Monday, August 01, 2011 - Page 1 of 6
How to write a technical report
There's no reason why technical writing shouldn't be lively and interesting. The real challenge is to express complex ideas simply. Too often technical writing has a flat style making documents difficult and tedious to read. As in all good writing, you should put across your message in clear English and avoid complex words, acronyms, jargon and passive verbs. You should also keep your average sentence length low. The real challenge in technical writing is to express complex ideas simply. Click the link below and follow my guidelines to help improve your reports.
Understand the type of technical report you are writing.
Technical reports come in all shapes and sizes, but they all share the same goal of communicating information clearly. Deciding what type of document you need to write is an important first step as it influences your approach.
For example, the following demand different approaches.
- Reporting Research Findings
These documents describe the work done to gather information in the laboratory or field. They can be simple recording or data or more thorough and include: the problem or issue examined, the method or equipment used, the data collected and the implications.
- Simple Technical Information Report
This document explains a technical subject. It has no aim other than to make sure readers understand the topic clearly. For example, a technical report on a investing in the futures market would probably explain how the market evolved, how it works, the specialist terms used and so on. A simple technical report for information does not put forward a view on the merits of investing in the market or have recommendations.
- Technical Specifications
Specifications typically consist of descriptions of the features, materials, uses and workings of new product. Good specifications concentrate on graphics, data and illustrations rather than written descriptions. Think of a patent application as a good example.
- Technical Evaluation Reports
Evaluation reports, sometimes called feasibility reports, present technical information in a practical and logical way to decide whether something is possible. For example, a technical evaluation report into setting up an intranet site for a corporation would examine if this was possible, set out the steps needed and point out any problems. It does not recommend if the corporation should set up its own intranet site.
- Technical Recommendation Reports
These reports lead to specific recommendations. It builds on the evaluation report and comes to specific recommendations to help the decision-maker adopt the best solution. Of course, some reports often have both the evaluation and recommendation reports rolled into one
- Technical Manuals and Instructions
Here the emphasis is on using appliances, equipment or programs. The task here is to write step-by-step procedures anyone can understand and follow.
Write down your specific aim
Ask yourself ‘why am I writing’ and ‘what am I trying to achieve?’ If you don’t know, the chances of writing good technical specifications are remote. If you define your aim, you can then evaluate all information, arguments and recommendations against that aim. For example, you might be writing a report on Firewall Software, but your aim is different if you need to write a one-page summary or a 100-page technical specification.
If you define your aim as:
Aim: Explaining how firewall software protects the company’s data.
With this aim at the forefront of your mind, you can decide on the most relevant information. You might decide to:
- Exclude alternatives to firewall software.
- Exclude a review of different firewall software packages.
- Stress the specific company information most at risk.
- Look at the cost of introducing the software compared to the cost of losing data.
- Describe the worst-case outcome.
- Examine the technical issues to overcome in using firewall software.
Setting down your aim must be the first step in any piece of writing. By focusing your thoughts, you have started to think clearly about what your readers need to know.
When working out your aim, you may need to clarify the task by asking your supervisor or colleagues questions about the task. Keep asking questions until you have a clear idea of why you are writing and what you want to achieve as it will help collect the right information and decide how to present it to your readers.
If you have more than one aim, sort them into priority order.
Plan the sections and subsections you need.
With technical writing you must present your information so readers can:
- use the report for the purpose for which it was requested;
- extract the main points without necessarily reading the whole;
- easily find the information that interests them;
- and quickly absorb the crucial information they need to know.
If you don’t organize your document well, readers may miss important information. It is up to you to present your information in a readable and well-organized way. You should offer informative summaries, clear instructions and a logical arrangement to let your readers pick and choose the parts they want to read.
For example, think of a good Internet page. Isn’t it easy to navigate and get the information you want quickly? As readers will not read from the opening page to the last page, good organization here is essential. This is just as true of a manual where readers need to find out how to fix a problem or a report where the reader wants to find the reason for a technical decision.
So it’s a good idea to write down the sections and subsections you need to plan your document. This helps you think about your aim and your readers’ needs, drop unnecessary information, stress important information and so on.
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