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Technical Writing Report

In: Business and Management

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Technical

The Basics of Technical Writing for Management Information Systems Professionals
David J. Donahoo
Associate Professor, Liberty University
Lynchburg, Virginia

Submitted in Accordance With
Guidance in the CSIS 100 Syllabus
Abstract
This paper provides students in the CSIS 100 course with an introduction to technical writing—one of the critical success factors for their future employment and career advancement. In this paper, students will be exposed to Four basic skills that will improve your technical writing. These include: flow and format, writing in complete thoughts, proper use of white space, and readability. This paper provides various tips to help you be successful in your college research writing and your follow-on professional life.

Table of Contents

Abstract 3 Introduction 6 General Concepts 6 Flow and Format 7 Flow 7 Flow Tips and Pointers 7 TIP 1: Body 8 TIP 2: Introduction 8 TIP 3: Conclusion 8 Format 9 Complete Thoughts 9 White Space 10 Readability 11 Conclusion 12 Sample References 13

Introduction
No matter where you are at in your life-long educational or professional career you will benefit from honing your technical writing skills. Believe me when I say this; technical writing takes your normal writing skills in a different direction. Some of the things you received praise from in high school composition classes will draw scorn in a technical review.
This single paper (and the accompanying writing exercise) is not going to make you an expert technical writer. But by applying these concepts (and practicing them throughout your various classes along the path to reaching for your educational goals), you will be provided two-fold benefits. First, your research papers will be easier to write and you’ll receive better grades. Second, by the time you graduate, you will be proficient at producing a technical report. This factor alone will give you some job hunting competitive advantage as there are many college graduates out there who cannot effectively put pencil to paper.
General Concepts
The usual method for starting a technical paper is to review current documents in the topic area and then follows-up with the thoughts of the author of the paper. This would be considered the literature review; a summation of what all the “experts” have to say about your topic. If this paper was being submitted for publication, I would also follow that model as well. But, as this paper is being prepared specifically for a class, it was decided best that we keep it focused on your class requirements. This paper will provide you the foundation that, if followed applied to your writings in the BMIS program, will be easily accepted. However, more important, are the foundational writing skills that will carry your career forward. You will find that what many of you will think is just a given professor’s “quirks” are really just plain good report writing standards.
While there are many potential pitfalls in technical writing, we have found four basic challenges that will lead to your successful writing. These are: flow and format, writing in complete thoughts, proper use of white space, and readability. Work on and master these four and you will be well on your way.
Flow and Format
This is the most important of the four. In fact, over time, mastering flow and form will lead writers to satisfying the other three without much additional effort. Flow and format are critical elements to writing anything above a short answer response. This includes responding to essay questions in homework and exams as well as research papers.
Flow
This is a very basic concept. Everything you write must have three basic parts: Introduction, Body, and Conclusion. The beginning, the middle, and the end, or, as many have simplified it this way: 1. Tell them what you are going to tell them, then 2. Tell them what you want to tell them, and finally 3. Tell them what you told them.

