Short Reports: How To Write Routine Technical Documents

Summary: This document introduces two basic principles of technical communication -- meeting the reader's needs and using the inverted pyramid. It also describes the section headings typically found in a technical report (abstract, introduction, background, etc.) 

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.

  1. Think of Your Reader First
    Good writers don't need fancy words. Who will read your report, and why? Does your document actually deliver what it promises?
  2. 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.
  3. Use Appropriate Section 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 paragraph 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 your essays.

Technical paragraphs often don't need concluding or transitional sentences; the inverted pyramid structure 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.

Next: Think of Your Reader First


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