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Technical Report Writing - Chocolate Cake K Christian
Technical Report Writing - Chocolate Cake K Christian
Technical Report Writing - Chocolate Cake K Christian
Technical Report Writing - Chocolate Cake K Christian
Technical Report Writing - Chocolate Cake K Christian
Technical Report Writing - Chocolate Cake K Christian
Technical Report Writing - Chocolate Cake K Christian
Technical Report Writing - Chocolate Cake K Christian
Technical Report Writing - Chocolate Cake K Christian
Technical Report Writing - Chocolate Cake K Christian
Technical Report Writing - Chocolate Cake K Christian
Technical Report Writing - Chocolate Cake K Christian
Technical Report Writing - Chocolate Cake K Christian
Technical Report Writing - Chocolate Cake K Christian
Technical Report Writing - Chocolate Cake K Christian
Technical Report Writing - Chocolate Cake K Christian
Technical Report Writing - Chocolate Cake K Christian
Technical Report Writing - Chocolate Cake K Christian
Technical Report Writing - Chocolate Cake K Christian
Technical Report Writing - Chocolate Cake K Christian
Technical Report Writing - Chocolate Cake K Christian
Technical Report Writing - Chocolate Cake K Christian
Technical Report Writing - Chocolate Cake K Christian
Technical Report Writing - Chocolate Cake K Christian
Technical Report Writing - Chocolate Cake K Christian
Technical Report Writing - Chocolate Cake K Christian
Technical Report Writing - Chocolate Cake K Christian
Technical Report Writing - Chocolate Cake K Christian
Technical Report Writing - Chocolate Cake K Christian
Technical Report Writing - Chocolate Cake K Christian
Technical Report Writing - Chocolate Cake K Christian
Technical Report Writing - Chocolate Cake K Christian
Technical Report Writing - Chocolate Cake K Christian
Technical Report Writing - Chocolate Cake K Christian
Technical Report Writing - Chocolate Cake K Christian
Technical Report Writing - Chocolate Cake K Christian
Technical Report Writing - Chocolate Cake K Christian
Technical Report Writing - Chocolate Cake K Christian
Technical Report Writing - Chocolate Cake K Christian
Technical Report Writing - Chocolate Cake K Christian
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Technical Report Writing - Chocolate Cake K Christian

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A how-to manual on technical report writing - why the art of Chocolate Cake ? …

A how-to manual on technical report writing - why the art of Chocolate Cake ?

I was asked to "throw " a presentation together with minimal time to prepare - tech report writing could be a very dry subject - but then I decided to compare it with baking a chocolate cake - either very simple or extremely complex

The key issue is to deliver what the consumer wants - a relevant report or a delicious chocolate cake.

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  • 1. A Technical Report Writing Manual & The Art of Chocolate Cake Kerrie Anne Christian 2009 1
  • 2. In Summary :Technical Report Writing & The Art of Chocolate Cake What are the key aspects of Technical Report Writing ? 1. Like baking chocolate cakes – there are different types of Technical 2. Reports Technical Report Writing is a Communication process 3. Focus on your Reader – just as people prefer different types of 4. Chocolate Cake Clearer Writing - Goldilocks & Gunning Fog Index 5. Plan your work – just like organising before making Chocolate Cake 6. Remember - cooks swap Chocolate Cake recipes & hints 7. After you have drafted the report – let it sit – then check it 8. The “Nuts & Bolts” of Technical Report Writing – don’t forget the visuals ! 9. What if you have to deliver bad news ? 10. The Art of Persuasive Writing – With Apologies to Machiavelli’s The 11. Prince Hints – Dealing with Writer’s Block 12. Practice & don’t forget to enjoy Chocolate Cake 13. 2
  • 3. Navigating the Information Maze ERP : Other Event Event SAP system PC’s, Capture Steel Direct System - A Emails Intranet OHS system Networks Doc Management alternate Communities System of Practice Mainframe OHS System Sharepoint Servers - main Engineering Records Books, articles, manuals, Contractor’s procedures, trade Dept Hard Network info, newsletters Wiki’s Dept copy records Reports files Library Site & Depts Standard Procedures 3
