Writing a technical paper for any purpose and on any subject canbe a daunting task, especially if you aren’t accustomed to it.Basically, there are two main things to understand whensubmitting this document, including:
- Its technical content;
- How well and clearly you express your ideas.
How to write a technical paper? There are some do’s and don’tsthat you should learn to give the right answer to this question.If you’re faced with any problems, don’t hesitate to get help.
The importance of knowing your message and audience
The main goal of writing any technical paper is to change thebehavior of other people. For example, some students want to theway readers think about a particular research matter, whileothers prefer to convince others to use a new approach. Determinethe goal you want to achieve and focus all paragraphs around it.In general, technical papers must convince readers of a fewimportant points:
- Your chosen issue is interesting;
- It’s quite hard;
- You succeeded to solve it.
If any of the above-mentioned points are unclear or missing, yourwriting won’t be compelling. Convince other people that yourcontributions are innovative. When you express this thought, it’shelpful to explain why no one else considered your approachbefore. Determine how you expect readers’ behavior to change whenthey appreciate your contributions. Before you start writing, besure to understand the targeted audience and answer the followingquestions:
- Who will read your technical paper?
- What are their motivations, backgrounds, beliefs, andinterests?
- What are the main points that you want readers to take awayfrom your writing?
Once you determine your audience and thesis, it’s easy to choosethe points that your paper will make to serve its purpose.
For every point in your technical assignment, explain why andwhat. Most students prefer to start with what, but be sure thatyou don’t omit why. As an example, it’s not enough to simplystate how a specific algorithm works because toy need to explainwhy it works this way and why any other way to solve a givenproblem is different. It’s not sufficient to present a particularfigure and merely help readers understand what it says. Make surethat they understand its implications and significance inaddition to the most important parts.
Important details to be included
The main purpose of writing any technical paper is to communicatemajor ideas, and this means that everything about your documentmust contribute to this basic goal. If any part of it fails to dothat, you should change or delete it. Be ruthless in getting ridof all irrelevant details because everything that doesn’t supportyour key points will only distract readers.
Write for the targeted audience instead of writing for yourself.Think about something that matters to readers and be focused onit, and it may not be intriguing for you. The common mistake doneby students is to focus on what you spend a lot of time on. Avoidwriting a technical paper as the chronological narrative ofeverything that you tried. Don’t devote any space in itproportionately to the amount of time spend on every task. That’sbecause the most work that you do will never be shown in thisassignment. The main purpose is to enable you to do a bit of workthat is worth writing about. In other words, you write technicalpapers not to describe everything that you’ve done, but to informother people of significant results and successful outcomes inaddition to convincing them of the validity of your conclusions.
You shouldn’t dwell on any details of experiments orimplementation, unless they contribute to the main point of yourpaper. Remember that most readers usually expect differentthings. They are interested in what worked and why, so that youneed to start with that. If you still want to discuss theapproaches that didn’t work, try to do that briefly and onlyafter discussing the successful ones. Ensure that this discussionis focused on differences from successful techniques and providereaders with general lessons or rules that will yield a betterinsight and help people to avoid repeating your mistakes.
Whenever you want to introduce an inferior approach, say thatupfront. Readers should and will assume that everything you writein your technical paper is something you advocate or believe,unless you clearly mark otherwise. It should never detail anytechnique at first, and then indicate that it’s flawed andproceed to discussing other approaches. This writing style willonly irritate and confuse the audience, so avoid this mistake.
If there are many possible approaches to a given problem, givethe best or most successful one first. In most cases, it’s noteven necessary to discuss other alternatives. If you still wantto mention them in your paper, they need to come after thesuccessful one. The main body should provide readers with themost important facts first, while the less important ones comeafterwards. The main line of your paper should flow coherentlyinstead of being interrupted. It’s possible to state someimperfect solutions first when dealing with the simpler versionof full solutions. Less commonly, you can state them first ofthey are any obvious solutions that all readers assume to beadequate. However, you should use your common sense with thisrationalization because it’s usually wrong to assume that allreaders will jump to given conclusions.
Make results and organization clear
A technical paper should clearly and early communicate the keyideas of your research, including results and techniques. Next,the main body can expand on major points because readers whounderstand your ideas and paper structure can better appreciatefurther details. Another way to say it is that you need to giveaway the punchline because your technical paper isn’t a mysterynovel or joke. That’s why readers should encounter only a deeperexplanation of the ideas that you introduce instead of unexpectedsurprises.
The same rule applies at the level of all paragraphs, so startingwith many details to tell readers main points and how they relateto each other only in the end is a bad approach to writetechnical papers. You should state each key point and then backit up. In this case, readers are more likely to appreciateimportant evidence and they are less likely to feel frustrated orconfused.
