) increased in September but continued to fall significantly overall in the third quarter after five consecutive quarters of decline. This sustained downward trend in building permits indicates that the momentum in housing investment is likely to remain weak in the near future, which is consistent with subdued household borrowing for house purchases.

Euro area trade momentum remained subdued at the end of the year. In November, extra-euro area goods export volumes contracted by 0.4% in three-month-on-three-month terms. While the easing of supply bottlenecks continued to provide some support, exports were dragged down by weak foreign demand and reduced competitiveness related to the past appreciation of the euro, as well as the energy shock which is still weighing on some sectors. At the same time, the global inventory cycle has also had an impact on export demand (see Box 1 ). Looking ahead, as global activity recovers and the inventory drawdown diminishes, the drag on euro area exports should gradually fade. In the near term, forward-looking indicators – for both goods and services exports – still point to moderation. Moreover, the situation in the Red Sea poses additional downside risks to the outlook. Extra-euro area goods import volumes contracted again by 2.4%, three-month on three-month, following a weakening of activity and a sharp destocking of inventories in the euro area.

Beyond the near term, GDP growth is expected to gradually strengthen. The euro area economy is expected to start steadily improving over the course of this year. Growth should be supported by rising real disposable income, which in turn should benefit from declining inflation and robust wage growth. In addition, exports should catch up with improvements in foreign demand. The gradually fading impact of the ECB’s monetary policy tightening and of adverse credit supply conditions should also support this recovery over the medium term.

3 Prices and costs

Euro area headline inflation rose to 2.9% in December from 2.4% in November 2023 due to energy-related base effects, although the rebound was weaker than expected and the declining trend in underlying inflation continued. [ 5 ] Inflation excluding energy and food declined again, from 3.6% in November to 3.4% in December, driven by the decline in goods inflation. Almost all measures of underlying inflation decreased further in December. The elevated rate of wage increases and falling labour productivity are keeping domestic price pressures high, although these too have started to ease. Measures of longer-term inflation expectations stand at around 2%, while measures of shorter-term expectations have come down markedly.

Euro area headline inflation rose to 2.9% in December from 2.4% in November, after falling substantially during the course of the year (Chart 9). The increase was driven by a less negative energy inflation rate, mainly due to base effects. Meanwhile food inflation and HICP inflation excluding energy and food declined further.

Headline inflation and its main components

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Sources: Eurostat and ECB calculations. Notes: NEIG stands for non-energy industrial goods. The latest observations are for December 2023.

As expected, energy inflation saw an increase in December, but the change to -6.7% from -11.5% in November was smaller than anticipated. The main driver of the less negative annual rate of change was a large base effect. This was related to both the one-off gas support measures in Germany and a substantial drop in fuel prices in December 2022.

Food inflation continued to decline, to 6.1% in December from 6.9% in November, but remained elevated (Chart 10). The decrease was driven by slower dynamics in processed food prices (5.9% year-on-year growth after 7.1% in November). This reflected declines in energy costs and food commodity prices as measured by, for instance, euro area farm gate prices. While unprocessed food price inflation increased from 6.3% in November to 6.8% in December, this reflected a base effect from developments one year earlier rather than the latest price dynamics.

HICP inflation excluding energy and food (HICPX) decreased further from 3.6% in November to 3.4% in December. In terms of components, non-energy industrial goods (NEIG) inflation declined from 2.9% to 2.5%, reflecting the gradually fading impact of past shocks. Services inflation was unchanged at 4.0% in December. The relatively greater persistence in services inflation is in line with strong wage growth and the more prominent role that labour costs play in the production of services.

Energy and food input costs, and HICP food prices

(annual percentage changes)

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Source: Eurostat. Note: The latest observations are for November 2023 for the producer price indices and December 2023 for euro area farm gate prices and HICP food inflation.

Producer and import price pressures continued to remain negative across all main industrial categories (Chart 11). At the early stages of the pricing chain, producer price inflation for domestic sales of intermediate goods was negative and unchanged (-5.3% in November and October). The annual growth rates of import prices for intermediate goods also remained significantly negative, although slightly less so than in the previous month (-7.8% after -8.3% in October). At the later stages of the pricing chain, the annual growth rates of producer prices for non-food consumer goods continued to decline to 2.7% in November, down from 3.0% in October, reaching the lowest level since September 2021. Import price growth for non-food consumer goods edged down from -0.4% to -0.6%. The same unwinding tendencies hold for producer prices and import prices in the manufactured consumer goods segment, confirming the general gradual easing of pipeline pressures on consumer goods prices.

Indicators of pipeline pressures

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Sources: Eurostat and ECB calculations. Note: The latest observations are for November 2023.