  • 4. Technical Report Writing – course participants said needs to be concise to clearly communicate an engineering problem and solution. the most useful application of the English language. It is where the creativity of the form of language is harnessed by the logic of engineering thought. an underappreciated and underused skill - documentation often appears to be treated as a quot;necessary evilquot;, and many people do not give it the attention it deserves. a quick and easy method of communicating a scientific or complex idea. a method of conveying information in a clear and concise manner, so that it can be easily understood by a variety of audiences a vital skill for all engineers as it is the most effective way to communicate complex ideas to a variety of audiences. 4
  • 5. … Technical Report Writing – they said The University Science Professor said …. be concise, precise & clear (writing is hard work) The Engineering Manager said …. remember the KISS Principle – Keep It Simple Stupid ( & keep paragraphs short) CEO said …. is valuable – I learnt to do it when I was in the Technology area be factual (my wife’s postcards are probably more interesting – but mine do get the facts down) 5
  • 6. Technical Report Writing –other course participants said an important skill as it is one of the most effective methods • for engineers to communicate ideas to interested parties • a writing style to express technical aspects of something one has investigated. • important tool for transferring information and ideas, but it can often be difficult to do this in a clear and concise way • should be written in a way that communicates the subject matter clearly and concisely 6
  • 7. In Summary : Technical Report Writing– key aspects? Communicate Style - Concise & Clear Simple & Effective Investigation Subject Matter - Factual ( rather than having to be interesting ) Logical & Creative Complex ideas May have variety of Audiences Skill - requires Practice 7 Tool
  • 8. Writing Reports & Cooking Chocolate Cake All include ingredients, equipment, time, temperature, size … Commonsense Cookbook – brief, assumed knowledge & experience, no photos AWW Cookbooks – for the non expert, lots of photos, simple steps & ingredients Donna Hay / Jamie Oliver – “simple made special” – good photo, simple steps A Gourmet Traveller – lots of steps, unusual ingredients, time consuming, way over the top, carried away with the process - almost forgets the goal of eating yummy chocolate cake Taste.com.au – web based – good photo, easy steps, normal ingredients Cookingforengineers.com – web based 8 – very different approach – lots of how to photos, comprehensive
  • 9. Writing : Clarity, Simplicity, Concise … what about Factual? Question : Do we all see the world the same way : or do we filter facts based on our personal experience, bias & priorities ? Knowledge in the Message containing Knowledge in the mind of person A information mind of person B Seek feedback to Seek feedback to check ififyour check your message has message has gotten through gotten through 9
  • 10. Writing : It’s not just about you – It’s about the reader! Ask yourself a few questions … What am I trying to achieve with my writing? : Today, next week, next year, 10 –20 years Who are my readers ? Do they want a brief or comprehensive report ? How familiar are they with my subject? How familiar are they with my technical jargon & concepts? Are they receptive to my work? How busy are they? How will my report be read? : Hard copy or computer screen Will it be stored? Where? 10
  • 11. Complexity : Goldilocks & the Gunning Fog Index This is too hard too read, and it has too many long sentences, with too many hard long words, that I don’t understand This is too short. It’s too childish This is just right for me, as I can understand it easily. So how can we work out how hard our writing is to read ? 11
  • 12. Complexity : Goldilocks & the Gunning Fog Index Read a paragraph from the material in front of you How easy was it to read : too hard / too childish / just right ? Select one paragraph what is the average no. of words per sentence = A (eg 162/6 • = 27) what is the % of words with >2 syllables in the paragraph = B • (eg 18/162 = 11%) Calculate C = A + B (eg 27 +11 = 38) • Calculate GF Index = C x 0.4 (eg 38 x 0.4 = 15.2) • 12 What does this mean?
