10 Ideals To Follow During Technical Report Writing
A technical report is like icing on the cake; it can either enhance the flavor or destroy the cake. It all depends on the writing and presentation skills of the writer. A reader can understand the whole idea, process, and results of your research or project just by reading the technical report.
Though there are no fixed rules while writing a technical report, still there are some things that one should keep in mind before diving into the sea of technical report writing. In this article, we will discuss the 10 ideals that one should keep in mind while writing a good technical report.
It is a document that describes the ideas, processes, and results of scientific research performed. It also includes recommendations regarding the research. Most scientific literature such as scientific journals has to undergo compressive reviews before publication. But a technical report need not undergo such review. So, they are also called grey literature.
A technical report is based on facts. It is presented in an objective format. Hence a technical report writing has no space for personal opinions and ideas. They are usually used for internal distribution by an organization that lacks editing and printing facilities. They are also prepared for people who sponsor the research. It includes in-depth details of the experiment, any additional results, etc.
Technical reports are used in fields such as agriculture, engineering, biomedical science, etc. So reports having such complicated information should be precise, informative, and easy to read. It should have a well-organized layout. Proper headings for each content should be included in the report. Non-verbal materials like graphs and tables help in making the report more presentable.
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The 10 ideals to bear in mind while technical report writing is as follows:
1. The Reader Is Pivotal
The objective of technical report writing should be clear to the writer even before the process of writing starts. A technical report is like a guide to the research that has already been done. It is like windows to your house, one can get a complete picture without directly being involved in the research or project.
Study of the target readers is very important before you start writing the report. The target audience can be anyone from professors to customers interested in investing in your project or product, financial managers, technical managers, etc. Once we understand the audience it is easy to start structuring and formatting the report.
The writer should keep in mind what information the reader already has, how much knowledge the reader has about the project, what information the reader should know, etc. The report should include the exact details of the process to its completion. The report should also have details about any new process taking place and its effect on the project.
Technical reports are also used by some industries to give information to their top managers. This helps them to take important decisions regarding the company’s future. Proposals, manuals, emails, and memos are some examples of such technical reports.
The technical report is evidence of the work done. It explains to the readers the various steps taken during the research and hence makes them realize the effort put behind it. This also helps in increasing the goodwill of the company.
The reports are written for different types of readers. For the convenience of such different categories of readers, the use of summaries and appendices should be done. Depending upon the type of reader, the technical level and the style of writing also should be determined. Before technical report writing, all the information must be collected and organized.
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The information collected should be put into three categories:
- Very important information which has to be included in the report.
- Any information which might be useful to some readers.
- The information is not relevant to the report.
The information of category 1 should be used as the main text and put in a logical order. Category 2 information can be used as appendix material and the category 3 information should be set aside to be checked later.
The writer should be able to bridge the gap between the information the reader already knows and what the reader wants to know. As the law suggests the reader is the most important person and writing of the report should be done keeping in mind the reader’s requirements.
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2. The Report Should Be As Short As Possible.
The beginning of the report will usually not be the beginning of the project. The report will be based on the work that must have been done months or years earlier. So, the beginning of the report is written keeping in mind the requirement and knowledge of the reader.
Appendices act as the lifeboat of a sinking ship. They are one of the most important tools used in report writing. It removes the information that is not required by many of the readers. It is a good place for storing background information required by only a few readers.
Too much explanation can sometimes confuse some readers, hence putting backup material in an appendix helps to satisfy all types of readers. Hence it’s not wrong to say that appendices are technical report writers’ best friends. Symbols, abbreviations, technical terms may also be included in the appendices.
If a technical report is very long, the chances of it being glanced at and forgotten are very high. Short and readable reports are appealing to readers. The length of the report is an important factor when it comes to grabbing the attention of the reader. The main text should have a detailed explanation along with statistical data, maps, explanations of important technical terms, etc.
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3. For the Convenience of the User the Report Should Be Organised
An organized report reflects the knowledge and clarity of the writer. Dividing the report into sections and sub-sections helps in organizing the complex information into a simple readable matter. There should be adequate spacing between sections. In long reports, the main sections should start on a new page. By doing so readers can identify sections relevant to their interests.
