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Written Communications. Professional Practice 2001. David C. Coll, Ph.D., P.Eng. Professor Emeritus Department of Systems and Computer Engineering. Yesturday, I coudn’t even spel enjunear, and today I are one!. But seriously folks:.

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written communications

Written Communications

Professional Practice 2001

David C. Coll, Ph.D., P.Eng.

Professor Emeritus

Department of Systems and Computer Engineering

but seriously folks
But seriously folks:

Good communication skills are essential to professional success

Engineers must communicate

Jobs, promotions, contracts, and your professional credibility all follow from your ability to write and speak effectively

Professional Practice 2001

written communications1
Written Communications


  • essays
  • proposals
  • reports
  • memoranda
  • papers
  • manuals
  • specifications

Professional Practice 2001

the writing process
The Writing Process
  • Identify Why, Who, and What
  • Organize your Information
  • Construct an Outline
  • Write a Draft
  • Review
  • Revise

Professional Practice 2001

in other words
In other words …
  • Engineer your paper!

Professional Practice 2001

preparing to write
Preparing to write

Why are you writing this item?

  • understand your purpose
  • Who is the communication for?
  • know your audience

What information do you want to communicate?

  • focus on the point you are trying to make

Professional Practice 2001


To inform, persuade, motivate, stimulate, sell, impress, … ?

  • Is it significant?
  • Is it timely?
  • Is it new?
  • Is it really worth writing about?

Professional Practice 2001

  • Client
  • Supervisor
  • Peer/Subordinate
  • Laymen/Public
  • Non‑technical/Operator/Technician
  • Advanced Technician/Junior Engineer
  • Engineer/Advanced Engineer/Scientific

Professional Practice 2001

  • Information Transfer ‑ Paper/Essay
  • Proposal or Request
  • Response or Acceptance
  • Command or Decision Communication
  • Situation Report or Forecast
  • Professional Correspondence
  • Activity or Progress Report
  • Commentary on Controversial or Political Issues
  • Meeting Agenda

Professional Practice 2001

planning the structure
Planning the Structure
  • Get things in a logical order
  • Introduce the topic
  • Provide enough background information
  • State your case
  • Summarize

Professional Practice 2001

keep in mind that
Keep in mind that

Any writing must be:

  • Appropriate
  • Accurate
  • Adequate
  • Clear
  • Concise

Professional Practice 2001

some structural patterns
Some Structural Patterns
  • Purpose – Information – Opinion
  • Problem – Method – Solution
  • Cause – Effect
  • Order by
    • Chronology
    • Spatial
    • Classification

Professional Practice 2001

sample structure paper essay
Sample Structure – Paper/Essay
  • Abstract
  • Introduction
  • Body of the Paper
  • Conclusions

Professional Practice 2001

sample structure lab report thesis
Sample Structure-Lab Report/Thesis
  • Abstract
  • Introduction
  • Theory
  • Analysis
  • Experimental Results
  • Conclusions
  • References
  • Appendix

Professional Practice 2001

some style hints
Some Style Hints

Professional Practice 2001

first a word about abstracts
First - A Word about Abstracts

The Abstract is probably read by more people than read the report itself.

An Abstract is not an introduction ‑ it is written after the paper is completed.  

Make the abstract informative, pick out salient facts, conclusions and recommendations.

It should contain:

  • a pithy statement of the problem
  • identification of the author's approach to solution
  • statement of essential results

Professional Practice 2001

style hints
Style Hints


  • Relate introduction to needs of the reader
    • show the purpose and scope
    • identify the subject matter
    • relate the subject matter to other projects
    • show the basic method and procedure used in carrying out the project

Professional Practice 2001


Point of View

  • Adhere to a single point‑of‑view: tense, person, style

Headings and Titles

  • Break your report into headings to:
    • organize the material into logical units
    • make reading easier
    • make it easier to refer to

Professional Practice 2001

  • Each paragraph is a unit ‑ express the main idea in a single, highly compressed sentence
  • Paragraphs can be constructed according to function ‑ the topic sentence is a preliminary over‑all statement - followed by details inherent in the topic sentence

Transitional Material

  • Supply phrases and guide words that lead reader from one thought to another

Professional Practice 2001

Figures and Tables
  • Determine whether the figures and tables should be placed in the text or an appendix

Reference all external material

References and Bibliography

  • Use a standard reference system, e.g. IEEE Transactions

Professional Practice 2001


PLAGIARISM: What it is, and How to Avoid It

Colin H. Gordon, Peter Simmons, and Graeme WynnThe University of British Columbia


Professional Practice 2001

the construction process
The Construction Process

Professional Practice 2001

draft an outline
Draft an Outline

Use a top-down approach

Table of Contents

Expand sections as required

Write quickly

Overcome writer’s block

Memory-dump – sort out order later

Professional Practice 2001

Then …

while(not Done)


re-read, review and revise


Professional Practice 2001

review and revise
Review and Revise
  • Have you covered everything on the outline?
  • Have you missed a point?
  • Is there enough detail so that everything is clear to the target audience?
  • Is your information accurate?