  • 13. Clarity Measures – Gunning Fog Index aka Years of Education needed for adults reader to understand a written article Writing Level Gunning Fog Index (GFI) Education Level Childish 6–8 Primary School Acceptable (simple) 8 – 10 Junior High School Ideal 10 – 12 Senior High School/TAFE Acceptable (difficult) 12 – 14 Uni Undergraduate Difficult 14 –1 7 Uni Graduate Unacceptable 17 + (Sir Humphrey) Now repeat with your own writing – what does it tell you about this piece of your own writing? 13
  • 14. Clarity Measures – Gunning Fog Index aka Years of Education needed for adults reader to understand a written article Item GFI Item GFI Item GFI Goosebumps 7 IM Soccer 15 Cadet 1 11 Medium Tech Blinky Bill 8 Article 16 Cadet 2 12 The Hobbit 9 SMH Editorial 17 Cadet 3 13 Harry Potter 10 Lord of the Rings 17 Cadet 4 13 Girlfriend Mag 11 The Bulletin Mag 18 Cadet 5 13 SMH Political Article 11 IM Soccer 18 Cadet 6 15 Light Tech Article 12 IM Rugby League 18 Cadet 7 15 Lonely Planet Guidebook 13 New Scientist 21 Cadet 8 15 Australian Geographic 14 Heavy Tech Article 25 Cadet 9 18 SMH Political Article 14 25 Cadet 10 19 Long complex novel NB. Media articles sometimes have one-sentence paragraphs & surround with lots of white space 14
  • 15. Clearer Writing : A Few General Comments Use clear, familiar words Keep most sentences short & simple : 1 basic idea & 15-25 words Use active verbs not passive : I wrote the report Personalise your writing where possible – but generally avoid in technical reports Use a conversational style (not slang) where possible – but not in technical reports The harder the ideas – the greater the need for clarity - so as to be understood One main idea or theme per paragraph – use connecting words between sentences Gather all the information you need before you start writing – like the chocolate 15 cake
  • 16. Which sounds best - for a clear & concise technical report? I don’t have a clue I wouldn’t have the foggiest Stuffed if I know It is an enigma It is not clear I don’t know The causal factors that were at play were unknown 16
  • 17. Simpler Sentences Keep it to a single idea, or risk that one of the ideas may be “buried” 15 – 25 words long Active not passive – balance this with conciseness Put the main idea at the front of the sentence If you have long sentences, try chopping them up – “Meat Cleaver” them Then use connecting words to make the sentences flow 17
  • 18. Avoid …. Avoid wasted words – use adjectives only when it contributes to the writing But beware excess brevity You may miss out key information Your writing may appear too abrupt or overbearing Avoid adjectives such as unique, exceptional, marvellous Generally avoid colloquialisms, foreign phrases, tautology Colloquial okay for blogs etc 18
  • 19. Active vs Passive Nathan bounced the ball. (Active) The ball was bounced. (Passive) The ball was bounced by Nathan. (Passive) Which is easier to understand ? 19
  • 20. Examples. What is the main point? Which is clearer? •Given all the operating factors involved, the long lead time for delivery, the tight constraint on labour availability, it was therefore decided to defer the project for six months, although this would be at the risk of increasing equipment unreliability and safety concerns which would have to be identified and managed in a timely fashion. •Management decided to defer the project for six months because of a range of concerns. These included operating factors, long delivery lead times and tight labour resources. However they recognised need to to identify the risks of increasing equipment unreliability and safety concerns. They would then need to ensure that these were managed with the right priority. •Management Decision : Project Deferred 6 months •Constraints - Operating factors, long delivery lead times, tight labour availability •Potential Consequent Risks – Increased equipment unreliability, safety concerns • Need to identify, prioritise & manage 20
  • 21. Clearer Words – Suggest Alternative Words for …. Endeavour Detrimental Verification Simultaneously Concur Sufficient Ascertain Modification Deferral Consequently Accelerate Possess Anticipate Capability Configuration Numerous Remuneration Punctual Align with your local “work culture” & its terminology. What words or jargon are part of your local “work culture”? Do outsiders understand them ? 21
  • 22. Plan Your Work Consider the report’s Purpose : What was the work done for ? The Content : Should answer Who What When Where How Why Don’t forget your readers! 22
  • 23. Plan Your Work – Develop an Outline First Jot down points – then organise your points Executive Summary - One Page – Absolutely important for reports >3 pages ( Experts say - appears first – but should be done last) (Kerrie says – if you know your topic you could start it ,first then review it later) Introduction or Background - What was the work done for ? Body Conclusions - What were the findings ? 23 Recommendations – Action Items
