7 responses to “Technical Writing Ups & Downs”

  1. Paul Clarke (@Monpjc)

    I’m currently writing a technical report that will be used as part of my cEng application. As I do not have a degree I’m taking the mature student route. At 39 I did not consider my self mature.

    The report follows a resent patent that I developed controlling airflow though equpment using multiple fans.

    Writting the report is not a short process and has taken over a year so far. I agree that a template and knowing who you are writing at is very important. It’s also important to stay focused in each section and address it full without talking about other areas. For example when writing up results you have to stop your self from explaining them or giving them some reson. This is for a later section ti review them.

    I do not write in order. I’ll write each as I feel moved to. I will often return to them and make complete rewrites. Nor because they are wrong but do not follow the direction the rest of the document has taken.

    I guess what I’m saying is that I let the document live and self develop. Thus is my method and hope to finish this partially massive report I. The next six months.

  2. Cherish The Scientist

    I’m a major outliner. I brainstorm my ideas and things I want to get down, then I get it into an outline. Once I have a path to follow, it’s usually not to hard to get going.

    But I hate having to insert a bunch of charts and graphics into a report. I know they tie everything together, but it seems so draining to spend all my energy on what are essentially formatting issues. That tries my patience.

    Some of it depends on how well I know the topic, though. I managed to write all of my MS thesis in about three weeks or one of my papers in less than 3 days. But writing something for a class when I don’t feel like I have an exceptional handle on the topic is daunting.

  3. Fluxor

    At the risk of plagarising myself

    Four days and seven hours ago our project leader brought forth on this corporation a new procedure, conceived in contemplation and dedicated to the proposition that all documents are created equal. Now we are engaged in a great internal struggle, testing whether that procedure or any procedure so conceived and so dedicated can long endure.

    We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all documents are created by men, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are good formatting, proper spelling, and the pursuit of clarity.

    And so, my fellow engineers: ask not what documentation can do for you, ask what you can do for your documentation.

  4. Bill

    I too like to dive into sections I’m interested in. I start out with blocks of writing and eventually form an outline with them as I progress. When I try to form an outline ahead of time it always needs to be reworked anyways.

    I type fast but think faster and have a tendency to swap words, leave out words or even whole sentences, misspell words or use the wrong words, etc. Then when I read my work back, I have this amazing ability to automatically fill in or correct my mistakes in my head without the slightest notice to my otherwise blatant errors. I generally need to wait a day, and then proof read, to avoid this.

    I’m also trying to improve my writing by writing a blog. It’s fun because I only write what I feel like. Even if no one reads it, it is enjoyable and will hopefully help me improve my writing skills. Then I’ll just need to work on my nunchuck skills, bow hunting skills and pedaling skills, in case Chris’ Armageddon comes.

  5. GEARS

    Being at a university, I never really have reports to do. Rather, it’s more journal/conference papers or proposal stuff. However, the best thing for me is to get in the lab and work on something else for a little while. It clears my mind and give me motivation (see past blog post http://gears-tt.blogspot.com/2011/02/funk.html ). It’s generally, I’d rather be working in the lab, but I can’t be in the lab if I don’t write up what I’ve already done. So, I get a taste of the next step, which helps me finish up the previous (3) step(s). :-)

  6. K

    My thoughts for writing for the business world are conclusions and observations first. And please, for the love of the flying spaghetti monster, please stop writing in passive voice.

    Not: “Engineering has determined the D1P-SHT system to be the best heat reducer…”

    But: “The D1P-SHT system is the best heat reducer…”

    And read Strunk and White. The best sentence and advice ever is: Omit needless words. Take it to heart.

    1. Fluxor

      K, I don’t think FrauTech’s sentence is written in the passive voice, certainly not what Strunk and White meant by the passive voice. But even the beloved Strunk concedes that “this rule [no passives] does not, of course, mean that the writer should entirely discard the passive voice, which is frequently convenient and sometimes necessary.” Professor Pullum from the Univ. of Edinburgh has a good web page on this topic.

      As for Strunk and White’s Elements of Style, it generally receives contempt of various degrees from linguists. Again, I’ll turn to Prof. Pullum for his take on this little book (excerpt from his article titled 50 Years of Stupid Grammar Advice):

      [The commercial success of Elements of Style] was most unfortunate for the field of English grammar, because both authors were grammatical incompetents. Strunk had very little analytical understanding of syntax, White even less. Certainly White was a fine writer, but he was not qualified as a grammarian.

      English syntax is a deep and interesting subject. It is much too important to be reduced to a bunch of trivial don’t-do-this prescriptions by a pair of idiosyncratic bumblers who can’t even tell when they’ve broken their own misbegotten rules.

      On the plus side, Prof. Pullum did say that the style section of the book is “mostly harmless”. NPR interviewed Prof. Pullum in 2009 on this very same topic.