Measures of underlying inflation in the euro area continued to decrease, as the impact from past shocks fades and demand eases amid tighter monetary policy (Chart 12). The range has been declining and narrowing since July 2023, but remains relatively high, as the impact of past shocks has yet to fully dissipate for most measures. The Persistent and Common Component of Inflation (PCCI) remained at the bottom of the range, declining further to 1.9% in December. HICPXX inflation (HICPX excluding travel-related items, clothing and footwear) decreased at the same rate as the HICPX, to 3.4% in December from 3.6% in November. The Supercore indicator, which includes cyclically sensitive HICP items, continued its decline from 4.4% in November to 4.0% in December, but remains relatively high. Domestic inflation (comprising items with a low import content) is also moderating from more elevated levels than other measures. It declined to 4.5% in December from 4.7% in November. The higher level and more gradual easing of this indicator primarily reflects the large share of services items included in it, particularly those sensitive to wage pressures.

Indicators of underlying inflation

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Sources: Eurostat and ECB calculations. Notes: The range of indicators of underlying inflation includes HICP excluding energy, HICP excluding energy and unprocessed food, HICPX, HICPXX, domestic inflation, 10% and 30% trimmed means, PCCI, the Supercore indicator and a weighted median. The grey dashed line represents the ECB’s inflation target of 2% over the medium term. The latest observations are for December 2023.

Wage growth measures had been moving broadly sideways recently, at elevated levels. The latest available data refer to the third quarter of 2023 and show an increase in the annual growth rate of negotiated wages to 4.7% from 4.4% in the second quarter of 2023. The forward-looking wage trackers signal continued high wage pressures, although with some tentative signs of a cooling down by the end of 2023. Actual wage growth, as measured by compensation per employee and compensation per hour, decreased in the third quarter of 2023 to 5.3% and 5.2% respectively, down from 5.5% and 5.3% in the second quarter. Labour costs meanwhile account for the largest contribution to domestic price pressures, as measured by the annual growth rate of the GDP deflator, while the contribution of unit profits weakened in the third quarter of 2023 from a historical high in the first half of the year.

Most survey-based indicators of longer-term inflation expectations in the euro area, as well as market-based measures of inflation compensation adjusted for risk premia, are at around 2% (Chart 13). The ECB Survey of Professional Forecasters (SPF) for the first quarter of 2024 sees average longer-term inflation expectations (for 2028) at 2.0%, revised downward from 2.1% in the fourth quarter of 2023. Longer-term inflation expectations also stood at 2.0% in the January 2024 Consensus Economics survey. The median longer-term expectations remained unchanged at 2.0% in the January 2024 ECB Survey of Monetary Analysts (SMA). In the ECB Consumer Expectations Survey (CES) for December 2023, median expectations over the next year decreased from 3.2% in November to 3.1% in December, while those for three years ahead rose to 2.4%, up from 2.2%. [ 6 ] With regard to perceptions of past inflation, they did not follow the decline in HICP inflation between June and October 2023. However, they eased considerably from October 2023 onwards, with the median declining from 8.0% in September to 6.2% in December. Euro area market-based measures of inflation compensation (based on the HICP excluding tobacco) stayed broadly unchanged between mid-December 2023 and 24 January 2024 after decreasing substantially over the preceding months. At the short end of the yield curve, the one-year forward inflation-linked swap (ILS) rate one year ahead stood at around 2.1% in late January, down by 9 basis points from the levels prevailing in mid-December. Meanwhile the euro area five-year forward ILS rate five years ahead stayed broadly unchanged at 2.3%. However, it should be noted that these market-based measures of inflation compensation are not a direct gauge of the genuine inflation expectations of market participants, as these measures include inflation risk premia, which compensate for inflation risks.

Headline inflation, inflation projections and expectations

a) Headline inflation, survey-based indicators of inflation expectations, inflation projections and market-based measures of inflation compensation

technical communication presentation

b) Headline inflation and ECB Consumer Expectations Survey

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Sources: Eurostat, Refinitiv, Consensus Economics, CES, SPF, SMA, Eurosystem staff macroeconomic projections for the euro area, December 2023 , and ECB calculations. Notes: The market-based measures of inflation compensation series are based on the one-year spot inflation rate, the one-year forward rate one year ahead, the one-year forward rate two years ahead and the one-year forward rate three years ahead. The observations for market-based measures of inflation compensation are for 24 January 2024. Inflation fixings are swap contracts linked to specific monthly releases in euro area year-on-year HICP inflation ex. tobacco. The SPF for the first quarter of 2024 was conducted between 5 and 10 January 2024. The cut-off date for the Consensus Economics long-term forecasts was January 2024. For the CES, dashed lines represent the mean and solid lines the median. The cut-off date for data included in the Eurosystem staff macroeconomic projections was 23 November 2023. The latest observations are for December 2023.

4 Financial market developments

Over the review period (14 December 2023 to 24 January 2024), developments in the euro area financial markets reflected evolving policy rate expectations as markets continued to focus on the pace of disinflation and the expected monetary policy adjustments. Following the Governing Council’s widely expected monetary policy decision in December 2023 to leave the key ECB policy rates unchanged, the short end of the euro area risk-free curve varied only marginally over the review period, reflecting stable expectations for no change in ECB policy rates at the January meeting. By contrast, policy rate expectations over longer horizons fluctuated more markedly, but ended the review period close to their mid-December levels. Sovereign bond yields in the euro area moved in line with risk-free rates, which increased slightly, and the announcement made at the December meeting to start gradually reducing pandemic emergency purchase programme (PEPP) reinvestments by mid-2024 had no visible impact on sovereign yields. Equity prices remained range bound as declines in earnings expectations were offset by a reduction in the equity risk premium. Euro area corporate bond markets were broadly unchanged, with some decline in the high-yield segment. In foreign exchange markets, the euro appreciated slightly in trade-weighted terms.

