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Technical Communications Basics: Lab Reports & More. Metro Writing Studio November 20, 2013 Instructor: Nancy Passow Technical Writing & Communication.

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Technical communications basics lab reports more

Technical Communications Basics: Lab Reports & More

Metro Writing Studio

November 20, 2013

Instructor: Nancy Passow

Technical writing communication
Technical Writing & Communication

“Communication skills are extremely important. Unfortunately, both written and oral skills are often ignored in engineering schools, so today we have many engineers with excellent ideas and a strong case to make, but they don’t know how to make that case. If you can’t make the case, no matter how good the science and technology may be, you’re not going to see your ideas reach fruition.” George Heilmeier, corporate executive of Bellcore, in “Educating Tomorrow’s Engineers,” ASEE Prism, May/June 1995 (from A Guide to Writing as an Engineer)


  • Introduction to technical & business writing

  • Writing resources

  • Editing & proofreading

  • E-mail, letters, & memos

  • Numbers, units of measurement, equations, & abbreviations

  • Lab reports

  • Tables, graphs, & illustrations

  • Technical articles & papers


  • Your writing reflects who you are.

  • It must be readable and understandable.

  • Know your audience.

  • Organize, outline, summarize.

  • Use short paragraphs, sentences, and words.

  • Use real language – no jargon, buzzwords, or clichés.

Guidelines for good technical writing
Guidelines for Good Technical Writing

  • Focus on why you are writing.

    • inform

    • request

    • instruct

    • propose

    • recommend

    • persuade

    • record


  • Get to the point:

    • most important information at the beginning

    • Letter — opening sentence

    • Memo & e-mail — subject line

    • Report — abstract, summary (or conclusion), and/or results (or recommendations)

General advice for reports
General Advice for Reports

  • Determine the requirements for the report.

  • Define the needs & requirements of the audience.

  • Find out specific requirements from instructor (format, etc.)

English american english
English (American English)

“English is an imprecise, inconsistent, and illogical language that can be frustrating and difficult to use.”

Pocket Book of English Grammar for Engineers and Scientists by Leo Finkelstein, Jr.

Web resources
Web Resources

  • Writing Guidelines for Engineering and Science Students (Virginia Tech & Penn State Univ.)

  • Writing Exercises for Engineers and Scientists

  • Engineering Communication Centre, The University of Toronto

Web resources cont
Web Resources (cont.)

  • Grammar Girl

  • The Grammar Diva (Big Word 101)

Web resources1
Web Resources

On-line dictionaries:

  • Merriam-Webster Online (this web site also includes a word a day, word games, and daily crossword puzzles)

  • (this web site also includes a word a day and a daily crossword puzzle)

  • Increase your vocabulary, subscribe to A.Word.A.Day

Editing proofreading
Editing & Proofreading

  • Never send out the first draft—let time elapse.

  • Make sure draft makes sense.

    • facts correct

    • main message stands out

  • Never rely on spell check or grammar check (or autocorrect) but use them!

Editing proofreading1
Editing & Proofreading

  • Print draft out.

    • easier to review than on the screen

    • how does it look printed?

  • Review with someone else.

  • Read draft “backwards”.

  • When it’s really important, hire someone to proofread draft.

Editing proofreading2
Editing & Proofreading

  • Edit at different levels

    • Check for technical accuracy

    • Level 1—spelling, punctuation, typos

    • Level 2—paragraph & sentence length and structure, verbiage, and precise word choice

    • Level 3—overall format, organization, and appearance

E mail

  • Maintain a business/professional image.

  • Always use a subject line and make sure it is clear and descriptive.

  • Only one topic per e-mail.

  • Use an e-mail signature.

Example of e mail signature
Example of e-mail signature

Nancy Passow

Adjunct Professor

Fairleigh Dickinson University

201-541-9702 (telephone/fax)

E mail cont
E-mail (cont.)

  • Limit message to one screen.

  • Avoid acronyms and Instant Messaging abbreviations.

  • When responding to e-mails, include reference/part of e-mail being responded to.

  • Don’t forward “chain” e-mails.

  • Set tone (no emoticons).

E mail cont1
E-mail (cont.)

  • Limit number of recipients.

  • Use “bcc” for large groups.

  • Limit use of “Reply All”.

  • E-mails are not private.

  • Save e-mail into files or folders.

  • Keep copies of e-mail you send.

  • Search e-mail folders.

E mail cont2
E-mail (cont.)

  • Create and use distribution lists.

  • Use templates.

  • Attach files to e-mail (note in subject line).

  • Proofread and spell check e-mail.

