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Technical Writing Primer

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Technical writing is an acquired skill derived through practice. It consists of language and word
usage that is somewhat different than story writing. As you begin your training as an engineer,
begin also to work on developing your skill at writing technically and scientifically. Many
employers use writing ability as a primary factor in hiring graduating engineers and scientists.
As such, learning to write correctly may enhance your marketability when you graduate.

The following guides are provided as an introduction to technical writing. Be aware, however,
that these general rules may change depending on the intent of the document. Preparation of a
manuscript for publication may be subject to particular rules adhered to by that journal.
Knowing the basic skills will allow you to make these changes effortlessly. Practice improving
your skills with every new paper and revision. Lastly, pay attention to suggestions and
comments made to your paper by your professor or editor.

Scholarly Writing

This is a style in which word usage should be as precise as possible. Avoid presenting
opinions (except in conclusions), giving instruction, repeating information, and using vague
terms or flowery language. Writing should be free of error, containing no spelling, grammar,
or syntax errors. Paragraphs should follow logical order of development. Scholarly writing
is objective in context, impersonal in writing style, concise, and without wordiness.
Avoid using the pronouns I, me, we, our, you, your, he, his, her etc. For example; do not
write "We filled the tank with water." Rather, write it as "The tank was filled with water".
Do not personify inanimate objects. For example, do not write "The graph tells us the data
follows a parabolic distribution." Rather, write it as ""As observed on the graph, the data
follows a parabolic distribution."

All material within the body of the report should be double-spaced.
The following exceptions should be single spaced: reference lists; text within tables; direct
quotes longer than 4 typed lines.

Short Paper Titles
The title of a short paper with no chapters is typed in upper and lower case letters.
Titles are centered and bold font.
Double space (2 return-key hits) between the title and the first line of text.
The heading starts 1 inch down from the top of the page.

Long Paper Headings
The section or chapter title is typed in upper case letters. Chapter numbers are usually
Roman numerals.
Titles are centered over the text and bold font.
Double space (2 return-key hits) between the section or chapter title and the first line of text.

Sub headings are underlined, written in upper and lower case, and placed at the left-hand
margin two lines below the preceding text.
There is only a single double space after the subheading and the beginning of the following

Body of the document - 1 inch on all sides (top, bottom, and sides).
Title Page - 2 inches on top, 1 1/2 inches on sides and bottom.
Justification - the right margin should not be justified.
Indent - the first sentence of each paragraph should be indented. Paragraphs should contain
at least three sentences.
Nothing should extend beyond the margins. Figures and Tables may have to be reduced to
meet this requirement.

Should be 12 point, dark, clear, and readable. To insure readability use a standard type font
such as Times New Roman or Arial.
Type on one side of the paper only
Print on a letter quality printer.

No number is placed on the title page of the report.
Page numbers of front matter such as an abstract, table of content, list of figures, etc., are
written in lower case Roman numerals.
Page numbers are numbered in Arabic numerals beginning with page 1 of the text.
Page numbers and Roman numerals are placed at the bottom, center of the page.

A single piece of paper with the title "Appendices" in the center of the page should be placed
before the first appendix.
Label sequentially beginning with A, B, C, etc.
Each appendix should have its title at the top of the first page of the appendix material.
Appendices are placed in the order of reference in the report.
Appendices include items that reflect information already fully explained in the body of the
Appendices should contain information essential for general understanding of the text, and
which, if included in the text, would be distracting to the reader's smooth and continuous
movement through the main material.
Tables of more than one page should be placed in an appendix.

Tables are charts that contain numerical data and occasional words.
Titles are centered above the presentation.
Tables are entitled as shown below:

Table 1. Water Surface Elevation versus Time: A Comparison of Observed and Predicted

Text for titles requiring more than one line should be lined up with the first word of the title
in line one.
Tables should be labeled to reflect specific content and be self-explanatory.
Tables do not contain vertical lines.
Column titles should contain specific information that clarifies the material in the table.
A single horizontal line should signify the end of the table.
Provide two double-spaced lines between the text and the table, and between the table and
the following text.
If possible, place the table on the same page immediately following the paragraph
introducing the table. Related text may continue after the table. If placing on the same page
is not possible, place it at the top of the following page.
If a full page table is presented in landscape mode, it should be readable by rotating the
document 90 degrees clockwise

Any type of illustration other than a table is called a figure. Included in this category may be
charts, graphs, drawings, diagrams, maps photographs, and blueprints.
Figures should have titles and should contain sufficient explanatory material to be clear to the
reader without having to refer to the text.
Figures should be precisely labeled to reflect specific content. All included data must be
identified in a key.
Titles are centered below the figure.
Titles are entitled as shown below.