Euro area near-term risk-free rates ended the review period broadly in line with the levels prevailing around the time of the December Governing Council meeting. The euro short-term rate (€STR) averaged 3.90% over the review period. Excess liquidity decreased by around €63 billion to stand at €3,521 billion. The overnight index swap (OIS) forward curve, which is based on the benchmark €STR, remained stable for short-term maturities after the Governing Council’s widely expected monetary policy decision in December to keep the key ECB policy rates unchanged. Short-term forward rates for horizons beyond the January 2024 Governing Council meeting were, however, subject to heightened volatility over the review period as markets continued to focus on the pace of disinflation and the expected monetary policy adjustments. Overall, the priced probability of a first rate cut in March and April 2024 edged down. At the end of the review period markets had fully priced in a rate cut of 25 basis points for June and cumulative rate cuts of 133 basis points by the end of 2024. Euro area longer-term risk-free rates increased slightly in the review period, after falling in the days following the December Governing Council meeting and returning to their previous levels in the first weeks of 2024. The euro area ten-year nominal risk-free rate, for instance, decreased to 2.2% at the end of December before rebounding to around 2.5%, ending the review period with an overall increase of 16 basis points.

Long-term sovereign bond yields moved broadly in line with risk-free rates amid overall stable sovereign spreads (Chart 14). On 24 January the euro area GDP-weighted average ten-year sovereign bond yield stood at around 2.9%, around 19 basis points above its level at the beginning of the review period. Sovereign spread movements across euro area jurisdictions were closely contained throughout the review period, and the announcement at the December 2023 meeting to start gradually reducing PEPP reinvestments by mid-2024 did not appear to leave a notable mark. The increase in euro area long-term rates followed similar dynamics globally: the ten-year US sovereign bond yield increased by 26 basis points to stand at 4.2%, and the UK sovereign bond yield rose by 23 basis points to 4.0%.

Ten-year sovereign bond yields and the ten-year OIS rate based on the €STR

(percentages per annum)

technical communication presentation

Sources: LSEG and ECB calculations. Notes: The vertical grey lines denote the start of the review period on 14 December 2023. The latest observations are for 24 January 2024.

Corporate bond spreads were largely unchanged over the review period, with spreads in the high-yield segment narrowing. The spreads for investment-grade firms ended the review period broadly unchanged, while spreads in the high-yield segment were more volatile, narrowing by 34 basis points.

Euro area equity prices remained range bound as declines in earnings expectations were offset by a reduction in the equity risk premium. Broad stock market indices in the euro area were largely unchanged over the review period, amid declining earnings expectations, whereas they increased by 2.7% in the United States. Equity price losses in the euro area were concentrated in the non-financial sector, with interest rate-sensitive sectors, such as technology and real estate, underperforming, while the financial sector continued to outperform the broad index. Overall, the equity prices of euro area non-financial corporations decreased by around 0.9%, while euro area banks’ equity prices and other euro area financials increased by 2.4% and 3.1% respectively. In the United States, equity prices increased by 3.1% for non-financial corporations and were broadly unchanged for banks.

In foreign exchange markets, the euro appreciated slightly in trade-weighted terms (Chart 15). The nominal effective exchange rate of the euro – as measured against the currencies of 41 of the euro area’s most important trading partners – appreciated by 0.4% over the review period. Expected monetary policy developments remained a major driver of exchange rate fluctuations and generated some volatility. That said, the euro was fairly stable against the US dollar, depreciating by only 0.1% as expectations for lower US rates were partly dialled back from the start of the year following the Federal Open Market Committee meeting in December 2023. In terms of bilateral exchange rate movements against other major currencies, the euro appreciated against the Turkish lira (by 3.9%) and the Japanese yen (by 3.7%), while it depreciated against the Swiss franc (by 0.8%) and the Pound sterling (by 0.5%).

Changes in the exchange rate of the euro vis-à-vis selected currencies

(percentage changes)

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Source: ECB calculations. Notes: EER-41 is the nominal effective exchange rate of the euro against the currencies of 41 of the euro area’s most important trading partners. A positive (negative) change corresponds to an appreciation (depreciation) of the euro. All changes have been calculated using the foreign exchange rates prevailing on 24 January 2024.

