What's the secret to effective technical report writing?

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Answered by: Jason, An Expert in the Grammar and Composition - General Category
Whether or not you consider yourself a writer, there will likely be times when you will be

expected to produce something in writing for your employer. A clear, concise writing style can

be a great boon to your career, and just about anybody can develop a killer business writing

style that can be applied to everything from inter-office memos to full-on technical report writing.

The formula for success is simple: first, learn the tips and techniques outlined in this article.

Second, practice at home until you are comfortable with them. Before you know it, you will be

writing incident reports and assessments like an old pro.

There are a few writing basics you will need to know before you begin. First, remember: one

idea per paragraph. If you want to start a new concept, start a new paragraph. Second, make

sure you re-read everything you write before you deliver it. This should also include running it

through a spell-check tool if you can. Third, Make sure you know an acceptable format for

what you write. Technical report writing usually involves a cover page and table of contents;

business letters feature address headers for the sender and recipient. A quick Internet search

will usually provide you with a wealth of examples to ensure that your writing looks the way it is

supposed to look on the page.

Got all that? Good. Now, the first and most important tip to remember while you work on your

technical writing style is: do not over-think anything. Unlike creative or essay writing, the point of

technical report writing is not to express you as the author. Rather, it is to express the

information itself, as quickly and clearly as possible. Therefore, focusing on things like personal

voice, poetics, and style will often detract from the end result. Instead, treat it as a sort of

manufacturing process: you start with the raw material (which is what you want to

communicate), then run it down the conveyor belt and deliver the result to the intended


Bearing the above in mind, use the following system to produce great business writing. The

second tip is: start small. Begin by writing down WHAT you need to say and WHO you need to

say it to. This can be anything from "Tell Mr. Walters the stockroom is low on toner cartridges"

to "Develop incident report for VP regarding the delivery truck accident on May 4th." Try to

keep it short and to the point. If you end up writing down something longer than a sentence or

two, read over and think about it until you can condense it into a basic idea.

The third tip is: get to the point, and put the most important point first. Address your intended

recipient directly, and jump right in. Don't introduce yourself or your writing; just take that core

concept you developed and put it right there at the beginning. For example, you might write

"Dear Ms. Anders, I would like to attend a weekend business writing seminar at State

University, and I would like the company to cover my tuition." The thing to remember is that the

person reading your work probably does not have a lot of time to spare, so leading with the

most basic information he or she needs in order to understand what you are writing about is very


The fourth tip is: anticipate problems, objections, concerns, and questions. Set down your

writing for a moment and think about all of these things carefully. If you are writing an incident

report about a theft of company property, your audience is likely to have concerns: what do the

police know? How much will it cost the company to replace what was stolen? Was there

property damage as well? These things will need to be clearly addressed in the report. If you are

writing to ask for a bigger office or the use of a company car, you will need to anticipate

objections and be ready to plainly state why your request is worth fulfilling. Whatever the case,

scribble down a brief list of possible questions and concerns, plus a short answer to each one.

Do not get carried away; just focus on the things that seem like they would be most important to

your audience.

The fifth tip is: write downward from the basic to the detailed. You can think of good technical

writing as looking like a pyramid. Start each section by covering the most basic point of the

section, and then move downward into broader details, and finally the less-significant specifics, if

it seems like they will add anything to your writing. For example, if you are writing an

assessment of work that will need to be done to fix water damage, one paragraph might begin

"The total estimated cost of labor and equipment to fix the leak and replace the damaged ceiling

tiles and carpet is $2500." The next sentence would describe the parts cost, and the sentence

after that would describe the labor cost. When you reach possible objections to this analysis,

address one objection at a time, starting with basics ("The cost of fixing the leak alone is only

$350, but the estimated cost of not replacing the ceiling and carpet now is $6000 in the long

run") and moving to specifics ("This is because a mold problem is likely to develop over time,

which will cost an extra $3500 to remove and be a required fix to keep the building safe for

human use"). This way, your audience can quickly skim the writing to get an overview of it.

By using the tips outlined in this article, you can quickly become proficient in the basics of

technical writing. Soon, you will feel confident whenever you are asked to write for your

company - or whenever you feel the need to write something of your own for company

consideration. Just keep it simple, start from the top, and make sure you know what you want

to say before you try to say it.

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