Why bother writing when technology does much of the work for us? Templates plan for us, spell-check edits for us, and there’s enough information online to produce a ocean of plagiarized work. It’s no surprise that technical and business writing skills are becoming lost arts. Yet, successful communication with colleagues, teams, and clients relies heavily on written memos, emails, reports, proposals, and evaluations. Professional development should include the development of writing skills, but rarely does.
There are two key items that are essential for a successful report. The first is having a step-by-step timeline that maps out the process. The second is choosing a topic that interests you enough to do the research and writing required. The ADR 10-Step plan combines both elements using a famous writer’s philosophy …
“The time to begin writing an article is when you have finished it to your satisfaction. By that time you begin to clearly and logically perceive what it is you really want to say.” ~ Mark Twain
STEP #1: RESEARCH POSSIBLE TOPICS – If the specific topic isn’t assigned, read a minimum of 3 articles on an assigned or chosen topic. Circle 3 ideas that you’d like to read more about as you write the paper. Choose the one idea that interest you the most and make a list of similar articles to read for the paper.
STEP #2: CHOOSE A TITLE – Write down three possible titles for your report. Choose one of the titles or keep writing until you have a title that you think will work. If you do this now, the rest of the paper will flow from it. If you do the title last, you will end up rewriting substantial portions of your paper because it lacks focus. When in doubt, read the title choices out loud to a friend for feedback.
STEP #3: TABLE of CONTENTS – Whether you are given the elements of the Table of Contents (TOC) or create it yourself, draft a TOC early in the writing process. The TOC is your writing plan. A short paper may not require page numbers in the TOC. For longer reports, insert page numbers.
STEP #4: SECTION CONTENT – Write each section in sequence. Consider the related tables, figures, and footnotes as part of the content. Don’t jump around or try to write several chapters at once. Focus & Finish!
STEP #5: ABSTRACT – Write an abstract/executive summary only when you’ve finished writing the report, including the bibliography.
STEP #6: THE DRAFT – When you’ve finished writing, think of the results as a rough draft. Sleep on it. Give your brain some distance from writing before reviewing and finalizing it.
STEP #7: CONTENT EDIT – Review your writing to make sure that you defined your terms, described your methodology, and analyzed the results so that readers can follow your thinking. CLICK here if you need help?.
STEP #8: FORMAT & COPYEDITING REVIEW – Review your report for technical problems such as grammatical mistakes and formatting errors. If possible, have a friend or colleague read it at this point.
STEP #9: FINALIZE – When you’ve made all the necessary corrections, take a break. Then read your paper one last time for both content and format. Make corrections as necessary.
STEP #10: DEADLINE – Get known for meeting deadlines and producing quality work! Schedule backwards from the deadline, putting the date for completion of each step on your calendar. Budget extra days for complicated sections. If you don’t need those extra days, you’ll finish early. If they are needed, you can still meet the deadline.
© Deborah Levine
Want to improve your writing skills and keep on improving? Avoid these 8 mistakes by using my strategies for giving readers what they need and expect. Remember, technical writing is not about self expression. It’s all about clarity for the reader. As a famous writer once said …
“Easy reading is damn hard writing. ” ~ Nathaniel Hawthorne
Mistake #1: Not having a point
• Decide on a Title before writing.
• If you tweak the title after writing the paper, review and edit the paper to make sure your intended point is consistent throughout the paper.
Mistake #2: Not having a linear writing process
• Create an Outline
• Create a Table of Contents that reflects your outline before writing.
Mistake #3: Making paragraphs too long or too short.
• Paragraphs more than 5-7 sentences may lose the reader.
• Paragraphs of only 1-3 sentences should either be expanded or folded into another paragraph to make the paper easier to read.
Mistake #4: Using vague words to define terms.
• Confusing comparisons: Similar to, just like, unlike, almost as much as …
• Unquantifiable measurements: A lot, marginally, hardly, almost all …
Mistake #5: Stating opinions vs. facts.