5 Financing conditions and credit developments

In November 2023 composite bank funding costs and bank lending rates for firms declined slightly, while mortgage rates increased further. After declining significantly in November, the cost to non-financial corporations (NFCs) of market-based debt increased from 14 December 2023 to 24 January 2024, while the cost of equity financing continued to decline over this period. The most recent euro area bank lending survey indicates that there was a further but moderate net tightening of credit standards for loans to firms, with more tightening expected in the first quarter of 2024. Demand for loans by firms and households continued to decrease substantially, albeit less steeply than in the previous quarter. In the second half of 2023, bank lending conditions for firms tightened more in the real estate and construction sectors than in others. The weakness in bank lending to firms and households continued in November, reflecting the strong pass-through of policy tightening to lending rates, combined with lower loan demand and tighter credit standards. Money growth continued to contract, with annual rates close to historical lows, owing to high opportunity costs, subdued credit growth and the reduction in the Eurosystem balance sheet.

Euro area bank funding costs decreased slightly in November 2023, driven by declining bank bond yields. The composite cost of debt financing for euro area banks in November stood slightly below that in the previous month, amid considerable cross-country heterogeneity (Chart 16, panel a). The substantial decrease in bank bond yields (Chart 16, panel b) reflected the pass-through of similar declines in risk-free rates. At the same time, deposit rates continued to rise, with some variation across instruments and sectors. The rates offered to firms for holding time deposits were close to the ECB’s deposit facility rate and remained above those for households. Moreover, the composition of bank funding continued to shift towards more expensive sources, namely bank bonds and time deposits, given that the increasing opportunity cost of holding overnight deposits has led depositors to substitute large volumes with time deposits and other instruments with higher remuneration.

The ongoing contraction of the Eurosystem balance sheet has contributed to a reduction in excess liquidity, but system-wide liquidity remains ample. Although there were no repayments of targeted longer-term refinancing operation (TLTRO) funds over the review period, the discontinuation in July of reinvestment by the Eurosystem of principal payments from maturing securities has continued to mechanically drain liquidity from the financial system. To make up for the lower liquidity provided by the ECB, banks have increased their issuance of debt securities and money market instruments. Issuance of bank bonds, which are more expensive for banks than deposits, has increased in volume since September 2022, amid the Eurosystem balance sheet contraction and the decline in overnight deposits.

Composite bank funding costs in selected euro area countries

(annual percentages)

technical communication presentation

Sources: ECB, S&P Dow Jones Indices LLC and/or its affiliates, and ECB calculations. Notes: Composite bank funding costs are a weighted average of the composite cost of deposits and unsecured market-based debt financing. The composite cost of deposits is calculated as an average of new business rates on overnight deposits, deposits with an agreed maturity and deposits redeemable at notice, weighted by their respective outstanding amounts. Bank bond yields are monthly averages for senior-tranche bonds. The vertical grey line in panel b) denotes 30 November 2023. The latest observations are for November 2023 for banks’ composite cost of debt financing and for 24 January 2024 for bank bond yields.

In November 2023 lending rates for firms declined slightly for the first time since July 2022, while the rates for housing loans increased further. Although lending rates for firms and households have reacted strongly to the increase in policy rates since the beginning of the tightening cycle, the response to the recent declines in market rates has been relatively muted so far. Between early July 2022 and September 2023, the ECB’s policy rates rose substantially and rapidly, by a total of 450 basis points. This led to a sharp increase in lending rates for both firms and households across euro area countries (Chart 17). Since May 2022, i.e. before the ECB signalled the first rate hike in the current tightening cycle, lending rates for firms and for housing loans have risen by 368 basis points and 223 basis points respectively. In November 2023 lending rates for firms declined to 5.23%, compared with 5.27% in October. The small decline could be an early indication that lending rates to firms have passed a peak, following the start of the decline in risk-free rates in autumn 2023. This decrease was driven mainly by large loans, with substantial cross-country heterogeneity. Bank rates on new loans to households for consumption decreased from 7.90% in October to 7.85% in November. Lending rates on new loans in the category “other lending to households”, which includes sole proprietors, also decreased slightly in November to 5.55%, down from 5.58% in October. At the same time, lending rates on new loans to households for house purchase continued to increase, reaching 4.01% in November, up from 3.91% in October. This increase was widespread across euro area countries and interest rate fixation periods and is explained by margins on riskier loans and other factors, despite the sizeable decreases seen in market rates for medium and longer-term maturities. The results of the ECB’s Consumer Expectations Survey for November 2023 suggest that consumers expect mortgage rates to decline from their current levels over the next 12 months. A large, but declining, net percentage of survey respondents perceived credit standards to be tight and expected housing loans to become harder to obtain over that same period. The cross-country dispersion of lending rates for firms and households remained at a low level (Chart 17), suggesting smooth monetary policy transmission across euro area countries.

Composite bank lending rates for NFCs and households in selected countries

(annual percentages; standard deviation)

technical communication presentation

Sources: ECB and ECB calculations. Notes: Composite bank lending rates for non-financial corporations (NFCs) are calculated by aggregating short and long-term rates using a 24-month moving average of new business volumes. The cross-country standard deviation is calculated using a fixed sample of 12 euro area countries. The latest observations are for November 2023.

