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Unit One: Introduction to Technical Writing and Reporting

Introduction

“The present world has astonished us with its new development. From the nuclear
weapons to space age, man has made enormous strides in technology. With the ever-
increasing complex demands of modern society, expanded economic and technical
advancements and progress have created the indispensable need for technical writers.

Skill in writing technical reports is an invaluable asset not only in college but also in the
professions. As the country’ industrialization program grows space, skill in this type of
writing will be a highly vital personal asset, not only in business and industry, but also in
science and technology as well as the in the government service.

For instance, engineers submit reports on the progress of their projects they are
undertaking to their superiors. Architects attach explanations with their design plans for
the information to their stockholders. So, to be an effective professional, one should
have enough knowledge on making technical reports, for him to communicate with his
superior.” (Manalo, 2008)

Objectives

At the end of this module, you should be able to:

1. Define technical writing and discuss the characteristics.


2. Distinguish technical writing in terms of the following criteria:
a. Purpose
b. Subject Matter
c. Readers
3. Identify what the people in the technical profession are required to write.
4. Recognize the aspects of technical writing.
5. Discuss the basic principles of good technical writing.
6. Explain the ABC’s of technical report writing.
7. Identify the qualities of a good technical report.

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Nature of Technical Writing

Technical Writing, according to the book, Technical and Report Writing by Manalo
(2008), is a communication which is written for and addressed to specific entities or
individuals to attain desired objectives. It is a communication in the field of business,
industry, trade, science, technology, engineering, and government.

Furthermore, Manalo identified main objective as a means to convey a specific piece


of information for a specific purpose to a specific reader or group of readers. It is writing
that requires special knowledge. The specific information is technical, that is, it is the
formal aspect of the fields above, written from a specific point of view.

Characteristics of Technical Writing

Technical writing presents and explains a subject matter in a clear, objective, accurate,
concise, and unemotional manner.

Technical writing uses a relatively high concentration on certain complex and important
writing techniques, particularly description of a mechanism, description of process,
classification, cause and effect, comparison and contrast, analogy, and interpretation.

Technical writing highly utilizes technical vocabulary. In order to clarify and support
textual discussion, technical writing makes use of tables, graphs, and figures.

Purpose of Technical Writing

The following are the primary purposes of technical writing:

1. To inform. Technical writing is done to make another person understand or do


something. It is designed to fulfill a need to tell and a need to know.

2. To analyze events and their implications. Technical writing aims to explain how
certain systems failed. These systems may be education, socio-economic, political,
and within the technical article, the recommended change or changes.

3. To persuade and influence decisions. Technical writing seeks to show how a


business or an industry succeeds.

Technical writing is ideally characterized by the maintenance of impartiality and


objectivity, by extreme care to convey information accurately and concisely, and by the
absence of any attempt to arouse emotions.

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Functions of Technical Writing

1. To serve as a basis for management decision.


2. To furnish needed information.
3. To give instructions.
4. To explain techniques.
5. To report achievements.
6. To analyze problem areas.
7. To determine design and system requirements.
8. To serve as a basis for public relation.
9. To provide report to stockholders of companies.
10. To develop a product.
11. To provide service.
12. To record business through proposals.
13. To procure business through proposals.

Basic Principles of Effective Technical Writing

1. Understanding the reader.


2. Knowing the purpose of teach article or report.
3. Knowing the subject matter.
4. Organizing the material.
5. Writing objectively.
6. Using correct format.
7. Adopting ethical standards.

Understanding the Reader

Knowing the target audience is one of the basic things to consider in technical writing. A
technical writer must learn to adapt his way of writing and to learn specific terminologies
according to the type of the intended audience or readers. Technical terms which may
be deemed difficult by the readers must be carefully defined throughout the text, for the
reader to thoroughly and easily understand the information being conveyed by the
writer. The writer fails in his mission to inform if the reader also fails to understand what
he’s reading. The writer should be aware of the reader’s importance. The target
audience and readers would help the writer to know what to write about and how to go
about writing it.

