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Stephen Freas is a construction subcontractor in Winston Salem, North Carolina. He is a supervisor on job sites and manages small crews to build projects based on drawings provided by the general contractor. He writes contracts, e-mails with clients, and often consults manuals and building codes.
The contracts Stephen writes are more than just fine print to be skimmed and signed. “A contract lets the client know exactly what we’re going to do—what materials and processes will be necessary, what those will cost, and what the potential risks are,” says Stephen. “A detailed contract also prevents us from doing costly work for free.”
Stephen’s job requires him to do a great deal of technical reading. “Reading construction plans and technical manuals requires a physical engagement with the writing,” he says. “In these texts, an action usually follows each sentence or image. This makes for slow but ‘action-packed’ reading that helps you accomplish something you had no idea how to do previously.”
Stephen often combines information gleaned from several different pieces of technical writing in order to make proper decisions. For example: “Once, we built a handicap ramp to the specifications written by the contractor. Upon inspection, the city told us that the ramp did not meet its building code standards. I refused to rebuild the ramp until I read the city code myself. The code listed specifics such as ramp thickness; railing height; and, most important, ramp slope. I calculated that in order to meet city code specifications, the ramp needed to be three times longer than the contractor’s original plan and, coincidentally, the same slope as the existing sidewalk.”
Stephen credits his technical reading dexterity to countless hours of following instruction manuals for his car, photography, climbing, and other hobbies.
Why does Stephen consider construction plans and technical manuals to be “action-packed”?