After declining significantly in November, the daily data for the review period – 14 December 2023 to 24 January 2024 – show that the cost to NFCs of market-based debt increased, while the cost of equity financing declined somewhat. In November the overall cost of financing for NFCs – i.e. the composite cost of bank borrowing, market-based debt and equity – declined significantly from the multi-year high reached in October and stood at 6.07%, which is almost 50 basis points lower than in the previous month (Chart 18). [ 7 ] All components contributed to the decline in the cost of financing in November, with the cost of market-based debt and cost of equity being the main drivers. Based on the daily data, the cost of market-based debt increased between 14 December 2023 and 24 January 2024, owing to a rise in the risk-free rate, while spreads on bonds issued by NFCs remained stable or even declined in the investment-grade and high-yield segments respectively. A significant decline in the equity risk premium more than compensated for the higher risk-free rate (approximated by the ten-year overnight index swap rate), thus leading to a decline in the cost of equity financing (see Section 4).

Nominal cost of external financing for euro area NFCs, broken down by component

technical communication presentation

Sources: ECB and ECB calculations, Eurostat, Dealogic, Merrill Lynch, Bloomberg and Thomson Reuters. Notes: The overall cost of financing for non-financial corporations (NFCs) is based on monthly data and is calculated as a weighted average of the cost of borrowing from banks (monthly average data), market-based debt and equity (end-of-month data), based on their respective outstanding amounts. The latest observations are for 24 January 2024 for the cost of market-based debt and the cost of equity (daily data), and for November 2023 for the overall cost of financing and the cost of borrowing from banks (monthly data).

According to the January 2024 euro area bank lending survey , credit standards for loans to firms tightened moderately further in the fourth quarter of 2023 (Chart 19). The tightening adds to the substantial cumulative tightening since 2022, which has contributed, together with weak demand, to the strong fall in loan growth to firms. Risks related to the economic outlook and the financial situation of firms continued to have a tightening impact, whereas the impact of banks’ cost of funds and balance-sheet situations, competition and risk tolerance was broadly neutral at the euro area level in the fourth quarter of 2023. The impact of past tightening will continue to dampen loan growth in the coming quarters. In line with the leading indicator properties of credit standards – about five to six quarters ahead of actual loan growth developments – weakness in lending to firms can be expected to continue in 2024. Euro area banks expect the tightening of credit standards for loans to firms to pick up in the first quarter of 2024.

Changes in credit standards and net demand for loans to NFCs and loans to households for house purchase

(net percentages of banks reporting a tightening of credit standards or an increase in loan demand)

technical communication presentation

Source: Euro area bank lending survey. Notes: NFC stands for non-financial corporation. For survey questions on credit standards, “net percentages” are defined as the difference between the sum of the percentages of banks responding “tightened considerably” and “tightened somewhat” and the sum of the percentages of banks responding “eased somewhat” and “eased considerably”. For survey questions on demand for loans, “net percentages” are defined as the difference between the sum of the percentages of banks responding “increased considerably” and “increased somewhat” and the sum of the percentages of banks responding “decreased somewhat” and “decreased considerably”. The diamonds denote expectations reported by banks in the current survey round. The latest observations are for the third quarter of 2023.

Banks reported a further net tightening of credit standards for loans to households in the fourth quarter of 2023, which was small for housing loans and more pronounced for consumer credit. Risk perceptions were a major driver of the tightening of credit standards in both categories, with banks’ lower risk tolerance also driving the tightening of credit standards for consumer credit. While the slight tightening in the housing loan segment was driven by smaller euro area countries, credit standards for consumer credit tightened across the four largest euro area economies. For both loan categories, the net tightening was lower than in the third quarter, in line with banks’ expectations. For the first quarter of 2024, euro area banks’ expectations point to a pick-up in the net tightening of credit standards for housing loans, while for consumer credit they point to a net tightening similar to that reported for the last quarter of 2023.

Demand for loans by firms and households continued to decrease substantially in the fourth quarter of 2023, albeit less steeply than in the previous quarter. The drop in demand for loans to firms was due mainly to higher interest rates and lower fixed investment, consistent with the strong net decrease in demand for long-term loans. For housing loans and consumer credit, the decrease was driven by higher interest rates and low consumer confidence, with housing market prospects also exerting substantial downward pressure on demand for housing loans. Banks also reported a further net increase in the share of rejected loan applications for loans to firms and for housing loans. For the first quarter of 2024, banks expect a small net increase in demand for loans to firms (for the first time since the second quarter of 2022) and rising housing loan demand (for the first time since the first quarter of 2022), but a further decrease in consumer credit demand.

Bank lending conditions tightened more in the real estate and construction sectors than in others, based on the results of ad hoc questions to survey respondents on the second half of 2023. Lending conditions for firms continued to tighten moderately in most economic sectors in the second half of 2023, ranging from almost nil net tightening in services to relatively large net tightening in commercial real estate, construction and residential real estate. Loan demand decreased in net terms across all economic sectors, especially in real estate and construction. Banks also reported that their access to wholesale funding had improved somewhat in the fourth quarter of 2023, but had tightened slightly for short-term retail funding and securitisation. Supervisory and regulatory measures contributed to an increase in banks’ capital, as well as their liquid and risk-weighted assets, which in turn contributed to a tightening of credit standards and credit margins across most loan categories in 2023. Perceived credit quality in banks’ loan portfolios had a moderate tightening impact on their credit standards for loans to firms and for consumer credit in the second half of 2023, whereas the impact was neutral for housing loans. Banks reported that the decline in excess liquidity held with the Eurosystem in the second half of 2023 had had only a limited impact on bank lending conditions.