Knowing the Purpose of Each Technical Report

A technical paper must focus on a central theme. The reader should be aware of the
main purpose of the text after reading it. The purpose may be to describe a thing, to
report on a specific problem or project or to analyze and solve a problem.

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Knowing the Subject Matter

A technical writer must have a complete knowledge of the subject that he or she must
write about. For example, if the report is regarding the result of a technical experiment,
the technical writer must explain what the problem is all about, what causes the problem
and how the problem is solved.

Writing Objectively

A good technical writer emphasizes the facts and the important data. An effective
technical writer practices the impersonal style of writing. He presents the facts, figures,
and statistics supporting the subject matter or the central theme and writes it in an
impersonal manner.

Using Correct Format

The readers’ attention is initially on the format and style of a report. Most companies
require neatly-typed communication, reports, and project proposals and feasibility
studies. It is the common and apt trend to require a computerized or typed report.

Adopting Ethical Standards

A technical writer must undergo comprehensive research work to gather the needed
data through interviews, surveys, referrals and related publications. He must present the
required facts and figures gathered and must use only those that are relevant to the
report. An effective technical writer acknowledges the hard work and the help from
sources and cites them as references.

Style in Technical Writing

Style is the writer’s way of writing, a manner in which he expresses his thoughts and
feelings in a language. Below are the guidelines for clear technical writing.

1. Be selective, focus on the essential information and significant detail.


2. Develop a clean, direct style; avoid inflated language and scrambling sentences.
3. Use examples and comparisons to clarify descriptions and explanations.
4. Repeat words and phrases for clarity or emphasis or to ease transitions, but avoid
needless repetition.
5. Delete unnecessary words and phrases, but avoid short cuts that sacrifice meaning.

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Sentence Structure and Length

Technical writing does not require a unique style. Instead, technical writing uses the
natural word order, simple sentence structure and well-written short sentences.
Although the technical subject matter requires the use of complex, technical vocabulary
and the expression of complex ideas, it would prove beneficial for the reader and his
understanding of the subject matter if the writer uses shorter words and sentences and
simple structure.

Paragraph Structure and Length

In technical writing, the topic sentence opens the paragraph or closes the report after
whatever transitional sentences. Sometimes, the writer does the opposite by giving the
details at the very beginning and concludes at the end by stating the main idea. The use
of one or more very short paragraphs helps in achieving an impact on the readers.

Scientific Attitude

Judicious weighing of evidence is vital in a technical report. The best evidence,


according to various authors, is one which is the most sufficient, the most relevant and
the simplest explanation of facts with the least supplemental evidence and most in
harmony with the rest of the available evidence. At the end, the conclusion or
recommendation should incorporate all the evidences from which the judgment is made.

The technical writer must be aware of when not to overwrite. As a writer of the
materials, he should know what to present, what to emphasize, what to rewrite and what
to amplify.

Generalization

When the technical writer makes generalizations, he is giving probable conclusions


derived from the observation of factors. Since the report is based on generalizations, it
is necessary to describe the circumstances surrounding the report. Provide enough
evidence, data and samples to enable the reader to evaluate the generalizations for
himself.

To be certain that you have followed ground rules and not “jumping to conclusions”, test
the validity of your data and samples. Here is the suggested checklist by Nem Singh
and Calixihan (1994).

1. Can I prove its accuracy?

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2. Can I show the direct bond between the facts and generalizations?
3. Is it fact and not opinion?
4. Do I have all the facts?
5. Are they up to date?
6. Is the generalization verifiable? Would I get the same result if I do it again?
7. Is it significant?

The principles to be observed in organizing the material as cited by Alvarez (1980) are
as follows:

1. To organize the material of a subject, first break it down into the component
aspects.
2. To organize a report paper, choose a suitable approach and make an outline that
implements it.
3. The basic unit of organization is the paragraph.
4. Use these paragraphs to present related data, graphs to show trends and visuals
to clarify description.
5. Plan a report or paper thoroughly before starting to write it.
6. Gather the necessary data through basic library research and primary services.
7. Write a first draft.
8. Revise and rewrite as often as necessary.
9. Write a final draft.
10. Place footnotes to acknowledge references and include a bibliography at the end
of a report or paper.

