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Brief Summary on Technical Writing
Technical writing is the process of presenting the results
of a research project or homework assignment in a clear and concise
manner. The aim is to present what you did, how you did it
and the results you obtained and clearly indicate
these areas in a coherent manner.
Technical writing is significantly different than
other types of writing, but tends to be easier to do since there
is no interpretation or subjective judgements to make,
This is a brief summary of ideas to keep in mind
when writing technical reports.
Outline of a Technical Report
While it is possible to combine the above sections in
various ways, it is usually much easier if you stick
to the above outline.
- Introduction - state what you are trying to
demonstrate with this report. Depending
on the nature of the research, you also may
state why you are doing it.
- Implementation - this section includes the
details of how you conducted your research and
what tools you made use of (programming languages,
computer hardware used, etc.).
- Results - this section is a straightforward
presentation of the results you obtained.
This can include graphs, tables, charts and
sample computer output.
- Discussion - this section is used to discuss and
draw conclusions from your results.
- Appendicies - this is where you place material that
is nessary to fully understand your report, but
detracts from the main flow of your paper.
Items such as program listings, sample program
runs, etc. should be placed here.
General Hints on Successful Technical Writing
This is a description of things to keep in mind
while you are writing a technical report.
- Type your report in a word processor. Hand
written reports can be very difficult to read.
- Write in the 3rd person (i.e., no
instances of the words I, we, he, she, etc.).
Write from the point of view of an anonymous observer
looking over your shoulder.
- Be as quantitative as possible. If you have
actual numerical data available to illustrate your point,
- Use proper grammar (punctuation, subject-verb agreement,
complete sentences, capitalizations).
- Your report should be reasonably self-contained. Someone
reading your report should have a fairly good idea of what you
are doing and your methods without actually having to read the homework
- Use proper mathematical symbols where appropriate. This
means making use of the Equation Editor in MS Word.
- Set off items such as variables, programming variable names
and websites in a different font.
- There are various styles you can use (format of section headings,
fonts, etc.). Pick a style and be consistent throughout
- Try to be concise. Do not include large amounts of
- Do not make claims or conclusions that are not supported by your
experiments. If you are not certain of the reason for a result,
state that your conclusion is speculation or a conjecture.
- Make sure you cite all sources that are not your own.
- Present your results in a clear, orderly fashion. Do
not make your reader go hunting for them.
General Hints on Grammar
- Don't invent words. Use a dictionary when you need it.
- Avoid repeating the same word several times in close proximity.
Use a thesaurus for alternate word choices or reword your
- One medium length sentence is generally better than several
- Long sentences are fine if they read well.
- Don't use colloquial (slang) words or phrases. If it's something
you might say as the 12th Annual Drunken Barn Dance, it probably
should not be in your report.
- Use the words 'much' and 'more' sparingly.
- Don't start a sentence with 'since' or 'because'.
- Use words properly. For example, '100 people were evacuated
from a burning building'. It is the building, not the people,
that is being evacuated (unless you are in a horror movie).
- A dangerous phrase to use is 'the results were as expected'.
- Here is a list of words to avoid: really, totally, huge, a lot,
pretty, got, thing Suggested alternatives:
very, completely, large, many, very, have, item.
In this section the abbreviation TFC refers to Tables, Figures and
- TFC's should have proper annotation (axis labels, titles, captions).
- Each TFC should (almost) explain itself.
- Each TFC should be numbered in a consistent manner.
- Each TFC that appears in your report should be referenced
somewhere in the body of your report.
- When referring to a specific item, the reference should be
capitalized (i.e., Figure 9 shows...., Table 10 illustrates...).
- Item 5 also applies to cases in a case analysis (
(i.e., Case 3 contains...., Case 2A shows....).
- If you are performing a case analysis, clearly indicate
what differentiates the various cases. If your cases have several
attributes in common, state these first before beginning to
differentiate the cases.
Here are some online links that you can use for additional
information on technical writing.
Online technical writing guide
Links to other sites that may be useful
101 Writing Tips (slow link, but funny)
Online dictionary and thesaurus
Computer Jargon Dicitonary (BIG file)
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Leigh J. Little