If you have ever read the manual for assembling or operating a new purchase and walked away more confused than when you started, you are not alone. Technical writing can be difficult for even the most seasoned professional. However, when writing a technical report, it's important to include pertinent subject matter, be clear and concise, and organize your information so the reader can easily understand it.
Choosing Subject Matter
People generally write technical reports when they have done some kind of research and need to present the results to a specific audience. This research may be field research — surveys, interviews and observations — or book research. Regardless of the type of research you've done, you will not be able to share all of the information you collected. In “Some Advice on Writing a Technical Report,” Alan Sherman of the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, suggests your report should focus on significant findings that show the subject of your research is interesting and important. You should also include elements such as research design and recommendations if they are necessary.
Being Clear and Concise
People do not read technical reports for flowery language or imagery. Instead, people read technical reports because they are looking for a specific kind of information. Be clear and concise when you write your report. Think about your audience and purpose, and write in a way that will best allow readers to understand what you are trying to communicate. For instance, if you know many people who speak English as a second language will read your report, avoid cliches and idioms. Whenever possible, be to the point, cutting out words, sentences and paragraphs you don't need to report the information you have gathered.
Organizing Your Information
Organization is critical in technical reports. Whether you're writing a how-to article or a workplace fiscal report, disorganized information can make it hard for readers to use that information. Audience and purpose heavily influence how you organize your report. What your audience already knows about the topic will determine whether you need to include background information before specifics. If the purpose of your report is to justify the use of money or advocate for an action to be taken, end with a proposal or appeal and organize the body of your report around your support for this action. Individuals writing how-to type pieces need to be sure steps are placed in a proper, chronological order.
Citing Outside Sources
Because informational technical reports often reveal the results of research, you may be citing others' ideas in your texts. Whether you're quoting or paraphrasing these sources, you need to give them credit by citing them. If you are writing your report for work, a foot or endnote may be recommended for this citation. However, if you're writing the report for school, your teacher or professor will usually require that you use an existing citation style, like Modern Language Association or American Psychological Association style.
Miranda Morley is an educator, business consultant and owner of a copywriting/social-media management company. Her work has been featured in the "Boston Literary Magazine," "Subversify Magazine" and "American Builder's Quarterly." Morley has a B.A. in English, political science and international relations. She is completing her M.A. in rhetoric and composition from Purdue University Calumet.