  • Do NOT e-mail when you are mad, when you are drunk, when you are bored.

E mail cont3
E-mail (cont.)

  • When not to use e-mail:

    • to communicate bad news, complaints, or criticism

    • to seek information that’s not simple or straightforward

    • if lots of back-and-forth exchange is required (pick up the phone!!)

    • to seek approval on something complicated or controversial

E mail cont4
E-mail (cont.)

  • to send complicated instructions

  • to request comments on a long document

  • to achieve consensus

  • to explore or brainstorm a subject or idea

Why use paper
Why Use Paper?

  • Permanent record.

  • Recipient not comfortable with e-mail.

  • Complexity of topic, amount of information.

  • Need to transmit printed item or item with signature.

Why use paper1
Why Use Paper?

  • Security

  • Memos – internal

  • Letters – external

  • Faxes – need to show a signature or transmit something

Using ms word or equivalent
Using MS Word (or equivalent)

  • file names

    • descriptive

    • unique

    • findable

  • save vs. save as

  • creating new pages within a document

  • spell check vs. autocorrect

Using ms word or equivalent1
Using MS Word (or equivalent)

  • print preview

  • templates

  • default font (don’t use Times Roman – it’s boring!)

  • line spacing

  • alignment

  • Word Help

General tips
General Tips

  • Write as though talking to recipient

  • Give your reason for writing in first paragraph

  • Establish an order for your responses

  • Use the proper format

General tips1
General Tips

  • Keep letters and memos short, simple, and structured

    • stop when you’re through

  • End with a “call to action”/what comes next

  • Make the closing simple

  • Adopt an easy-to-read format

  • Don’t use “stilted expressions”


  • To, from, date

  • Subject – make it descriptive

  • Address only to person who must take action

  • Use cc’s & bcc’s for others

  • MS Word (and other word-processing programs) provides memo templates

Sample memo
Sample Memo

To: Technical Communications Class

From: Nancy Passow

Date: September 18, 2006

cc: Dr. Tan

Subject: Sample Memo

Memos are used to send information inside of a business or other organization. A memo can be used to ask or answer a question, report on a trip, transmit a report, or for any other type of communication that needs a written record.

A full signature isn’t needed on a memo–usually senders sign their initials next to their name.


  • Company logo &/or address and date

  • Correct name, title, & address

  • Attention line – if actual recipient isn’t known

  • Reference line – refer to previous letter

  • Subject line


  • Salutation

    • use Mr. or Ms. (or Dr. or other honorific)

    • if not sure of gender, use full name or else title

      • Dear Terry Smith:

      • Dear Supervisor Smith:

    • can use first name after relationship established

  • Body of letter


  • Close

    • Sincerely, or Regards,

  • Signature

    • professional name typed

    • can sign with first name if recipient is addressed by first name

  • End notations

    • enclosure

    • cc and bcc

Letter format
Letter Format

  • Block Style

    • 80% of all letters

    • all elements flush against the left margin

  • Modified Block Style

    • date and signature block start at center of page

    • other elements flush against left margin

Sample letter block style
Sample Letter – Block Style

October 24, 2005

Mr. Arthur H. Bell

Barron Educational Series

250 Wireless Boulevard

Hauppauge, New York 11788

Dear Mr. Bell:

I’ve just finished reading your book Writing Effective Letters & Memos and want to thank you for writing such a useful book! Your book is not only very informative but fun to read. It will have a prominent spot on my reference shelf.

To show you what I learned, here is an example of a Block Letter Style. Normally this would be printed on my letterhead.


Nancy R. Passow

Sample letter modified block style
Sample Letter – Modified Block Style

October 24, 2005

Mr. Arthur H. Bell

Barron Educational Series

250 Wireless Boulevard

Hauppauge, New York 11788

Dear Mr. Bell:

I’ve just finished reading your book Writing Effective Letters & Memos and want to thank you for writing such a useful book! Your book is not only very informative but fun to read. It will have a prominent spot on my reference shelf. To show you what I learned, here is an example of a Modified Block Letter Style.


Nancy R. Passow

Sample letter
Sample Letter

October 24, 2005

Barron Educational Series

250 Wireless Boulevard

Hauppauge, New York 11788

Attention: Customer Service Department

Please send me 10 copies of the book Writing Effective Letters & Memos by Arthur H. Bell. Enclosed is a check for $70.00 to cover the cost of the books and shipping. Thank you very much.


Nancy R. Passow

Enclosure: check #560

cc: Arthur H. Bell


  • Write out all numbers below 10.