• Don’t tell the reader what you feel, believe, think, or hope.
• If an application asks about your plans and aspirations, be specific and give short and long term details.
Mistake #6: Mixing verb tenses.
• Use the future tense rarely, the present tense occasionally, the past tense often.
• Separate the different tenses by paragraphs, not by sentences.
Mistake #7: Using colorful language to add emotion.
Non-technical idioms: Colloquial phrases that are fun and catchy are distractions.
Conversational-only adjectives & adverbs: Really, very, important, very important …
Mistake #8: Inserting confusing punctuation.
• Semi-colons should be used rarely if ever.
• Count your commas. If you used more than 4-5 commas in a sentence, break it up into shorter sentences.
© Deborah Levine
Few Technical Writing errors are as annoying to readers as abbreviations, acronyms, and initials that are either not defined or send them hunting for an explanation. This common mistake is compounded when using your report as the basis for an oral presentation. What are obvious short cuts to you may make your readers and/or audience resentful rather than admiring.
Avoid the jargon trap!
What is the difference between an abbreviation and an acronym?
Abbreviations are shortened versions of a word, for example, Jan. for January and etc. for etcetera. Acronyms are abbreviations that can be pronounced as words, for example, NASA and OPEC. There are also abbreviations based on initials which are not intended be pronounced as a word, for example, FBI and UTC. All acronyms are abbreviations, but only a relatively small group of abbreviations are acronyms.
How do I use abbreviations in technical writing?
The first time you write an abbreviation or acronym in your paper, spell out the full phrase for the reader. Follow the phrase by the abbreviation in parentheses, for example, University of Tennessee at Chattanooga (UTC) and College of Engineering and Computer Science (CECS). You can then use only the abbreviation throughout the document unless there are stand-alone sections. In that case, repeat the process for that section. Consider adding a glossary if you have multiple acronyms and abbreviations.
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Technical writing includes non-fiction articles for publication ranging from policy-oriented to scientific. It also includes grant research & writing to support the cutting edge work of people making a difference. Use the Contact form below to request a quote for your writing project.
GURU Deborah’s grant writing credentials span decades. She began writing grants for arts organizations in Cincinnati and Chicago ranging from small nonprofits like Dancing with Disabilities to the internationally famous Chicago City Ballet. Her grant writing supported projects such as the National Workshop on Christian-Jewish Relations, DuPage/Chicago Interfaith Resource Network, and SE Women’s council on Diversity. Need help researching grant opportunities and writing winning grants? Use the form below to get the process moving.
GURU Deborah began her technical writing career in 1969 as a research correspondent at Chemical Bank headquarters in NYC. She has published articles in The American Journal of Community Psychology, The Journal of Public Management & Social Policy, Harvard Divinity School Bulletin, and The Journal of Bermuda Maritime Archeology. As Research Coordinator of the College of Engineering and Computer Science/U. of TN at Chattanooga (CECS), she advised faculty on writing articles for publication. Deborah also taught technical writing, and coached students on technical writing.
Teaching technical writing included sharing my time-proven strategies for giving your readers what they demand and expect. Remember, technical writing is not about self expression. It’s all about clarity for the reader. Use the form below to request help. In the meantime, click on the links below for Deborah’s FREE Technical Writing Tips.
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Where better to hear a speech on The Power of Words than at a library? That was Tom Griscom’s topic at the annual meeting of Chattanooga’s public library board of directors. I couldn’t resist joining them atop four floors of books, DVDs, and periodicals. Griscom had revitalized my passion for writing almost a decade ago. As editor and publisher of The Chattanooga Times Free Press, he created a cadre of community correspondents who reported weekly on events in their neck of the woods. I hemmed and hawed when first contacted, but the young reporter got me when she said, “C’mon. You know you want to.” Yes, I did, for years, and never regretted it.