It is observed that most readers look at the beginning and the end of the report. Then the readers glance at the required sections in the middle of the report, depending on their field of interest. The writer should assume that the user will not read everything in the order it has been presented in the report. So each section must be identifiable.
A common format of technical report writing is as follows:
This page contains details like title, name of the author, name of the company, logo of the company.
Along with the information present on the cover page, the title page also informs the readers about the name of the supervisor and mentors. It also informs the status of the project, like technical report part 1, final report, etc.
In this section, the researcher acknowledges the people who have helped them with the research, whose ideas have helped in gaining a deeper understanding of the project.
It is a brief but clear outline of the technical report. It is written in such a way that the reader gets a complete idea of the project. It is like a trailer of a movie. It only includes key points from the main report.
Table of contents:
Every topic is divided into sections and subsections. A table of content guides the reader where the different sections are located in the report. It is written on a different page which includes page numbers of each section.
The introduction tells the gist of the report to the readers. It introduces the topics in the report. The introduction fulfills five important tasks. To grab the attention of the reader, to introduce the topics of the report, to explain the reason for performing the research, and to outline the main points of the report. The introduction is like a map for the route to be taken.
In a technical report, evidence plays a major role. It increases the authenticity of the report. Evidence is presented to persuade readers. In the absence of evidence, all the claims in the report will not be justified. Common evidence used is data, facts, statistics, and theories.
Everything that is written in the report is concluded in the conclusion. It includes in short all topics covered in the report.
It includes the aim of the project and to what extent the aim was achieved. It summarizes the results and findings of the project and recommends changes in the steps that can be done in the future.
It puts forth the different sources from where the information was taken for the report. It may include graphs, statistics, diagrams, etc. If credits are not given to the sources of information used, it can also cause a legal threat to the writer.
Appendices are a technical report writer’s best friend. Symbols, abbreviations, technical terms can be included in the appendices.
It is a compilation of all the data read or gained knowledge from. It can also include the data from which we got the inspiration for the research.
It is helpful for the writer to keep in mind the above scheme while arranging the information. The above sections form the framework of the report.
4. All Details Should Be Correct In All References
In a technical report, headings should be very specific. The headings should be linked by notations. Most commonly used are decimal notations. Most readers are well versed with this type of system. It is difficult to recall references later. So, a note of all bibliographical details should be noted down as soon as possible.
5. The Writing Should Be Accurate and Unobtrusive
The technical report writing should be formal but the level of formality will be decided by the writer keeping in mind the relationship with the readers. It is the writer’s responsibility to provide an accurate report. Whenever a section of the report has been completed it should be checked for spelling and typing errors. Commonly used technical words should be added to the computer’s dictionary.
Punctuation helps is accurate reading and also affects the meaning of the sentence. The right choice of words has a great effect on the reader. Words that do not have any relevance in the report should be avoided. Vague words such as ‘empty’ should also be avoided during technical report writing.
The length of sentences and paragraphs should be kept in control. Long sentences lead to grammatical confusion. Short and precise sentences help in grabbing the attention of the reader. Similarly, several and short paragraphs encourage reading. A single long paragraph is to be surely avoided.
If a report is lengthy due to the information it carries, it is acceptable. But the information should not be repetitive just to increase the length of the report. Active voice instead of passive voice is preferred.
Report writing should be formal without the use of slang. A good report should be interesting and easy to read. To develop such writing skills one should indulge in a lot of reading and writing practice. One should be critical about oneself and always ask for others’ comments.
6. Diagrams And Labels Should Be Added In The Right Place
Non-verbal materials increase the presentation of the report. Tables, graphs, charts, photos, and drawings should be included in the technical report writing. Illustrations help in the easy understanding of the information. Diagrams break the monotony of the report and make it interesting. Complex details can be easily conveyed by adding graphs, photos, etc.
Non-verbal materials make the report visually attractive and help in the easy understanding of the information provided. But the position of such diagrams is to be carefully decided. Diagrams should be present wherever the reader needs them for reference. Important diagrams are never to be placed in appendices. Only supplementary diagrams which are not directly associated with the information or the main text can be placed in the appendices.