    • exceptions

      • time – 5 pm; 9-second delay

      • units of measure – 3 inches; 1 pound

      • money -- $7

      • dates – August 2

      • page numbers – page 8


  • numbers that can go either way

    • age

    • percentages

    • proportions

  • ordinals (first, third, etc.)

    • spell out single words – first, fourteenth

    • write others as numerals – 21st, 93rd


  • When two or more numbers appear in a sentence or paragraph, be consistent.

  • If a number begins a sentence, write it out (or rewrite the sentence to change the order).

  • Millions can either be

    • 2 million or 2,000,000


  • Place a zero before the decimal point for numbers less than one (but don’t use “trailing” zeros unless they indicate precision).

    • 0.72

    • 1

    • 6.30


  • Write fractions as numerals when they are joined by a whole number, connecting them with a hyphen.

    • 2-1/2

    • 5-1/16

  • For very large or small numbers, use scientific notation.

    • 0.0036 = 3.6 x 10-3

    • 135,000 = 1.35 x 105


  • Place a hyphen between a number and unit of measure when they modify a noun.

    • 15,000-volt charger

  • Use the singular when fractions and decimals of one or less are used as adjectives.

    • 0.9 pound


  • In a listing of numbers, align decimal points vertically.




  • Spell out one of two numbers that appear consecutively.

    • four four-color photos/four 4-color photos

    • 12 60-ohm resistors/ twelve 60-ohm resistors

Units of measurement
Units of Measurement

  • Be consistent.

    • English (inch, feet, Fahrenheit, pound)

    • Metric/SI (Système International)

    • can use both (second in parentheses)

  • Use commonly accepted abbreviations.

  • Leave a space between the number and measurement unit.

Units of measurement1
Units of Measurement

  • Use the correct symbol; remember a symbol may stand for more than one thing.

    • C degree Celsius or C coulomb (electric charge)

  • Units of measurement derived from a person’s name usually not capitalized, even if abbreviation is.

    • amperes A kelvins K

    • volts V webers Wb

Units of measurement prefixes
Units of Measurement Prefixes

1024yotta- Y

1018exa- E

1012tera- T

106 mega- M

103 kilo- k

10-1deci- d

10-2centi- c

10-3milli- m

10-6 micro- μ

10-9nano- n


Units of measurement2
Units of Measurement

  • Dictionary of scientific terms

  • Only use the terms, symbols, etc., if you and your audience know what they mean.

  • Can define them in the text


  • Define your audience, if non-technical, keep equations to a minimum.

  • Many word processing programs can write equations in text.

  • If writing long-hand, make sure it is legible and accurate.


  • Center equations on page.

  • Number equations sequentially for reference.

    5 + 7 = 12 (1)

    27 – 13 =14 (2)

  • Align plus, minus, multiplication, and division signs with equal sign.


  • For a series of equations, align equal signs vertically.

  • Leave a space between text and an equation and between lines of equations.

  • Leave a space on both sides of the signs.

  • Microsoft has an Equation Editor


  • computer-aided design/computer-aided manufacturing = CAD/CAM

  • spell abbreviations out the first time

  • initialisms (initializations)—first letter from each word and pronouncing as initials (GPA, IBM)

  • acronyms—first letters or sounds but pronounced as a word (AIDS, ROM, NASA)

Laboratory reports
Laboratory Reports

  • Present the data from an experiment.

  • Present the conclusions that can be drawn from the data.

  • Present the theory, methods, procedures, and equipment.

  • Reader should be able to replicate the experiment.

Lab reports contents organization
Lab Reports – Contents & Organization

  • Title page

    • name of experiment

    • names of lab partners

    • date

  • Abstract – 200 words max.

    • purpose

    • key results

    • significance

    • major conclusions

Lab reports contents organization1
Lab Reports – Contents & Organization

  • Introduction & background

    • objective

    • important background or theory

    • show why you are doing this work

  • Methods & materials or equipment

    • list (accurate & complete)

    • may be able to reference lab manual or standard procedure

Lab reports contents organization2
Lab Reports – Contents & Organization

  • Experimental procedure

    • describe process in chronological order

    • note any changes from planned method

  • Observations, data, findings, or results

    • what happened?

    • collect data, organize it, & present it

    • use tables, graphs, or charts

Lab reports contents organization3
Lab Reports – Contents & Organization

  • Discussion & conclusions

    • analysis and interpretation

    • explain why you think your conclusions are valid

  • Implications and further research

    • how can the conclusions be applied?

    • are there further research possibilities?