You may be saying to yourself at this point, that it sounds like “redundancy” and, according to some of the technical writing tips you have seen, redundancy is not good and should be eliminated. Those tips are not referring to document flow and format when they advise against redundancy. They are talking about internal sentence/paragraph redundancy.
Flow Tips and Pointers
To help with form and flow always structure writing to include these three basic areas. 1. Introduction 2. Body 3. Conclusion
TIP 1: Body
Write your body first. It is what you are already good at, and if the truth be told, the best writers do this.
The body needs to be as many paragraphs as is needed. You will do yourself a great favor if you do not worrying about word count while you write the body. Word count is a distraction in your first body drafts. They cause you to write until you reach a certain number of words and stop, even if you have not finished the thought.
TIP 2: Introduction
When writing your introduction, just assume your reader does not know the question. Therefore, reintroducing the question is always a good way to introduce your topic. Then outline the main topics (in the same order they appear in your paper). You may say, how would you know the main topics before you have finished the body. CORRECT! See Tip 1 above. Most writers find it much easier to outline the paper first, then write the body and then write the introduction and conclusion.
TIP 3: Conclusion Start your conclusion with a statement that is comfortable to you and use it over and over (for a while). After you become a more proficient writer, you will naturally start revising this. Try starting with a few like these: * In summary..... * As I've stated above.... * From the evidence I provided.....
In summary, in order to properly flow your essay responses and research papers, practice by structuring them into three basic areas of Introduction, Body and Conclusion.
Format
This paper is formatted properly for an APA style report. You can use it as a template or you can create a new one yourself.
Complete Thoughts
One of the more significant challenge teachers find in classes, is that students cannot seem to structure responses into a complete thought. What is a complete thought? A thought is complete if it can stand alone (without original the question) and be clearly understood. This means, if you wrote a complete thought on a piece of paper and lost it, whoever found it would know the question as well.
Another way to think of this is as a sentence response versus a sentence fragment response. A sentence response would be: The sky is blue. Where a fragment response would be: blue. If you wrote blue on a piece of paper and someone found it, they would have no idea what the question was—thus the fragment is of no value. Incomplete thoughts have no value in your writing either.
Ah, but you say. That is how we speak. If someone ask you how you are. You would likely respond with “fine.” You do not usually say “I am fine.” This is true, and it is also one of the biggest differences between writing and talking. When someone asks you a question, they already know the question. But if I ask you how you are, and you go up to someone else and say fine, it is of no value to them.
To communicate, in our writing, we must all learn to write in complete responses. As Information Systems professionals, you will be writing, and writing, and then writing some more.
As students you should take every chance you get to construct complete responses. This will reinforce your learning and, over time, you will do it as a habit. Say, for example, you are writing responses to your homework assignments and the question is:
What is the binary representation of the decimal number 3?
It would be easy to just put in the answer of 11. But to practice providing complete responses you should answer it something like:
The binary representation of the decimal number 3 is 11.
This may sound silly to you now but, in times of stress (i.e. exams), you will perform how you practice (i.e. homework).
White Space
As a student, white space should be your very best friend. Why? Easy, the more white space the less you need to write! White space can turn a five and a half page paper into a six page paper. White space rules!
But, it goes far beyond what is best for you. It goes to what is best for your readers. White space provides your readers with a visual rest. If you have ever read a book with long paragraphs and endless chapters, you know how they just drag on. They are hard and sometimes painful to read. The same goes for technical reports. As a teacher, I cringe each time I open a report (or an article) that is one long paragraph after another. In fact, you try grading a one paragraph, six page long research paper sometime. That is painful and your teacher’s pain is often reflected you your grade.
Adding white space is really easy if you keep this rule of thumb. “One thought—one paragraph.” If you practice this you will find it impossible to write a paragraph more than a third of a page long.
Readability
This is the last, but maybe the second most important point to cover in this paper. Think long and hard about this next question before you answer it. What is the number one reason you are writing any paper?
Some of you are saying; I’m writing for a grade. Others will say; I am writing it for a program. Few may even say you are writing it as a novel.
Here is some news for you. The number one reason you are writing anything is so someone can read it. Readability is critical. So, start with an outline to organize your thoughts then, draft your little heart out. Make as many revisions as you want. But before you print or post the final product, check the readability.
This is not as easy for some of us as with others. There are countless people out there who are dyslexic (this writer for example). So the readability check could be the hardest check. For those, try this two-step readability process--it has met with great success.
Step one, read the document backwards from the end to the beginning. This forces you to find most of the errors in the very common words like “from and form.”
Step two, read the document out loud from start to finish. This helps find subject verb errors, word choice errors, and punctuation errors.
And finally, for the really important stuff like this paper. Ask someone else to read it and give you their thoughts. This is not a happy/glad review. Be your you examine every one of their comments and respond to each one.
Conclusion
In this paper, we have attempted to pass on pointers which, if practiced through the years of your schooling, will enhance and improve your professional writing skills for a lifetime. Some things will change over time (APA formatting) but the basics will remain steadfast. You have read discussions about flow and format, writing in complete thoughts, proper use of white space, and readability.
Practice these, and your research and writing assignments will start to become easier and your grades will go up. More important, you will become a proficient technical writer.

Sample References
American Psychological Association (2001). Publication manual of the American Psychological Association (5th ed.). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

The above reference is formatted by selecting the “References” option from the Style menu. It automatically formats the paragraph with a ½ inch hanging indent. Proper italicization of the title is your responsibility. Delete the above reference and this text, and then fill this page with your own lists of references per the instructions in the Publication Manual.

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