Weakness in bank lending to firms and households continued in November 2023, reflecting the strong pass-through of policy tightening to bank lending rates, together with lower loan demand and tighter credit standards. Reflecting a large monthly flow, annual growth in loans to NFCs rebounded slightly to stand at 0.0% in November, up from ‑0.3% in October (Chart 20, panel a), amid considerable heterogeneity across countries and maturities. Overall, the stagnation in loan demand is explained by high borrowing rates and associated spending plan cuts. Moreover, loan supply also plays a role, as suggested by the moderate further tightening of credit standards in the fourth quarter of 2023. The annual growth rate of loans to households edged down to 0.5% in November, after 0.6% in October (Chart 20, panel b), amid negative housing market prospects, somewhat tighter credit standards and higher lending rates. The decline was driven mainly by housing loans and loans to sole proprietors (i.e. unincorporated small businesses), while consumer loans remained more resilient, despite a further tightening of credit standards and low consumer confidence.

MFI loans in selected euro area countries

(annual percentage changes; standard deviation)

technical communication presentation

Sources: ECB and ECB calculations. Notes: Loans from monetary financial institutions (MFIs) are adjusted for loan sales and securitisation; in the case of non-financial corporations (NFCs), loans are also adjusted for notional cash pooling. The cross-country standard deviation is calculated using a fixed sample of 12 euro area countries. The latest observations are for November 2023.

Households continued to reallocate overnight deposits to time deposits in November, while firms moderated these shifts as their deposit allocation normalised. The annual growth rate of overnight deposits continued its double-digit decline to stand at ‑10.9% in November, up from ‑11.5% in October (Chart 21). For households, November saw another large monthly shift from overnight to time deposits, whereas firms switched between these two instruments at a considerably slower pace. The strong preference for time deposits is explained by the widening spread between rates on time and overnight deposits during the tightening cycle given that, as in previous tightening cycles, interest rates on overnight deposits have adjusted to policy rate changes more slowly than those on time deposits. [ 8 ] However, households’ share of overnight deposits relative to their total deposit holdings still remains well above historical levels, reflecting the legacy effects of the low opportunity cost of holding such deposits during a low interest rate period, while this share is now smaller for firms.

M3, M1 and overnight deposits

(annual growth rate, adjusted for seasonal and calendar effects)

technical communication presentation

Source: ECB. Note: The latest observations are for November 2023.

In November 2023 money growth continued to contract at annual rates close to recent historical lows driven by high opportunity costs, subdued credit growth and the reduction in the Eurosystem balance sheet. Annual broad money (M3) growth in the euro area stabilised around historically low rates, standing at ‑0.9% in November, up from ‑1.0% in October and ‑1.2% in September (Chart 21). Annual narrow money (M1) growth continued to decline at a close to double-digit rate, with weak monetary dynamics being reinforced by portfolio shifts. In November it stood at ‑9.5%, up from ‑10.0% in October and ‑10.4% in September. As in previous months, the Eurosystem’s balance sheet reduction and bond acquisitions by money holders continued to have a contractionary effect on monetary dynamics in November. In addition, repayments of TLTRO funds and the higher opportunity cost for depositors of holding liquid assets are leading banks to issue bonds with longer maturities not included in M3. At the same time, a growing current account surplus amid weak imports has led to higher monetary inflows from the rest of the world.

1 Global trade in the post-pandemic environment

Prepared by Maria Grazia Attinasi, Lukas Boeckelmann, Laura Hespert, Jan Linzenich and Baptiste Meunier

Global trade dynamics in 2023 were still influenced by the legacy of the pandemic shock. When global activity collapsed at the start of the pandemic, triggering the deepest global recession (albeit short-lived) since the Second World War amid large-scale policy support, there was also a sweeping fall in world trade. In the first two quarters of 2020, global trade contracted by 16%, exceeding even the shock observed during the global financial crisis. In 2021 and 2022 it staged a rapid recovery, growing by 12.8% and 5.5% respectively and reaching pre-pandemic levels by the first quarter of 2021 (Chart A, panel a). However, during the second half of 2022 world trade growth started to decelerate markedly and, after dipping into negative territory in the fourth quarter, only began to gradually recover during 2023. According to the December 2023 Eurosystem staff macroeconomic projections, global trade may have grown by just 1.1% in 2023, well below its average annual growth over the pre-pandemic period (2012 to 2019) and subpar compared with global GDP growth in 2023 (Chart A, panel b). [ 9 ]