  • 24. Structure of a Report : Introduction, Discussion, Conclusion Introduction : Should attract reader’s interest I have an all-consuming interest in beer. Discussion : Substantiate findings – write clearly & forcefully I feel the perfect schooner glass of ones favourite amber liquid can be one of the most rewarding and satisfying experiences of ones time. If prepared at the perfect temperature of both glass and contents, poured with skilled hands from a quality tap, served at a time of completed challenges on a warm afternoon, in an atmospheric yet relaxed establishment, while amongst close friends, then the perfect beer will result, and this is what my interest is all about. Conclusion: ties together the whole report -> completeness Some may cynically say this is only a chemical interest, and that I am merely addicted to the drug, and others may even call me an alcoholic. Perhaps I am, but I am happy, and isn’t that what really matters? 24
  • 25. Plan Your Work First : How will you sequence your report? Different Approaches Chronological or Time Order Spatial or Geographic Order Well known to less known Order of Importance Eg How would you sequence the following ? Recipe – eg Chocolate Cake Description of the Steelworks Instructions on how to use a Fire Extinguisher Report on One Day Cricket Match 25 Description of your Department
  • 26. Like the Chocolate Cake – Gather all your information before you start to write … You cannot write an idea clearly until you have thought it out clearly. You cannot think an idea out clearly until you have all the information. (Why? If you have all the information, you should be more confident that you know your subject. If you are more confident, then your writing style will be clearer.) Note : with PC word processing, it may be possible to relax the above rule – but not throw it out ! 26
  • 27. Hints : Dealing with Writer’s Block Good idea to start with a layout with section headings Start writing the section that you find easiest If it is hard to make a start, just start writing Don’t worry about grammar or punctuation at this stage If it is still hard – imagine you are telling someone about the problem – why you did the work, what you found & what you recommended Then write it down (or type) as if you were talking to them about it Just get it down – you can fix it up later 27
  • 28. Remember Cooks swap recipes & hints for Chocolate Cake ! Identify someone who writes well in your area Get copies of their reports Use a copy of a well written report as a template You may need more than one report type – for different styles Save them on Word If you find a good sentence somewhere else – save it in a “Useful File” Use them – especially if you have writer’s block If a previous report has been written on the topic - get a copy Read the previous report & look at the writing style – can the style be improved ? 28
  • 29. Remember Cooks swap recipes & hints for Chocolate Cake ! Identify a report writing advisor or mentor – someone who writes well has time & is willing to review your writing is familiar & has expertise with your area & field of engineering offers positive, constructive advice – not just identifying the negatives Respect your advisor & their suggestions, even if you do not agree with everything Thank them for their time taken to help you – they are busy people 29
  • 30. More Practical Hints Gather & keep resource material on hand relevant to your technical area – don’t overdo it Eg hard copy articles, handbooks, electronic, web sites Avoid re-inventing the wheel – it’s okay to get help from others Develop a network to bounce around ideas & problems Remember your network may have other information which will help you Writing is a communication process –people may think differently Don’t ignore past data because you didn’t generate it, or it’s not electronic Make sure you have weighed up all the evidence, not just what suits your view Would KT, RCA, FMEA or Five Why’s help to make sure everything’s covered ? If results look wrong – check them out – just in case Be prepared to ask dumb questions to clarify your understanding Remember you are part of a team – get help if you need it you are not flying totally solo ! 30
  • 31. After you have gotten a draft together - remember Let it sit after you have written a draft Check what you have written Have I identified in the introduction - the area of plant, type or equipment or product, identification or serial nos., past report reference numbers Alter if necessary - order of words, sentences, paragraphs, whole sections Reject obscure, long-winded or inappropriate words & phrases When you use jargon or technical terms, explain them Proof read carefully - Spell check Don’t forget punctuation – commas, full stops, apostrophes etc Does it actually say what you thought it was supposed to say ? Is it logical ? – but don’t ignore hunches – nor be blinded by them 31
  • 32. The “Nuts & Bolts” of Technical Reports Date & Reference Number To (Reader) & From (Writer) - also Authorisation, Distribution List Subject or Title Introduction - sets context & purpose – VIP – sometimes skimped on Complete, concise statement of problem & its importance May include brief overview of problem’s history & current status Should attract reader’s interest Data - text, tables, graphs, sketches, photos, calculations May be included in the main body or an appendix Organise logically – not “all over the place” Be accurate Discussion Helps to start with main finding – unlike school essays & fairly tales Organise findings logically – developing aims stated in Introduction Substantiate findings – write clearly & forcefully Be accurate Conclusions & Recommendations – ties together the whole report Should give an impression of completeness & of positive gain However may pose unanswered questions for future work References (aka Bibliography) Not as rigorous as a uni report – but still courteous to acknowledge others’ work Appendix Used where including the data would make the body large & poorly constructed 32