The reader’s convenience is the most important aspect to keep in mind. The labels on the diagrams should be placed horizontally so that while reading the reader does not have to tilt the report. In technical report writing the use of convection must be followed for both prose and diagrams. A lot of effort is taken while writing the text but usually diagrams are not given much attention. Many a time the diagrams are left unclear. Blurred labels or numbers of a diagram can cause errors and miscommunication of the information.
Tables and graphs are very commonly used in technical report writing. They help in giving a piece of precise information. Graphs and their scales should be clearly labeled. If the diagrams are larger than the page, then it is a cause of concern.
Margins should be present on all sides so that it looks clear and has enough space to display page numbers, figure numbers, title, etc. Space should also be left for the binding of the report. Before placing diagrams in a technical report one should check if it gives the required information, is it easy to use and does it increase the attractiveness of the report?
7. Summaries Give The Miniature Gist Of The Whole Picture
While writing the report, the contents might have been placed in the correct order. But while composing the final version of the report the structure should be again laid and presented properly.
The summary is the last yet most difficult part of the report. The summary has many advantages. It provides a picture of the information that the reader has already read. It also helps readers who don’t want to go through the whole report. Some companies distribute the summaries to all but provide the full technical report to only a few important stakeholders. One can save a lot of money and time by following such practices.
Writing a summary requires the talent to reproduce the original report in a small space. The summary should be around 250 words. Summaries cover the important aspects of the report without confusing the readers. Careful usage of words can help in summary writing. The diagram is rarely used in summaries.
Clear and simple technical report writing has a great impact on the reader. Abstracts help in guiding readers who feel that the report is not relevant to their requirements. Abstracts are usually written by someone other than the writer like a librarian. A list of keywords that can be stored in a database is covered by abstracts. The report is found by readers who are hunting for material by just using the keyword.
The use of the index helps to guide the readers to the section which interests them. Each section and subsection are numbered along with their respective page numbers. It helps in the easy location of the content and also enables us to connect with preceding information. Page numbering is very important. If pages are not numbered it can lead to loss of the reader’s goodwill. It also helps the readers to know if a page is missing.
8. Report Should Be Checked For Typing Errors, Technical Errors, And Inconsistency
The computer does the spell check but it is not a substitute for human checking. Some mistakes can be noticed only by the reader himself. Ideally, the report should be checked by two people, a technical expert who can understand the authentication of the data and the explanation given. It should also be seen by a note-making expert who can identify typing errors.
Instead of checking the report immediately, one should do it after four to five days. The data should be checked line to line. Similarly, numbers should be checked digit by digit.
Consistency is a very important aspect to be kept in mind during report writing. The use of different abbreviations for the same words reflects the carelessness of the writer. The checking stage though annoying and time-consuming should not be rushed. It plays an important role in the reader’s attitude and enhances the appearance of the report.
9. The Report Should Have an Appealing Appearance
The good appearance of a report plays an important role in capturing the attention of the reader. Overcrowded pages, text disappearing in the binding, small margins, small typeface, etc. make the report unattractive. The good appearance of the report encourages the reader to read even dull subjects. Thus, alluring appearance becomes a vital part of technical report writing. One can also appoint a graphic designer and a typographer to enhance the look of the report.
The cover page is the first thing a reader will see. The title, name of the author, company’s name, and logo can be included on the cover page. If the company has a self-designed cover page it can be used as it will be an advantage by creating good publicity for the writer and the organization.
The title page includes the information covered on the cover page along with the reference number, date of the report, etc. If any copyright is available, then that too can be added to the title page. The summary is not included on the title page.
10. The Reader Is the Most Important Person
This law is intentionally repeated. As the law suggests the reader is the most important person. In this article, we have talked about the important aspects of technical report writing. But all said and done, the whole point of writing a report is to connect with the reader. If the reader is not convinced with the report, then the whole point of this report writing is lost. So, although the above laws help you to write a good technical report, the laws can surely be twisted and turned to suit the requirement of the reader.
Last but not the least, even though you might be a seasoned writer, always remember you are never too good to learn more. Keep on reading and improving your craft. Happy writing.