Professional Practice 2001

Have you described the structure of the information to the reader?
    • do you have an introduction?
    • do you have a summary?
  • Have you made your point?
  • Are your arguments supported?
  • How is your style?
    • does each paragraph start with a topic sentence?
    • have you spell-checked?
    • are your references complete?
    • have you used too many relative pronouns?

Professional Practice 2001

wrap up

Let’s look at the process one more time

Professional Practice 2001

keep the reader in mind
Keep the Reader in Mind

Professional Practice 2001


Formulate idea, write a summary, discuss with supervisor and colleagues.

Search literature to determine what has been written on the subject.

Write a comprehensive outline.

Think the article through.

Professional Practice 2001

checklist continued
Checklist - continued

Gradually expand outline

top‑down design with stepwise refinement.

Smooth transitions and expand key words and ideas.

Rough out illustrations.

Professional Practice 2001

write the rough draft and review it
Write the rough draft, and review it.
  • Did you orient the reader?
  • Did you tell why the study was needed? Why is it significant or unique? What problem did you solve?
  • Did you define the scope, limitations and problems of the study?
  • Does the introduction generate enough interest to encourage the reader to continue?

Professional Practice 2001

clear thinking is essential
Clear Thinking is essential.
  • Unclear thinking is evidenced by three features:
    • Confusion of fact with non‑fact ‑ assumptions
    • Drawing conclusions which are unwarranted on the basis of the facts presented.
    • Failure to assign precise meaning to words ‑ "appropriate", "essential", "adequate": "among the prettiest young ladies at the garden party was the president of the Engineers' Society“

Professional Practice 2001

Have you given enough necessary background material? Too much?
  • Did you cover the problem, concept, or system adequately?
  • Did you cover the theory, results, applications and methods accurately?
  • Did you make a point?
  • Did you review the original problem, how it was solved and made real conclusions?

Professional Practice 2001

checklist concluded
Checklist - concluded

Have you referenced all external material?

Make sure all necessary citations are made.

Proofread carefully. Spell check.

Review the paper with your supervisor or colleague.


Professional Practice 2001



Professional Practice 2001

  • Markel, M., Writing in Technical Fields: A Step-by-Step Guide for Engineers, Scientists, and Technicians. New York: IEEE Press, 1994.
  • Pfeiffer, W.S., Technical Writing: A Practical Approach. Toronto: Macmillan, 1991.
  • Berg, K., and A. Gilman. Get to the Point: How to Say What You Mean and Get What You Want. Toronto: Bantam Books, 1989.
  • Mathes, J.C., and D.W. Stevenson. Designing Technical Reports: Writing for Audiences in Organizations, 2nd Edition. Toronto: Collier Macmillan, 1991.
  • Poe, R. W., The McGraw-Hill Guide to Effective Business Reports. Toronto: McGraw-Hill, 1982.

Professional Practice 2001

web references
Web References
  • Internet resources on writing- http://www.iss.stthomas.edu/studyguides/bib_writing%20webs.htm
  • Biomedical Libraries PowerPoint- http://www.dartmouth.edu/~biomed/workshops/powerpt_faq.html
  • Design Guidelines for Power Point- http://education.umn.edu/tel/itfellows/power_point_design/index_design.htm
  • Effective talks menu 103- http://www.kumc.edu/SAH/OTEd/jradel/Preparing_talks/103.html
  • Examples of Poor Writing- http://chiron.valdosta.edu/mawhatley/writing.htm
  • How To Write Project Proposals- http://www.math.psu.edu/tseng/proposal.html
  • PowerPoint tips- http://medlib.med.utah.edu/library/edumaterials/eduservices/ppp-tips.pdf
  • Effective Presentations- http://www.presentingsolutions.com/effectivepresentations.html
  • Principles of Clear Writing- http://www.nara.gov/fedreg/dldprinc.html
  • Technical Writer's Ultimate Documentation Reference- http://www.angelfire.com/stars/techwriter/
  • Technical Writing- http://goanna.cs.rmit.edu.au/~jz/writing.html
  • The Mayfield Handbook of Technical and Scientific - http://web.mit.edu/course/21/21.guide/Demo/web/
  • Water Watch MultiMedia Presentations- http://water.nr.state.ky.us/ww/wired/slides.htm
  • WordTask in the Press- http://www.wordtask.com/CitizenArticle.htm

Professional Practice 2001


Major Technological Breakthrough

Back to the drawing board.

Developed after years of intensive research

It was discovered by accident.

A number of different approaches are being tried

We don't know where we're going, but we're moving.

Professional Practice 2001


Extensive effort is being applied on a fresh approach to the problem

We just hired three new guys; we'll let them kick it around for a while.

Modifications are underway to correct certain minor difficulties

We threw the whole thing out and are starting from scratch.

The entire concept will have to be abandoned

The only guy who understood the thing quit.

Professional Practice 2001