Figure 1. Water Surface Elevation versus Time: A Comparison of Observed and Predicted

Text for titles requiring more than one line should be lined up with the first word of the title
in line one.
Provide two double-spaced lines between the text and the figure, and between the figure and
the following text.
If possible, place the table on the same page immediately following the paragraph
introducing the table. Related text may continue after the table. If placing on the same page
is not possible, place it at the top of the following page.
If a full page figure is presented in landscape mode, it should be readable by rotating the
document 90 degrees clockwise

Mathematical equations should insert into the document using equation editor. Simple
algebraic expressions can be typed directly as text.
Equations should be centered in the text.
Two double spaced lines should be placed between the text and the equation, and between
the equation and the following text
Each equation must be numbered. The number should be on the same line as the equation,
against the right-hand margin.
All variables in the equation and the variables' units must be identified immediately after the
equation, as shown in the following example:


m/t = change in mass with respect to time (M/t or Mt
C = concentration (mass per volume) (ML
t = time (t)
K = transfer coefficient (Lt
A = total bubble surface area (L
= saturated concentration (ML

Report should have a cover page with the title double-spaced in uppercase, bold letters and
centered two inches down from the top.
The name or names of those submitting the report should be 3 double spaces below the title.
Indent the names of those submitting the report so that they are approximately centered, with
the left-hand margins lined up.
Staple the upper left-hand corner.
Do not submit in a folder or with a plastic cover.

The following are examples table and figure formats.

) ( C Cs A K


Table 1. Average wind speed (mph) by month and
monthly average for Rapid City, SD from
1980 to 1983.

1980 1981 1982 1983 Avg
Jan 6.4 4.7 6.6 7.2 6.2
Feb 6.4 6.9 8.0 7.7 7.3
Mar 9.6 7.8 8.6 8.8 8.7
Apr 8.7 9.8 8.9 8.1 8.9
May 8.5 8.0 8.7 10.7 9.0
Jun 8.3 9.1 7.3 10.7 8.9
Jul 9.0 8.0 8.2 10.7 9.0
Aug 9.0 6.5 8.3 9.0 8.2
Sep 8.4 6.4 8.0 8.3 7.8
Oct 5.3 6.3 6.4 5.7 5.9
Nov 5.4 5.7 6.1 7.9 6.3
Dec 5.0 6.7 6.8 5.7 6.1



Figure 1. Average monthly wind speed for Rapid
City, SD from 1980 to 1983.
Details of Elements of a Technical Report
A technical report will contain the following elements:

Title page
Table of Contents
Body of Text
Problem Definition
Design Specifications
Analytical Methods
Appendix (if necessary)

Using computers to type and format the report, it is acceptable to include all figures and tables
within the body of the text, unless it is supplemental data which belongs in an Appendix

Title Page
This page provides the reader with the report tile, centered in the upper 1/3 of the page, and
the name(s) of the authors, centered at about mid page. For an academic report, it should also
contain the name of the course the report was prepared for and the name of the instructor,
centered in the bottom 1/3 of the page. Report titles should be concise but give the reader a
correct and valid summary of the primary topic.

An abstract is a 1 paragraph summary of the entire report that specifies the who, what, where,
when, and how of the elements which make up the report. The topic sentence of the abstract is
the most important and should state clearly and concisely the intent of the project to be described
and why is it important. Abstracts are the 1
piece of a report that will be read and based on
what it contains, a reader often makes the decision if they want to read the entire report to learn
the details. As such, an abstract by definition, contains results from the research and analysis. If
the project is part of an academic exercise, there may not be specific results in that no
experimentation might have been performed. In these cases, state what was done, why, and why
it is important. Almost always, there will be some type of analytical results, or technical
assessment that can be reported as the results of the project. Abstracts are always written in
past tense. i.e., the work has already been performed, so write in that language.

