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How to Write Clearly

How to Write Clearly

ADVICE TO HELP YOU WRITE CLEARLY AND CONCISELY

BLOG BY NICK WRIGHT of EDITORSOFTWARE.COM

 

StyleWriter can show you how to improve your technical reports

Monday, August 01, 2011 - Page 2 of 6

How to write a technical report

Avoid starting with Background, Introduction or Methodology.

These headings encourage you to warm up to the writing task and waste the most valuable part of the document—the first page. Instead, use the opening page to present the essential information. For example:

CONVENTIONAL OPENING

Report into Firewall Software

Background
The IT Assessment Group has drawn this report together to examine the alternative ways of protecting the company's data. In particular, the concept of firewall software, defined as software that can be used to protect an organization from viruses and unauthorized entry into databases) and its use within the organization is assessed. In order to assess the alternatives available, six independent technical evaluators were briefed on the company's databases, existing procedures. This report draws on the conclusions of the six evaluators.


ESSENTIAL INFORMATION

Report into Firewall Software

Firewall Software

Protecting the Company's Data
Firewall software is essential to protect the company's databases from viruses or unauthorized access. By investing $20,000 in the latest software, the company will safeguard its 30,000 customer records and accounts and protect itself against credit-card fraud — estimated to cost the industry $2.5 billion a year.

Once you have written down your sections and subsections, review them. Drop ones that are not essential. Then work out the best order to let readers pick out the information they need.

Write your headings using strong verbs and specific nouns

When you have your sections and subsections, give them headings with strong, active verbs and specific nouns. Pay particular attention to adding strong verbs to your headings. This transforms the look and feel of the document and will encourage you to write in a more direct and interesting style. For example:

Standard Headings

The Mechanization of Auto Assembly

1. Present Method
2. Need for Change
3. Proposed Method
4. Warehouse
5. Factory
6. Shipping Depot
7. Office
8. Cost Comparisons
9. Recommendation


Headings with Strong Verbs and Specific Nouns

Mechanizing Auto Assembly

1. How the Assembly Line Works
2. Adopting a Mechanized Assembly Line
3. Choosing the Just-in-Time Principle
4. Warehouse — Keeping Enough Stock
5. Factory — Updating the Assembly Link
6. Shipping Depot — Meeting Order Deadlines
7. Office — Checking the Paperwork Saving
8. Costs and Improved Turnaround Times
9. Adopting a Mechnized Auto Assembly

Headings help keep you organized and focused on the topic. They break down information into shorter, easier-to-handle items and keep you close to your original aim and your readers’ needs.

Match your content to your readers’ knowledge.

As always, your readers are all-important. Writing for the public or writing for specialists will alter how much technical information you can include.

If you are in doubt, aim for the simpler approach. It’s much better to take a little longer to explain something so everyone can understand than to use jargon that’s a short-cut which alienates or confuses some of your readers.

However, you still have to draw a line somewhere. For example, you may have to write for both technical and nontechnical readers. Suppose you have to explain how the cooling mechanism in a warehouse works. You may have to assume the expert and the nonexpert audiences both understand common terms such as ring seal, stop value, thermostat. But you may need to explain more complex terms, such as coolant temperature matrix, even if expert readers know the terms.

Poor Technical Writing

The 15ATS series toggle switches, in excess of 200 in total, were subject to the extreme of temperatures caused by being in close proximity to the furnace. This in turn caused heat failure as the expansion of metal caused a fault whereby the metal connection fused. The heat of the furnace has to be over 600 degrees Fahrenheit before this effect takes place.


Concise and Easy to Read

Over 200 automatic toggle switches fused when the keypad melted as the furnace temperature rose to over 600 degrees Fahrenheit.

Remember, readers can usually handle a few specialist words or terms if the writing style is concise and easy to read.

 

 

 

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