Other attributes of good technical report writing are:

1. appropriateness
2. functional
3. informative
4. factual
5. efficient
6. correct

The Role of the Technical Writer

A good technical writer possesses insights, perceptiveness, is quick to determine


probabilities, and has the ability to adapt to requirements. He must have the ability to
identify developments that may affect his project.

The technical writer must understand the nature of his work. He should be able to help
his principals attain the target objectives. He must not only possess the technical
writing ability and technical expertise, but he must also have the capability to grasp, to
analyze and to interpret unexpected events and situations that may occur throughout
the writing of the technical report.

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The technical writer should have the ability to state facts clearly and accurately, to
organize a variety of elements into a unified structure, and to describe logical
generalizations.

Hallmarks of an Effective Technical Writer

The hallmarks of an effective technical writer is represented by this acronym


REPORTER (Mosura and Tenorio, 1999)

R - Resourceful
E - Energetic
P - Patient
O - Observant
R - Responsible
T - Trustworthy
E - Evaluative
R - Responsive

The Wholistic Guide to Technical Writing

For effective technical writing, the ABC’s of report writing was provided by Zall (1980) to
identify if the way of writing can be considered in-depth.

Accuracy

A report writer must be tactful in the recording of data, statement or calculating


mathematical figures. He must check every statement in its final form. An error
committed and illogical statement written can create confusion as well as doubts over
the whole text. A writer should always aim to be understood.

Brevity

Being brief is a courtesy to the reader. The reader should find it easy to group the main
idea of the report. In the same manner, accuracy of the statements can easily be
maintained. The reader can get the essence of your thinking in a compressed form.

Confidence

A good report writer must have the quality of self-confidence. He cannot only
communicate but he has to be also decisive or sure what he is writing about. After
finishing the last page of his report, he is an authority.

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Dignity

Dignity is courtesy to your readers as professionals. This is an ethical standard. The


writer must be certain that all grammatical constructions are correct. In report writing,
you need to be formal with words and how these words are used. You should be sure
that the ideas or information are well-organized, simplified, summarized, and expressed
in straightforward manner.

Facility

This refers to the devices used by the writer, to make his report easy to read and
understand. In most cases, report writing depends more on pacing, sequence,
arrangement, and continuity of ideas as well as information. A grammatical correction
is important. He should make his writing straightforward, logical and clear. The
thought from one part to another should be clearly established, illustrated or stated.

Emphasis

The writer has to feel what is important to the reader and should never expect how the
reader finds it out for himself. He has to lead him from point to point, clearly making
every step, directs the reader to the right way and gives him the reason for stopping at a
particular portion.

Honesty

Honesty is expected in a report. When a writer has borrowed some statements, ideas
or quotations, he has to acknowledge them either in footnotes, endnotes or cite the
source or author of the borrowed ideas or statements within the running text.

Illustration

Illustration materials such as charts, graphs, diagrams, and photos are always helpful.
The writer should use them to clarify and support the text. They can be used to show
situations or trend or movement.

Judgment

The writer should qualify the data and information gathered by judicious weighing. This
can be done by following these criteria: (1) Most ample (2) Most pertinent or relevant (3)
The simplest in explaining the facts with the least additional evidence (4) Most

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harmonious with the rest of the data and information. In every case, the evidence used
as a basis of judgment (as in conclusions and recommendations) should be included in
the report.

Knowledge

The communication of knowledge is the primary objective of the report, but knowledge
is not only a collection of data or information. It involves interpretation and formulation of
conclusions. Without sound interpretation, the data will become useless.

Logic

Logic is chiefly a process of classification. It is putting things in their proper places. It


shows the relations among groups of things and classes of groups. By thinking logically,
one can avoid the following trouble areas: (1) Statements must not contradict each other
(2) Words must be used in consistent sense (3) Statements must move in one direction
whether space, time or relation (4) Statements must make sense (5) Judgments must
not be based on few data. (6) Cause and effect should be clearly distinguished from
simple sentence (7) Conclusions should not be inferred if they have no connection with
the data (8) An authority should not be accepted if he is biased or he is not an expert in
the particular field.