Example of an academic informative abstract.
The following example is from a senior-level course where a research paper was required to
be prepared. The projects were to include an original design or analysis of pre-existing data.
Three items are included below: 1) the original abstract, 2) the abstract after instructor edits had
been made, and 3) the final abstract that was submitted.

1) The original Abstract (it has been single-spaced here but was submitted double-spaced, as

Treatment of Phosphate & Nitrates In Rapid Creek

The construction of an artificial wetland as an addition to the Rapid City Municipal
Wastewater Treatment Plant would remeditate the high levels of phosphates and nitrates that are
currently released into Rapid Creek. This is the most ecologically sound method for
remediation. The biological activity of Rapid Creek downstream from the wastewater treatment
plant currently forms a natural, but unregulated and unconfined solution. The water table in
Rapid Valley is on average a foot below the surface which is fed from Rapid Creek during the
summertime. Wetlands have formed in most of the low lying areas below Rapid City as evidence
of the high nutrient contamination of the ground water table. The topography and geology is
conducive to construction of an artificial wetland east of the existing wastewater treatment plant.
The design of these beds combined with the warm temperature of the effluent and the relative
mildness of the climate would feasibly allow year round use. The result of the construction of
this artificial wetland would be the improvement of the water quality of Rapid Creek and the
surrounding water table, the creation of a rich biological habitat, and the compliance with any
future Environmental Protection Agency regulations.

Assessment of original abstract submission:
Although the abstract as shown above contained all the necessary details of the project and did
not contain unnecessary, puffy wordiness, there were some modifications required. These
mainly served to tighten the text and to correctly arrange the words to convey the meaning more
concisely. The original topic sentence gave the how (construction of artificial wetlands)
before the what (high levels of phosphate and nitrate), which is incorrect. This was one
item that required to be rearranged.

A word about editing marks:
Editing marks are used as a means of marking a word, words, a phrase, sentence, or entire
sections of text, for editing for word use, style, and tone. In GE 115, the following editing marks
will be used. Familiarize yourself with these marks so you can make the necessary corrections to
your papers.


We now have specified what the results of the dam failure were.

2) Abstract with editing marks

3) Final Abstract

High levels of phosphates and nitrates that currently are released into Rapid Creek in the
form of effluent from the Rapid City Wastewater Treatment Plant can be remediated by
construction of an artificial wetland. Biological activity in Rapid Creek downstream from the
wastewater treatment currently forms a natural unregulated and unconfined solution for the
pollutants. The topography and geology of Rapid Valley is ideal for the construction of an
artificial wetland east of the existing wastewater treatment plant. The design of the system and
the nature of water allows year round use. Results from the construction of this artificial
wetland system include an improvement to the water quality of Rapid Creek and compliance with
anticipated Environmental Protection Agency regulations.

The final form of the abstract is shorter and states the information in correct order and
technical language.

Abstract writing is a skill acquired through time, so dont expect to become an overnight
success using this skill. Follow your instructors editing and learn to understand why the
suggested changes are being made.

One last note about abstracts. Since this piece of the report contains the brief, but concise
summary of the project, it is written last! Do not attempt to begin the report with the abstract.
Wait until the writing has been completed, then summarize in the abstract.

Table of Contents
The table of contents assists the reader in finding particular sections of the report quickly.
The main heading of the table should be at a minimum, the list of the elements listed above.
Page 1 begins with the Introduction/Background section. Number sequentially from here.
Pages prior to page one are designated by letter as i, ii, iii, iv, v, etc. The table of contents is
located after the abstract and before page one.

The introduction is the opening piece of the report. It contains the necessary information,
some of which may be background, that serves to orient the reader to what was done and why.
Previous work that has been performed on the topic is reviewed here. It also contains the
purpose and significance of the report.