2 Is the PMI a reliable indicator for nowcasting euro area real GDP?

Prepared by Gabe de Bondt and Lorena Saiz

The euro area composite output Purchasing Managers' Index (PMI) tends to be strongly correlated with real GDP growth (Chart A). The composite output PMI is a diffusion index, which measures the sum of the percentage of month-on-month “higher” output responses and half the percentage of “no output change” responses. The PMI survey output question asks about the actual unit volume of output this month compared to the previous month. It indicates the degree to which output changes are diffused throughout the panel of respondents and has a no-change benchmark of 50. A simple PMI-based rule of thumb, hereafter referred to as the PMI-based tracker rule, calculates euro area quarterly real GDP growth as 10% of the quarterly average level of the composite output PMI from which a value of 50 is subtracted. This rule-of-thumb exhibited a good nowcasting performance during the pre-coronavirus (COVID-19) period. [ 10 ] However, since the composite output PMI is a diffusion index, it provides information on the extensive margin of change (the number of firms that reported a change in output) but not on the intensive margin of change (the amount by which output changed). It implies that in periods of extreme volatility in output, such as during the COVID-19 pandemic, the level of the composite output PMI might become less informative. Another limitation of the composite output PMI is the incomplete sector coverage; the index is a weighted average of the services business activity PMI and the manufacturing output PMI, while other important sectors such as retail, construction and government are missing. Moreover, the euro area composite output is based solely on the four largest euro area countries and Ireland.

3 Main findings from the ECB’s recent contacts with non-financial companies

Prepared by Gabe de Bondt, Friderike Kuik and Richard Morris

This box summarises the findings of recent contacts between ECB staff and representatives of 70 leading non-financial companies operating in the euro area. The exchanges took place between 2 and 10 January 2024. [ 11 ]

Contacts painted a largely unchanged picture of activity stagnating or contracting slightly in the fourth quarter of 2023, with little or no pick-up expected in the first quarter of 2024 (Chart A). There was still a lot of variation both within and across sectors in terms of reported dynamics. Manufacturing and construction activity were seen as remaining weak as were related transport and logistics services, while leisure-oriented consumer services and digital services were the main areas of growth. A year-long inventory correction has reportedly now largely come to an end, resulting in a bottoming out of demand for many intermediate goods. But long order backlogs caused by earlier supply disruption have dissipated, prompting a slowing of growth, or contraction, in capital goods production. Consequently, developments in manufacturing activity were now considered to better reflect the evolution of final consumption and investment demand.

4 Assessing the macroeconomic effects of climate change transition policies

Prepared by Marien Ferdinandusse, Friderike Kuik and Romanos Priftis

This box gauges the macroeconomic impact of climate change policies aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions. To meet the goal of reducing emissions in the European Union (EU) by at least 55% in 2030 compared with 1990 levels, governments have started implementing different sets of measures. The EU has recently adopted the “Fit for 55” package, which will be progressively implemented between 2024 and 2034. [ 12 ] This box first assesses the impact of green fiscal discretionary measures, as included in the latest December 2023 Eurosystem staff macroeconomic projections on euro area real GDP and inflation. Such measures are unlikely to be sufficient to fully achieve the EU’s targets for emission reduction, energy efficiency and renewable energy production in the Fit for 55 package. The box therefore goes on to illustrate the medium-term impact of alternative transition policy scenarios using model simulations.

5 Corporate vulnerabilities as reported by firms in the SAFE

Prepared by Carmela Attolini, Annalisa Ferrando and Judit Rariga

This box analyses corporate vulnerabilities as derived from firm-level replies to the Survey on the Access to Finance of Enterprises (SAFE) . A firm is considered vulnerable if it simultaneously reports lower turnover, lower profits, higher interest expenses and a higher or unchanged debt-to-assets ratio over the past six months. [ 13 ] The concept is particularly relevant when assessing the implications for the transmission of monetary policy as it provides strong signals on the financial health of firms.

6 Policy expectation errors during the recent tightening cycle – insights from the ECB’s Survey of Monetary Analysts

Prepared by Yıldız Akkaya Blake, Lea Bitter, Claus Brand and Diogo Sá

Information from the Survey of Monetary Analysts (SMA) on respondents’ expectations about the future evolution of the ECB’s monetary policy measures can provide insights into the source of expectation errors during the recent tightening cycle. Since July 2022 the Governing Council has raised the key ECB interest rates by a total of 450 basis points in response to the extraordinary surge in inflation. After a protracted period of policy rates close to the effective lower bound, financial markets and analysts expected an interest rate path that was much flatter than the one ultimately realised. Accordingly, policy expectation errors have been large and have only recently started to diminish. SMA data can help to determine whether these errors are due to a misperception of the ECB’s reaction function or to miscalculations about the macroeconomic environment. [ 14 ]

7 Estimates of the natural interest rate for the euro area: an update

Prepared by Claus Brand, Noëmie Lisack and Falk Mazelis

The natural rate of interest, r* (or “r-star”), is defined as the real rate of interest that is neither expansionary nor contractionary. [ 15 ] In the wake of the 2008 global financial crisis, real interest rates (as measured by deducting inflation expectations from a nominal rate of interest) slumped to exceptionally low levels in advanced economies, including the euro area. They have moved higher only recently as monetary policy was tightened following the post-pandemic surge in inflation.