Mechanical Neatness

This is the general appearance of the report. It must be neatly encoded or typed,
properly margined, free from typographical errors, erasures, crossing-outs and
smudges.

Headings and subheadings and indentions are mechanical devices, which help make
the organization of the content clear.

Normal procedure

The report is easier to understand if it conforms to the standard practices. The writer
must follow the acceptable arrangement of the different parts of a report. If the writer
deviates from the normal procedure, he should inform his readers by explaining his
reasons for doing it.

Objectivity

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In technical writing, the writer should consider himself as another person, uninterested
observer or an innocent bystander. In this instance, the third person point of view is
preferred. The writer should treat his subject matter the way he sees or observes it.
Technical reports avoid the use of the first person (I, me, my).

Planning

This is primary in all activities. This gives the purpose and direction to what the technical
writer has to write. This involves thinking ahead of what one has to do, when to do it and
who is to do it. This will be reflected in a well-organized report.

Qualification

The technical writer should select only those statements that have direct relationship
with the topic being discussed. The writer should evaluate the ideas or statements he
will include in the writing of the report.

Revision

This consists of more than merely correcting the spelling, punctuation, spacing, and
margin errors. The writer must also check every statement for sense and relevance
and be sure that he has said all that must be said. An effective report is all that is
required to perfection. The secret of good writing is rewriting.

Straight Sentences

Sentences carry the full weight of the meaning in a report. The sentence to be
employed must be limited to only one idea or to closely related ideas. To avoid
monotony, vary your sentence structure and employ appropriate transitional devices.
By employing such devices, there will be a smooth transition from sentence to
sentence. They will show the readers the writer’s thoughts leading him to what the
writer wants to communicate.

Thoroughness

The writer should treat well his subject matter. The writer should check the
thoroughness of his report from initial thinking to final submission. The writer is obliged
to go over the subject, analyze and investigate it, organize and interpret the results and
draw conclusions whether it is positive or negative.

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Unity

A report is unified when everything is clearly relevant to the main point under
discussion. Nothing should be left hanging. No question should be left unanswered.
After all, the main objective of a unified report is to let the readers feel that they have
read everything essential to the subject undertaken.

Viewpoint

A report is written from a certain viewpoint: that of a reporter, proponent, researcher or


an author. The viewpoint is established in the first sentence and should be maintained
consistently throughout the report. Voice unity should also be observed.

Word Choice

The writer should choose the words that are fit to the reader’s undertaking. Avoid
words that are difficult to understand.

Zest

Write only about things that are worth writing and which are invigorating. Write as
though you were performing a service that only you can perform.

Writing should not be regarded as something difficult but something that is enjoyable
and pleasurable.

Important “End” Products of Technical Writing

1. Technical Report. This provides useful information about a complete program of


work, for reference and permanent record.

2. Contract. This is a formal agreement between two or more persons; organization


or parties to do something on mutually agreed terms.

3. Feasibility Report. This represents facts and information intended to make the
reader realize that the proposed project or plan is financially, economically, and
technically, significant as well as beneficial.

4. Business Letter. This is a written communication or message used to transact


business, which cannot be conveniently conducted orally.

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5. Brochure. This is a pamphlet or printed information material given to a customer in


order to convince or persuade him to take action on the company’s services, ideas
or products offered.

6. Abstract. This is a summarized form of resume of a long piece of writing.

7. Instructional Manual. This contains directions for work procedure or policies, or for
the use of technical equipment or appliances. Instruction relies on clear, specific,
complete directions presented in sequential order. Directions of complicated step-by-
step procedures should be accompanied by graphic illustration.

8. Proposal. This contains suggestions for actions, usually involving change or


performance. It may be to solve problem, suggest a new project site, revise a policy
or initiate a researcher report project or terminate a project.

9. Progress Report. This contains an account of what has been accomplished on a


project over a specific period of time and what may be expected in the next period.