Text Body
The body of the report has many forms that can be used based on what type of report is being
written. For a technical report, it should contain at a minimum, the elements in the list above.
The information is listed to present to the reader a clear order of what was done during the
project. The details of the project are contained in the body.

Through the section of the body, focus on presenting the data using the 7-step methodology to
solving engineering problems. This will force you to present your material in order: what is the
problem, what is given, what needs to be found, what are the assumptions, etc. Each of these
steps may entail to use of a new heading.

Insert figures and tables within the text. Be sure, however, that any table or figure is shown
only after it has been referred to in the text.

One pitfall to avoid in the text body is to not make conclusions in the analysis section. When
discussing the types of engineering analysis used, do not go into a discussion of what the results
mean. These are placed under the Conclusions section. Analytical methods detail what
procedures were used. The Results section specify the numerical or practical results derived
from the analysis. The Conclusions section is where you are allowed to speculate as to what
the results might mean or how they might best be used. Up to this section, everything written is
purely factual. Again, this is a skill that requires much practice to master.

The references are a listing of all work cited in your report. References are a critical
component of research report writing. It is important to include these citations as an
acknowledgement of previous work.

Reference to a previous work that is made in the text body will appear in 1 of 2 forms
depending on it the name being referenced is part of the sentence or thought. Such a reference
may appear as follows:

Procedures used to measure soil erosion in agricultural fields have been
developed by Fryrear et al. (1991).

This sentence appeared in the text body making reference to William Fryrears previous work
which was published in 1991. The et al. denotes more than a single author. The full list of
authors are given in the reference list and looks like this:

Fryrear, D.W., J.E. Stout, L.J. Hagen and E.D. Vories. 1991. Wind
erosion: field measurement and analysis. Trans. ASAE, 34(1):155-160.

The second type of in-text reference is made where the information being discussed in the text
is due to the work of others. An example of giving credit to others may appear like this:

Wind motion over agricultural lands has been well documented and soil
erodibility has been described and indexed for many of the U.S. soils
(Lyles & Tatarko, 1988; Abtew et al., 1989; Vories & Fryrear, 1991;
Zobeck, 1991).

This sentence appeared in a publication and gives credit to the researchers whose names
appear in the parenthesis. Note that the list of previous researchers is given from oldest to
newest. If more than one name has the same year then place them in alphabetic order.

After the report is completed, one must make a complete list of all referenced works that are
cited in the body and make an alphabetic list under the References section. Part of a reference
list from a publication is shown below:

Alfredsson, P.H., Johansson, A.V., Haritonidis, J.H., & Eckelmann, H., 1988, The fluctuating
wall shear stress and the velocity field in the viscous sublayer: Physics of Fluids, v.31,
Anderson, R.S., & Haff, P.K., 1991, Wind modification and bed response during saltation of
sand in air: Acta Mechanica Supplement 1, p.21-51.
Arya, S.P., 1982, Atmospheric boundary layers over homogeneous terrain: in E. Plate, (ed.),
Engineering Meteorology, Elsevier, p.233.
Bagnold, R.A., 1941, The physics of blown sand and desert dunes: Methuen and Co., Ltd.,
London, 265 pp.
Blackwelder, R.F., & Kaplan, R.E., 1976, On the bursting phenomenon near the wall in bounded
shear flows: Journal Fluid Mechanics 76, 89.

The list would continue until all referenced works are citied. There are many formats for
citations. Your instructor will give you a few options that may be used for your reports.

Appendix contain information that if placed in the text body, would render it as wordy, or
divert the necessary flow of information. This data is usually considered supplemental to the text
body and may provide additional details on a topic or about a particular methodology that was
utilized in the project. It is not a critical piece of data but will be informative to individual

Making reference to an Appendix in the text is made in one of two ways:

1) As part of a sentence:
Supplemental data pertaining to the catalyst suppression system is given in Appendix A.

Here, the interested reader can go to appendix A to find more about the catalyst suppression

2) As a parenthetical phrase:
Catalyst suppression systems (Appendix A) are routinely utilized to block unnecessary
and undesirable reactions from occurring.

In either case, the details are given in Appendix A, not the text body. Appendices are usually
located behind the references.