  • 33. Techniques Headings Announce Key Points Allows readers to choose key points they are interested in Stop points – convenient place for readers to stop & assemble their thoughts Make sure heading is not on bottom of page & its text on next page White Space A report that is visually pleasant is easier to read & gains easier acceptance Use plenty of space between paragraphs, around headings, figures, tables & borders 33 Makes the report more attractive & easier to read
  • 34. Techniques Paragraphs Not too long - large ones become a strain on the eye & mind Average about 7 – 8 lines For emphasis, one line can be a paragraph Consider whether to number each paragraph & point Use dot points to help draw the eye down the page & break up a paragraph Underline, Bold or Italics for Emphasis Don’t overdo it or the effect will be lost Don’t forget Margins & Page Numbering Word vs PDF format Consider whether you should save as Word or PDF format Organise your report notes – plastic sleeve, ring binder, electronic files 34 Are there local area requirements for writing reports – standard procedures
  • 35. Photos, graphs & charts can communicate a lot save a lot of words – but don’t use too few or too many if lots – put them in an appendix or attachment at the back clear, in focus– use white space around the photos don’t cram too many too close together use captions or annotations & arrows where appropriate don’t make the reader guess ! 35
  • 36. What if you have to deliver bad news ? Management is under pressure to deliver on performance, time, budget & safety Your report may tell them that they are not going to achieve their kpi’s equipment won’t last until the next annual (scheduled) shutdown can’t achieve required product properties or budgeted tonnages budget is blown by maintenance spares costs blowing out What do you do? 36
  • 37. The Art of Persuasive Writing – with apologies to Machiavelli’s “The Prince” Be accurate & clarify that they have received & understand the bad news Be respectful of others – be aware of strong views / bias of your readers If your findings are controversial – identify potential supporters & detractors Try to avoid a clash with your supervisor or customer & don’t back people into corners Diplomatically state the past bad practice as a result of constraints, then move on to to the need for future improvement & acknowledge improvements in that direction Make story fit the facts & not facts suit the story - avoid selective use of facts Be ethical – don’t alter to suit someone’s agenda if inappropriate If your recommendation means a change that affects performance negatively – be diplomatic Don’t hide bad news for fear of retribution – identify risks & be diplomatic Careful Connectors eg unfortunately.., fortunately…, it would appear that…, on weighing up the situation …, consideration should be given to …., a review of all factors has shown… Consider confidentiality & legal /privilege issues – Discovery processes Technical reports should not be emotive nor an ego exercise 37
  • 38. More Practical Hints – Also Helpful in Bad News Situations Gather & keep relevant resource material on hand – don’t overdo it hard copy articles, handbooks, electronic, web sites Avoid re-inventing the wheel – it’s okay to get help from others Develop a network to bounce around ideas & problems Remember your network may have other information which will help you Writing is a communication process – remember people may think differently Don’t ignore past data because you didn’t generate it, or it’s not electronic Make sure you have weighed up all the evidence, not just what suits your view Would KT, RCA, FMEA or Five Why’s approaches help, to make sure everything’s covered ? If results look wrong – check them out – just in case Ask dumb questions to clarify your understanding if necessary Remember you are part of a team – get help if you need it you are not flying totally solo ! 38
  • 39. Hints : Dealing with Writer’s Block Good idea to start with a layout with section headings Start writing the section that you find easiest If it is hard to make a start, just start writing Don’t worry about grammar or punctuation at this stage If it is still hard – either imagine, or actually, talk through the problem with someone – why you did the work, what you found & what you recommended Then write it down (or type) as if you were talking to them about it Just get it down – you can fix it up later 39
  • 40. In Summary :Technical Report Writing & The Art of Chocolate Cake What are the key aspects of Technical Report Writing ? 1. Like baking chocolate cakes – there are different types of Technical 2. Reports Technical Report Writing is a Communication process 3. Focus on your Reader – just as people prefer different types of 4. Chocolate Cake Clearer Writing - Goldilocks & Gunning Fog Index 5. Remember cooks swap Chocolate Cake recipes & hints 6. After you have drafted the report – let it sit – then check it 7. The “Nuts & Bolts” of Technical Report Writing – don’t forget the visuals ! 8. What if you have to deliver bad news ? 9. The Art of Persuasive Writing – With Apologies to Machiavelli’s The 10. Prince Hints – Dealing with Writer’s Block 11. Practice & don’t forget to enjoy Chocolate Cake 12. 40

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