8 Fiscal policy measures in response to the energy and inflation shock and climate change

Prepared by Marien Ferdinandusse and Mar Delgado-Téllez

This box provides estimates and projections of discretionary fiscal measures taken by euro area governments relating to the energy crisis, high inflation, and climate change, updated as part of the December 2023 Eurosystem staff macroeconomic projections.

The discretionary fiscal measures to support households and companies in response to the energy price and high inflation shocks are projected to largely wind down in the coming years. They are estimated to amount to 1.3% of GDP in 2023, down from 1.8% in 2022, and to remain below 0.5% per annum over the 2024-26 projection horizon (Chart A). Specifically, about two-thirds of support measures in place in 2023 are expected to expire in 2024, and another 20% in 2025. The remaining measures are projected to stay in place in 2026. As regards the type of measures, in 2023 almost half were subsidies. Of these, more than half related to the energy price caps in Germany, France and the Netherlands. The share of subsidies in total energy and inflation support measures is expected to fall significantly in 2024 and to be negligible as of 2025.

1 The Eurosystem policy response to developments in retail payments

Prepared by Patrick Papsdorf and Karine Themejian

Retail payments – those made between consumers, businesses and public administrations – are undergoing profound changes that are reshaping the European payments landscape. Digitalisation is playing a major role in this, with a trend towards the increased use of cashless payment instruments, instantaneity and a truly seamless payment experience. Numerous innovative payment solutions are being developed and offered. These are made possible through the use of new technology and are further characterised by the need to enhance global and cross-border use cases, as well as the consideration that solutions can be rolled out globally. [ 16 ] These trends and developments are not only driven by existing players in the payments market. The payments business also attracts start-up firms, as well as established firms that are new to payments.

© European Central Bank, 2024

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Telephone +49 69 1344 0

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The cut-off date for the statistics included in this issue was 24 January 2024.

PDF ISSN 2363-3417, QB-BP-24-001-EN-N HTML ISSN 2363-3417, QB-BP-24-001-EN-Q

The cut-off date for data included in this issue of the Economic Bulletin was 24 January 2024. According to the preliminary flash estimate released by Eurostat on 30 January 2024, euro area real GDP was unchanged from the third quarter to the fourth quarter of 2023.

According to Eurostat’s flash estimate of 1 February 2024, HICP inflation declined to 2.8% in January 2024.

The advance estimate of US GDP for the fourth quarter of 2023 was released after the cut-off date for data included in this issue of the Economic Bulletin.

According to the preliminary flash estimate released by Eurostat on 30 January 2024, euro area real GDP showed zero growth, quarter on quarter, in the fourth quarter of 2023. This estimate was not available at the cut-off date for this issue of the Economic Bulletin.

Eurostat’s flash estimate for January 2024, released after the cut-off date for this issue of the Economic Bulletin (24 January), saw headline inflation decreasing from 2.9% to 2.8%.

See “ ECB Consumer Expectations Survey results – December 202 3”, press release, ECB, 6 February 2024.

Owing to lags in the data availability for the cost of borrowing from banks, data on the overall cost of financing for NFCs are only available up to November 2023.

See also the box entitled “ Monetary dynamics during the tightening cycle ”, Economic Bulletin , Issue 8, ECB, 2023.

See Box 2 of “ Eurosystem staff macroeconomic projections for the euro area, December 2023 ”, published on the ECB’s website on 14 December 2023.

See de Bondt, G.J., “ Nowcasting: Trust the Purchasing Managers’ Index or wait for the flash GDP estimate? ” in Papanikos, G.T. (ed.), Economic essays , Athens Institute for Education and Research, pp. 83–97, 2012; and de Bondt, G.J., “ A PMI-based real GDP tracker for the euro area ”, Journal of Business Cycle Research , Volume 15, pp.147–170, 2019.

For further information on the nature and purpose of these contacts, see the article entitled “ The ECB’s dialogue with non-financial companies ”, Economic Bulletin , Issue 1, ECB, 2021.

See the European Commission’s webpage “ Fit for 55: Delivering on the proposals ”.

The aggregate SAFE financial vulnerability indicator is the survey-weighted share of vulnerable firms in the sample, where the weights ensure the representativeness of the results in each size class, economic activity and country for the underlying population of firms.

For further details on the SMA, see Brand, C. and Hutchinson, J., “ The ECB Survey of Monetary Analysts: an introduction ”, Economic Bulletin , Issue 8, ECB, 2021.

This box uses the terms “natural” and “neutral” real rate of interest interchangeably. By contrast, Obstfeld (2023) distinguishes between a natural rate – as the real rate of interest prevailing over a long-run equilibrium where price rigidities are absent – and a neutral rate –as the real policy rate of interest that eliminates inflationary and deflationary pressures. However, these two definitions overlap, because neutral measures defined in this way track the frictionless real rate of interest, i.e. they have natural rate characteristics, too. See Obstfeld, M, “ Natural and Neutral Real Interest Rates: Past and Future ”, NBER Working Paper, No 31949, December 2023.

See Panetta, F., “ Extending the benefits of digital technologies to cross-border payments ”, The ECB Blog , ECB, 31 October 2023.

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