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BACKGROUND OF TECHNICAL REPORT
Technical reports are a major source of scientific and technical information. Writing a proper technical report is a time-consuming task that can be made easier with certain techniques. Technical reports are used by many companies and government organizations to share information with other researchers and clients. Remember when writing a technical report that the purpose is to explain a technical or scientific problem in concise, direct language that can be supported by facts and research. A technical report should be factually correct while also being straightforward and easy to read.
CHARACTERISTICS OF TECHNICAL REPORT
* Precision – concrete language, exact dimensions and units, well-defined terms * Economy – fewest words for the desired meaning
* Audience – general, technicians, experts, executive, mixed * Objectivity – data must be evaluated honestly and without bias. Conclusions should be drawn solely from the facts presented. Opinions and conjecture should be clearly identified if included at all. Deficiencies in the testing or the results should be noted. Readers should be informed of all assumptions and probable sources of errors if encountered. * Clarity – the author should work to convey an exact meaning to the reader. The text must be clear and unambiguous, mathematical symbols must be fully defined, and the figures and tables must be easily understood. Clarity must be met from the readers’ point of view. Don’t assume that readers are familiar with previous work or previous reports. * Conciseness – most people are fairly busy and will not want to spend any more time than necessary reading a report. Therefore, technical reports should be concisely written. Include all the details needed to fully document and explain the work but keep it as brief as possible. Conciseness is especially important in the abstract and conclusion sections. * Continuity – reports should be organized in a logical manner so that it is easy for the reader to follow. It is often helpful to start with an outline of the paper, making good use of headings. The same three step approach for developing an effective presentation can be used to develop an effective report: 1) Introduce the subject matter (tell
readers what they will be reading about) 2) Provide the detailed information (tell them what you want them to know) 3) Summarize the results and conclusions (re-tell them the main points) * Correctness – good technical report must also be correct. It. must be free from grammatical errors, punctuation mistakes, and should have appropriate format standard. If a report contains grammatical errors, the reader will doubt the accuracy of the information in the report. Technical writing is meant to convey information and to persuade the audience. To accomplish these goals it must be clear accurate, easy to access and must be economical and correct.
ABOUT THE TECHNICAL REPORT
The major focus of many technical writing courses is the technical report. Just about everything you study, everything you write is geared toward preparing you to write this final report. The early, short assignment involving instructions or descriptions and the like give you practice using headings, lists, notices, and graphics; in handling numbers and abbreviations; and of course in producing good, clear, well-organized writing. For many students, the technical report is the longest document they’ve ever written. It normally involves some research; often the information comes not only from published sources in the library, but also sources outside the library, including no published things such as interviews, correspondence, and video tapes. It may also be the fanciest document: it uses binding and covers and has special elements such as a table contents, title page, and graphics. As you think about what you want to write about for this project, don’t shy away from topics you are curious about or interested in, but don’t know much about. You don’t need to do exhaustive research; normally, you can pull together information for an excellent report from several books and a half-dozen articles. Your real focus is the writing: how well adapted to a specific audience it is, how clear and readable it is, how it flows, how it’s organized, how much detail it provides. You are also focused on format: how well you use headings, lists, notices; how well you incorporate graphics; how well you handle the front- and back-matter elements; and how nice a job you do of turning out the final copy of the report. You don’t need to be a trained graphic designer to produce a fine-looking report. Basic word-processing skills and
a decent printer and access to nice (but inexpensive) binding are all you need. Plan on doing a first-rate job on the report; remember that past students have shown prospective employers their reports and have benefited by doing so.
TYPES OF TECHNICAL REPORT
Depending on the technical writing course you are taking, you can choose to write one of the following types Of reports (details on contents, organization, and format for some of these reports can be found in report structure):
Technical-background report. The background report is the hardest to define but the most commonly written. This type of technical report provides background on a topic—for example, solar energy, global warming, CD-ROM technology, a medical problem, or U.S. recycling activity (see Figure 2-2 for more topic ideas). However, the information on the topic is not just for anybody who might be interested in the topic, but for some individual or group that has specific needs for it and is even willing to pay for that information. Instructions. These are probably the most familiar of all the types of reports. Students often write backup procedures for the jobs they do at their work. Others write short user manuals for an appliance, equipment, or program. If there is too much to write about, they write about some smaller segment. Feasibility, recommendation, and evaluation reports. Another useful type of report is one that studies a problem or opportunity and then makes a recommendation. A feasibility report tells whether a project is “feasible”—that is, whether it is practical and technologically possible. A recommendation report compares two or more alternatives and recommends one (or, if necessary, none). An evaluation or assessment report studies something in terms of its worth or value. Primary research report. Primary research refers to the actual work someone does in a laboratory or in the field—in other words, experiments and surveys. You may have written a “lab report,” as they are commonly called, for one of your previous courses. This is a perfectly good possibility for the technical report as well. In this type of report, you not only present your data and draw conclusions about it, but also explain your methodology, describe the equipment and
facilities you used, and give some background on the problem. You can modify this type by summarizing other primary research reports. Technical specifications. In this report type, you discuss some new product design in terms of its construction, materials, functions, features, operation, and market potential. True specifications are not much on writing—the text is dense, fragmented; tables, lists, and graphics replace regular sentences and paragraphs whenever possible. Thus, specifications are not a good exercise of your writing abilities. However, you can write a more high-level version—one that might be read by marketing and planning executives. (For details on contents, organization, and format, see the section on technical specifications.) Report-length proposal. As you may be aware, proposals can be monster documents of hundreds or even thousands of pages. (Please, not this semester.) Most of the elements are the same, just bigger. Plus elements from other kinds of reports get imported—such as feasibility discussion, review of literature, and qualifications; these become much more elaborate. The problem with writing a proposal in our technical-writing class is coordinating it with the proposal you write at the beginning of the semester (a proposal to write a proposal, come on!). Several students have set up scenarios in which they proposed internally to write an external proposal, in which they went after some contract or grant. (For details on contents, organization, and format, see the section on proposals.) Business plans. If you are ambitious to run your own business, you can write a business plan, which is a plan or proposal to start a new business or to expand an existing one. It is aimed primarily at potential investors. Therefore, it describes the proposed business, explores the marketplace and the competition, projects revenues, and describes the operation and output of the proposed business. (For details on contents, organization, and format, see the section on business plans.)
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