For every section of your technical paper, think about writing abrief introduction that tells the audience more about itsorganization, all subparts, and how they are related. For theentire piece of writing, it’s a short paragraph. For a section,it’s a short sentence. This writing strategy may seem redundantto you, but readers will really appreciate these importantsignposts because they orient them within your paper.
Some students prefer to write an abstract and an introductoryparagraph last. This technique makes it easier for them to writebecause the rest of their technical paper is complete and can beeasily described. If you know the outlook and organization ofyour assignment, writing its front matter takes only littleeffort. Otherwise, take enough time to determine importantinformation by writing a front matter. Some students state thatwriting the main body without knowing a broad outline takes moretime.
Another common mistake is to dive into the implementation ofdetails or a technical approach without framing a given problemand sharing enough backgrounds and motivation first. Readers wantto understand the task that you complete before they’re convincedthat it’s worth their attention. First, you need to state themain goal or problem and the output before discussing any furthersteps. Don’t share any information that is not helpful to theaudience because it will only distract them from the maincontent.
Effective tips on how to get started
How to write a technical paper? Some students feel overwhelmedand they have problems when getting started. If you’re one ofthem, there are some effective tricks that will help you overcomeprocrastination and writer’s block. Once you succeed to getstarted, it becomes easier to revise the first draft and notes.At this stage of completing your technical assignment, the mainidea is to write something interesting and worthy, because youcan improve it further.
- Start verbally;
- Create an outline;
- Take notes;
- Divide and conquer;
Let’s take a look at each technique in detail. To start verbally,you need to explain what your technical paper wants to say toother people. Write down everything that comes to your mind andfocus on the main ideas instead of words. Many students find iteasier to speak than write. Give clarifications and get feedbacksbecause they will help you discover existing problems with yourexplanation, argument, and word choice.
If you don’t feel ready to write full paragraphs, you can createan outline to determine the main sections of your paper and givethem a descriptive title. Once you come up with a basic paperstructure, write a brief outline of each paragraph and indicatesubsection titles. Next, expand them into topic sentences forevery part. You will find it easier to write full paragraphsbecause you’re aware of their topic ideas.
Write down everything you know about the chosen subject withoutany particular format or order. Take notes and organizeeverything you write thematically to bring relevant pointstogether. The next step is converting them into a brief outlineand proceeding as stated above. When taking your notes, use onlykeywords or phrases instead of complete sentences because thisapproach is faster and you’re less likely to derail yourbrainstorming process. Besides, notes are easier to organize andyou’ll feel less attached to them when deleting.
Rather than writing the entire technical paper, you should pick aspecific part and move on to the next one. Find other textswritten on the same topic and start from them. For example,progress reports offer a great source because they remind youeverything that was interesting or difficult. You’re unlikely towant to reuse your text verbatim because you can convey majorpoints better now. Another reason is that writing on differentcontexts and for different readers requires other phrases andarguments. Technical talks and papers have similar goals but theycome in different forms.
You will be willing to rewrite or delete early drafts and notes.At the early stages of your writing process, the main point isorganizing major ideas instead of creating polished sentences.
The main principles of technical writing
If you focus on the clarity of technical papers, you’llinevitably gain more clarity in thinking. There are certainprinciples of technical writing that will help you become a moresuccessful student.
- Pay attention to correctness, use the right language andcheck grammar once everything is finished;
- Refer to every item in the singular instead of the plural todifferentiate one-to-one relationships;
- Refer to every important character, including concepts,algorithms, and language, using the same language and give a newone a proper name;
- In every sentence, move readers from familiar information tothe new one;
- Put all important characters in the subjects joined to theverbs that express significant actions;
- In a coherent passage, pick the subjects that refer to aconsistent set of relevant concepts;
- In a paper abstract, avoid enumerating a list of coveredtopics because you need to convey important information found inyour technical paper;
- For any material that you want to be remembered by readers,use the end of sentences;
- Order the text in a way that lets other people easily see howrelevant concepts are both different and similar.
Helpful technical writing practices
There are some practices that will help you master technicalpaper writing faster and easier.
- Write a technical paper in short sessions on a daily basisand ignore a common myth that all successful writers prefer bigand uninterrupted blocks;
- Prewrite, think before you write, and prepare diagrams,notes, and other helpful things;
- Focus on the process itself, its regularity, and consistency;
- Use special index cards to organize your paper and plan adraft;
- Don’t be concerned with page limits because you can alwayscut down a paper size.
The role played by brevity
Be brief and make each word in your technical paper count. Ifsome words don’t support your thesis, delete them because excessverbiage will only make it harder for readers to convey yourmessage. It’s advisable to use shorter and more direct sentenceswhenever you can.
