November 1, 2021
I once humorously offered this comment to my students: “either you’re from Harvard and can’t count or from MIT and can’t write.” This comment was made to stress the importance of being able to communicate, and introduce the difference between non-technical wiring and technical writing.
Well, what about the difference? The technical and non-technical materials are written in contrasting styles. Technical pieces are written in a factual, ‘dry’ style emphasizing quantitative analysis, whereas the non-technical pieces contain numerous adjectives and modifiers. Similarly, engineering texts (I’ve written 131 of them–all of which have one thing in common: they don’t sell) contain a minimum of pictures and graphs, usually in black and white. Non-technical texts, by contrast, contain numerous color pictures and graphics. The contrast in style between the two is reminiscent of the contrast between a black and white “how to” video, and a high-budget movie. Generally, the engineering texts use a pragmatic and mechanistic approach, while the non-technical books have a policy and philosophical bent on what I define as the liberal arts approach. Further, one generally transmits information while the other entertains. In any event, this article is concerned with technical writing, a topic that should be of interest to many of the readers.
Technical wiring really isn’t that difficult; it is NOT a talent that only a handful of people are born with. With that in mind, here are a few basic rules that can transform one’s writing from a confusing, garbled mess into something that will impress readers.
- If applicable, know thy reader(s).
- It helps if the subject has not been written about before. If it has, improve what is available by editing, rewriting, expanding and updating. There should also be an element of interest to the readers(s).
- Prepare an outline. This should include an appropriate title, objective(s), introduction, background material, results, conclusions, and recommendations.
- Improve the foundation of the outline by filling it in with notes and sentences.
- Keep related ideas together and establish a logical flow from paragraph to paragraph and section to section.
- The abstract or executive summary (for technical reports) is the most important part of the writing; spend a significant amount of time here. It is the only material that is read by most of the readers. The reader (perhaps your immediate supervisor) can then decide whether to go deeper into the writing; this is very important. The abstract should contain a brief summary of the report without referring to the main body of the report.
- Sentences should contain little to no unnecessary words; paragraphs should contain little to no unnecessary sentences. One certainly would not have unnecessary lines in a diagram or unnecessary parts in a machine.
- The swan song of the successful writer is revision, revision, revision. Start early, e.g., weeks before it is due and/or submitted. Get colleagues, friends, your wife (my usual option) to review and critique your material.
- If your “report” is a resume, make sure it is current. Be prepared to tailor your resume to the individual reviewing it. And, don’t be bashful. I often refer to myself as “the foremost environmental authority in the world. “
- If there is a Table of Contents, list every section title, and heading, starting with page 1 not page i, and give the number of the page on which it appears.
- If there is a Statistical Error Analysis, it must be written with opening and closing paragraphs. It should include theoretical equations along with written explanations and conclude with a discussion of the numerical values determined from the error analysis.
- Conclusions and recommendations (if required) are just that. It is generally written as an extended paragraph even though it is often a series of loosely related topic sentences.
- References may be required. Footnotes are not commonly used in the technical literature. All the references cited in the report must be listed at the end of the report and (my preference) in the order of their appearance.
I hope this helps. In the final analysis, the more one reads and writes, the easier it becomes. It’s like tying shoes; it’s a little hard at first, but once mastered, it will never leave you.
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DECEMBER 1: On Hofstra’s 2020-21 Basketball Season
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FEBRUARY 1: On Great Eats VI
Here are this month’s three defensive suggestions from the upcoming second edition of my “BASKETBALL COACHING 101” book.
- If an opposing team’s offense is run by their playmaker, the defense should attempt to prevent him from getting the ball and if he does, he should be immediately double-teamed – hopefully forcing him to pass the ball.
- Defensive drills should include double and perhaps triple-teaming an offensive player.
- Practice various strategies when boxing out at the foul line.