  • Information sources/references

  • Appendices

Lab reports resources
Lab Reports Resources

  • On-line resources:

Nontextual material
“Nontextual” Material

  • Tables

  • Graphs

  • Charts

  • Graphics or illustrations


  • Use word-processing software to convert text to a table.

  • Can turn off grid lines to look like columns.

  • Import spreadsheet data to create a table.

Formatting tables
Formatting Tables

  • Heading at top of each column.

  • Can include “row heading” in farthest left column.

  • Text is left-aligned.

  • Numbers are right-aligned.

  • Measurement value goes in column or row heading (or in note below).

  • Table title goes above the table.

Charts graphs
Charts & Graphs

  • Visual representations of tables.

  • Shows the significance of the data.

  • Line graphs – change in data occurring over time.

  • Pie charts – depict the relative portion of a total amount.

  • Bar charts – compares sets of data.

  • In Excel, under Insert, click on chart and follow the Chart Wizard.

Illustrations or graphics
Illustrations or Graphics

  • Photographs

  • Drawings

  • Diagrams

  • Schematics

Sources of illustrations
Sources of Illustrations

  • Internet

  • Hardcopy scans

  • Professional clipart

  • Graphics professional

  • Crop, size, label, clean up

Guidelines for graphics tables
Guidelines for Graphics & Tables

  • Add descriptive figure and table titles

    • below figures

    • above tables

  • Add labels.

  • Indicate sources of borrowed graphics or tables.

  • Place graphics & tables at point of first reference.

Guidelines for graphics tables1
Guidelines for Graphics & Tables

  • Align and position graphics carefully.

    • adequate spacing

    • can “flow” text around

  • Intersperse graphics & tables with text.

  • Include a legend – symbols, colors, shadings, patterns, etc.

  • Provide a cross-reference to tables & graphics.

Technical articles papers
Technical Articles & Papers

  • Types of technical publications

    • academic journals

    • trade journals

  • Why write an article?

    • offers personal satisfaction

    • showcases author’s technical expertise

    • publicity for company or school

    • professional prestige

    • helps others learn

Technical articles papers1
Technical Articles & Papers

  • Types of articles

    • scientific research

    • new or improved products

    • new techniques

    • market trends

    • case histories

  • Author’s guidelines

    • length, style, and format

Technical articles papers2
Technical Articles & Papers

Author Tools

Writing technical papers plays an important role for engineers, and for growth of technology. With more than 120 journals, 450 annual conferences, and other publication options, IEEE offers authors the opportunity to make a difference in their careers and in their fields. Authors are invited to submit their work to IEEE journals, magazines, and other publications. Prospective contributors should be familiar with the submission guidelines for the appropriate publications, as outlined below.

Submission Guidelines and Calls for Papers:

• IEEE Transactions, Journals, and Letters – IEEE Author Digital Toolbox      - Proceedings of the IEEE • IEEE Magazines      - IEEE Spectrum      - EEE Computer Society Magazines      - IEEE Communications Society Magazines • IEEE Newsletters • EEE Standards Information Network • IEEE Conference Proceedings • IEEE Press Books • IEEE Computer Society Press • IEEE Conference Calls for Papers and Deadlines

Technical articles papers3
Technical Articles & Papers

Why Publish with IEEE?

  • Prestige - IEEE is a not-for-profit publisher, with a mission to promote "the engineering process of creating, developing, integrating, sharing, and applying knowledge about electro and information technologies and sciences for the benefit of humanity and the profession."

  • Legacy - IEEE authors include the giants of technology — from Edison and Marconi to Flanagan and Holonyak, and beyond.

  • Impact - Your research will be noticed — and read. IEEE journals are among the most-cited in Electrical and Electronics Engineering, Telecommunications, Robotics, Medical Imaging, Computer Science, any many other technologies.

Technical articles papers4
Technical Articles & Papers

  • Growth - Publication enhances your career. Technical papers published by IEEE are an important part of your resume, and play a vital role in determining your status in the technical community.

  • Reach - Technology professionals around the world depend on IEEE publications. More than 1 million researchers use IEEE online publications every month.

  • Quality - No one understands technology like IEEE. Volunteer editors and peer reviewers have access to the latest trends in their disciplines, because technology is their only business.


  • D. Beer & D. McMurrey, A Guide to Writing as an Engineer, 4th ed.

    • including all figure/graph illustrations

  • A. H. Bell, Writing Effective Letters, Memos, & E-mail, 3rd Ed.

  • G. Blake & R. Bly, The Elements of Technical Writing

  • Engineering Communication Centre, The University of Toronto, Laboratory Reports