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Technical Communications Basics: Lab Reports & More

Technical Communications Basics: Lab Reports & More

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Technical Communications Basics: Lab Reports & More

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

  2. 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)

  3. Overview • 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

  4. Introduction • 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.

  5. Guidelines for Good Technical Writing • Focus on why you are writing. • inform • request • instruct • propose • recommend • persuade • record

  6. Guidelines • 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)

  7. 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.)

  8. 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.

  9. 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

  10. Web Resources (cont.) • Grammar Girl • The Grammar Diva (Big Word 101)

  11. 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

  12. 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!

  13. 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.

  14. 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

  15. 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.

  16. Example of e-mail signature Nancy Passow Adjunct Professor Fairleigh Dickinson University 201-541-9702 (telephone/fax)

  17. 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).

  18. 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.

  19. 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.

  20. 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

  21. 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

  22. 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.

  23. Why Use Paper? • Security • Memos – internal • Letters – external • Faxes – need to show a signature or transmit something

  24. Using MS Word (or equivalent) • file names • descriptive • unique • findable • save vs. save as • creating new pages within a document • spell check vs. autocorrect

  25. Using MS Word (or equivalent) • print preview • templates • default font (don’t use Times Roman – it’s boring!) • line spacing • alignment • Word Help

  26. 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

  27. 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”

  28. Memos • 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

  29. 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.

  30. Letters • 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

  31. Letters • 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

  32. Letters • 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

  33. 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

  34. 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. Sincerely, Nancy R. Passow

  35. 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. Sincerely, Nancy R. Passow

  36. 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. Sincerely, Nancy R. Passow Enclosure: check #560 cc: Arthur H. Bell

  37. Numbers • 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

  38. Numbers • 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

  39. Numbers • 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

  40. Numbers • 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

  41. Numbers • 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

  42. Numbers • 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

  43. Numbers • In a listing of numbers, align decimal points vertically. 133.4 27.06 0.345 • 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

  44. 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.

  45. 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

  46. 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 10-21zepto-z

  47. 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

  48. Equations • 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.

  49. Equations • 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.

  50. Equations • 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