10. Policy. A plan of action adopted or preserved by an individual, government, party,


business, and industry or it may be a document containing a contract of insurance.

11. Article for a Technical Journal. A technical paper which will be published in a
journal. It contains an abstract, an introduction, discussion and summarizing,
concluding sentence or paragraph.

12. Monograph. This is a thorough textbook treatment which requires full illustration and
documentation.

13. Memorandum. This is an important form of written communication circulated within


the company and its branches which is used to disseminate a message or
information.

14. Graphic Aids. This refers to all pictures, graphs, diagrams and other materials used
in illustrating important details in a report.

15. Specification. This contains detailed information about performance courses,


materials for construction, theory of operations, sample calculations, table and
operating data and information.

16. Printed Action Memo. This prepared form requires only a check mark in an
appropriate square to indicate its message.

17. Survey Report. This is a thorough study of any subject. Some subjects of surveys
are potential markets for products, labor policies, market punctuation, public opinions

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and community resources. Examples are poll surveys on the study of possible site
for a new plant.

18. Trip Report. An account of a business or professional trip. It records specific and
significant places, events, conversations and people met. It attempts to answer
where, when, what, why, and how. It may have a recommendation section.

19. Laboratory Report. A record of procedures and results of laboratory tests. It


describes the scope of the project, the equipment utilized, the procedures used, the
results of tests, and a conclusion and recommendation.

20. Technical Paper. A research paper written for a professional journal or magazine.
Technical papers usually describe a theory or new development. They resemble
technical reports in most respects. The main difference lies on the fact that the
audience for a technical paper is wider and more diverse.

Direction of Communication

The type of communication that one writes must consider the direction of a
communication which can be upward (to supervisors), lateral (to peers), downward (to
subordinates), and outward (to customers, public interest groups, stockholders, and
government and others). Upward communications are usually addressed to the
managers and supervisors who are often busy. The communication should be concise
and direct. They need thorough information. The definition of technical terms and brief
summary of the whole communication are needed to save reading time.

Lateral communication is addressed to peers who may share the writer’s expertise in
the field. It may be ideas or projects that effect their own research or jobs. Since one
cannot invade a peer’s territory, the tone should only suggest, not command. If the
reader shares the writer’s professional background, then the technical may not need to
elaborate the technical vocabulary, symbols and abbreviations used.

Downward communication is addressed to employees and technicians who are most


concerned with how to increase their productivity and their incomes. Since they need
to see how their jobs fit into the overall company operation, the writer should explain, as
well as give directions.

Outward communications go outside the company and techniques of upward


communication are used. This is a group of busy people, so what they need is a form of
communication that is simple, according to the terms defined, and a thorough
discussion of facts and ideas. Potential customers want to know the cost, use and
durability of the products. The public wants information on how one’s ideas will affect the
environment or the economy while the stockholders want to know whether the

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organization is conforming to government regulations or if it is affecting the natural


economy.

However, not all communications go in one direction. Sometimes, the readers can be
combined. For instance, if one publishes a technical article in a research journal, the
communication goes outward, as well as upward. To analyze the readers, one must be
sure to know the direction of the communication.

Chapter Exercises:

Define the following terminologies:

1. Technical Report
2. Memorandum
3. Technical Paper
4. Specification
5. Feasibility Report

Activity 1.1

1. Collect five reports from a journal or a magazine in your field of specialization.

2. Get two short articles in your collection (from Exercise #1) and analyze them based
on the activities of good report writing. Justify your answer.

3. Clip and mount on bond paper two comparatively short samples of technical writing.
Evaluate them with regard to purpose, subject matter, significance, audience format
and ability to influence.

References:

Manalo, Paterna E., Fermin, Virginia G. (2008). Technical and Report Writing.
Mandaluyong City, Manila, Philippines: National Bookstore

Andrews, Deborah C. Technical Writing: Principles and Forms. New York: McMillan,
1982
Blicq, Ron S. and Nisa Moretto. Technically Write! New Jersey: Prentice-Hall., Inc.,
1999

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