A business memo, a lab report, or a professional e-mail are all variations on the basic report structure described in this document. Feel free to modify these guidelines in order to meet your reader’s needs.
- Think of Your Reader First
Your busy reader has a problem, and has turned to your report for help. What, exactly, does your reader want? Deliver it as efficiently as possible.
- Begin with Your Conclusions
A technical document is not a mystery novel. Don’t save your best points for the end, because most readers are too impatient to wait.
- Organize with Appropriate Headings
For any document longer than a page or two, break the content into sections (like introduction, background, discussion, and conclusion).
Paragraphs Aren’t Always Helpful in Tech Writing
Your English literature teachers probably taught you to value topic sentences, concluding sentences, and well-crafted transitions that pull the reader along to the next point. But the kind of thought-packed prose that would please your English teacher probably won’t be the most efficient way to communicate technical information.
I certainly don’t mean to say that you can get away with sloppy paragraphs in technical writing — in fact, you need to demonstrate a lot more control over your prose. I am simply pointing out that most readers won’t read and ponder every word that you write — at least, not with the patience and thoroughness with which your English teacher would have read and appreciated the brilliance of your prose.
Technical paragraphs often don’t need concluding or transitional sentences; the inverted pyramid structure (starting with what’s most important, then trailing off with details) often makes a conclusion redundant, and the visibility of the subheadings encourages readers to skip around, rather than work their way from beginning to end, following each transition.
Dennis G. Jerz
25 Oct 2001 — rough draft first posted
10 Nov 2001 — last modified
09 Jan 2004 — minor edits
23 Aug 2012 — reformatting
|Jerz and Bauer|
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