Frank’s 10 Commandments Of Technical Writing

‘The Graduate PC’

Being A Personal Guide To

Professional Scientific Reporting

I am of two minds, you might say: I can write a technical paper this instant, a popular article the next, on most any topic. My mind is very creative – I just invented ‘lateral writing’ the other day, which just happens to complement Edward De Bono’s ‘lateral thinking.’ You know, writing is my first love; I’ve been writing since high school.

100% original & based on my writing experience of 50 years, I especially brainstormed and now offer this unique guide free because no one else will. I want you to succeed in writing a better technical paper, report or thesis with or without experience. These are not steps; you can start and end with any of them – but you have to follow all if you want to be more than good.

1. Draft it! No matter how rough.

Manuscripts remain unwritten, papers remain unfinished, because of ‘Author’s Block’ – you don’t know where to begin, and how. As anti-Author’s Block, I suggest:

(a) Begin with a table, figure or chart. Write a short note or statement on what you observe. This should prod your mind on what else is needed to generate a complete manuscript: what to put in the Introduction, Discussion, Conclusions, Recommendations.

(b) Begin with the Objectives and Methodology. It doesn’t matter if you write down complete sentences or not. Just be sure objectives and methodology complement each other.

(c) Begin with the Objectives and Conclusions. After writing down the Objectives, write the Conclusions; then compare the two. Do the conclusions satisfy the objectives?

After any of the above, you now have a good idea on what else you need to produce a draft. Believe me, there’s a nice feeling to accomplishing something, no matter how crude.

2. Follow the guidelines.

You have to follow the guidelines of the journal or institution you submit your manuscript to – there is no other way.

Each journal has its own. The Philippine Journal of Crop Science (PJCS) has ‘New Guidelines For Contributions To PJCS’ that I prepared as Editor in Chief, the first version appearing in the 2001 April issue. Email me for a free copy:

3. Relate to a bigger framework.

What is the relevance of your paper – methodology, finding, conclusion, or recommendation – to theory (knowledge, science) and/or practice (society)? This usually belongs in the Introduction. Relevance is the raison d’etre for conducting the study and/or preparing the manuscript – and a good reason to interest particular (not all) readers to go on and read your paper once published.

4. Make your lit review good – it’s good for you.

It is best that you also cite sources that are only 5 years old and/or less.

A literature review, long or short, should be a state-of-the-art of what you have investigated upon, to locate your study in the scheme of your science. With the Internet available almost everywhere, you can be up-to-date in your area of expertise. A good review also makes it easier for you to write a good paper.

5. Focus on 1 or 2 results.

You are tempted to report everything you have observed in your study – don’t. That’s not practical. Even without finalizing your tables or graphs, you already know that there is one or two items more worthy of reporting to the world. If you can’t find one, look again somewhere. Write down (scratch) what you have especially observed. Then compare with the literature you have on hand.

6. Use the active voice.

Editors now vigorously encourage the active voice in technical papers and publications here and abroad. The passive voice was intended to remove the personal bias in reporting with the use of the pronouns ‘I’ or ‘we’ – which is not realistic. Remember, an author always has a bias, which is toward the field in which he is more or less an expert of, and he is entitled to his own theories about some phenomena.

You cannot write all sentences in the active voice, but on a minimum, you should write the methodology with the active voice in mind. It makes the sentences clearer and shorter. And it is not true that if a paper is in the passive voice, it is more scientific!

7. Don’t force it.

If you cannot finish writing up the manuscript in 1, 2 or 3 days? Relax! There are no rewards for fast authors, only stress. Take your mind off it and find something else to do. You can go back to it with a fresh outlook the next day.

8. Read again.

With a complete draft, it is important that you read it again. Don’t say ‘I don’t want to look at it again, I’m sick of it!’ I am a 32-year veteran of technical writing and I have never ever seen a first draft that is perfect, not even my own. The English is the editor’s problem, but you have to check the data, tables, figures, everything. And then you have to read again. For the PJCS, I have to read the papers at least 5 times word-for-word before I print the camera-ready pages.

9. Learn some PC basics.

You can save yourself so much trouble if you knew how to use the personal computer in writing, checking, editing, revising – not to mention Internet surfing for more literature. I can still see spelling errors and grammatical errors in manuscripts that are submitted in Word XP /2003 formats, and that means only one thing: The author doesn’t care. You have to care. If you don’t who will? If not now, when?

10. Let the PC do more work for you.

Word 2003 is to me ‘The Graduate PC’ (clipart by Microsoft Publisher 2002, rendering & title by me). There are many wonderful features of Word 2003 I thoroughly enjoy as a writer, editor, publisher. For instance, I can create (and recreate) a table of contents of a 500-page manuscript in 5 seconds flat. I can compare a new with an old version by opening two windows – the Word 2003 command is: Windows, Compare Side by Side. I can completely reorganize your dissertation of 200 pages in 200 seconds. I can create an index of your book 100 times faster than using index cards – and my page numbers will be correct, no need to double-check. I can do many more with Word 2003. And you know what? I’m 67, and self-taught. You should be so jealous!

Copyright 2007 June 08 by Frank A Hilario.
Researched for, organized-reorganized and formatted via Microsoft Word 2003.

Explore posts in the same categories: 10 commandments of technical writing, technical writing

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