Make your writing clear and to the point. You should get rid ofany text that fails to support your statement. There is oneextremely and time-consuming technique that will help yousucceed:
- Examine every section of your paper and determine the purposeit serves and if it contributes to the main point to deleteeverything unnecessary;
- Within every section, you need to examine all paragraphs anddetermine whether they have a single point and contribute to thegoals of a specific section;
- Within every paragraph, examine each sentence that you writeto determine if it makes a clear and single point that improvesthe whole text;
- Within each sentence, evaluate every word to replace ordelete everything that doesn’t prove your point.
Feel free to repeat this process a few times to keep a freshperspective on your technical paper. Some students find it easierto use this approach bottom-up.
Choosing the best writing style
Passive voice is not acceptable in technical paper writingbecause it obscured important facts. You need to use active voicein addition to clear, simple, and direct phrasing to earn bettergrades. The first person is rarely appropriate in technicalpapers, so you should avoid using it when describing operations.In rare cases, you’re allowed to use the first paper whendescribing something that you did manually. Avoid using anyvalue, self-configuration, and puffery judgments. Your basic goalis to provide readers with all the facts to let them judge.
Don’t use such words as easily, clearly, trivially, obviously,etc. If your point is obvious, don’t waste your words by pointingit out. If it’s not, you simply demonstrate your inability tocommunicate the intuition. Choose singular over plural numbers toend up with a perfect technical paper. When describing anyexperiment or other actions that happened in the past, you needto use the past tense. However, when you describe the technicalpaper itself, be sure to use the present tense. The main reasonis that readers experience everything in real time, and yourpiece of writing is just like a conversation with them.
Avoid any gratuitous use of the future tense because you shoulduse more direct and shorter phrases. If your paper contain any3-or-mote element list, it’s necessary to put a special commabetween each item. In English, all compound adjectives arehyphenated, unlike compound nouns, so use this knowledge whencompleting a technical writing assignment.
Some of the above-mentioned suggestions are all about goodwriting, and they may seem secondary to your research. However,writing clearly and logically helps you think better whilerevealing evident flaws. If your writing isn’t brilliant, otherpeople won’t be able to understand any of your major ideas andthey may be suspicious of the entire technical work done by you.
Why and how to use figures
Different people tend to learn in different ways, so you need tocomplement your mathematical or textual presentation with thegraphical one and use figures. Even for readers with theirtextual primary learning modality, another form of presenting keyideas can help them clarify and fill gaps while enabling toverify their own understanding. Furthermore, figures also helpyou draw the audience into the text, illustrate importantconcepts, and make your technical paper more visually appealing.
It’s quite helpful to give clear and interesting examples toclarify all of your ideas because they make concrete in the mindsof all readers. The running examples that you use throughout yourtechnical paper are also effective for illustrating how aparticular algorithm works. A single example allows you to savethe space and time spend on explaining everything to readers.It’s a bit difficult to find a single example to be reusedthroughout the entire paper, but it’s definitely worth it.
Figures should stand on their won and contain all the informationnecessary for other people to understand them well. Good captionsshould contain multiple sentences and they provide the rightexplanation and context. Captions are also used to explain themeaning of specific columns in tables or symbols in figures. Tryhard to put important information in figures correctly, includingusing labels and legends. When your technical paper contains anydetails in captions, it may bring a few negative effects. Forexample, readers are forced to hunt all over the text tounderstand figures and the flow of your writing is interruptedwith the details that are relevant only after looking at figures.They also become inefficient at drawing readers the consistencythat you need to cater to.
Use pictorial elements consistently and only two different arrowtypes when they denote some distinct concepts. Avoid introducingthem inconsistently only because this method pleases yourindividual aesthetic sense. Keep in mind that almost any diagramthat contains many types of elements requires a legend thatexplains their meaning. The body of every figure can be adrawing, a graph, a table, or anything else.
Use computer program source codes when needed
Any code examples that you use in your technical paper should beeither real codes or close to them. It’s not allowed to use anysynthetic examples, including variables and procedures becausethey are more difficult to understand and build intuition forreaders. Another common problem is that they provide readers withan impression that the technique that you use isn’t applicable inpractice because you failed to find real examples to illustrateand support it.
Any type of highlighting should be used if you want to indicatethe most significant parts of your technical paper. When it comesto code snippets, you shouldn’t use this technique to highlightany syntactic elements because they aren’t suitable objects fordrawing readers’ eyes. As an example, it’s acceptable to useboldface if you need to indicate the names of differentprocedures instead of their return types.
Everything about naming in technical papers
Provide every concept in your technical paper with itsdescriptive name to make it more remarkable for the audience.Avoid acronyms whenever it’s possible, and if you can’t come upwith any good name, there is a high chance that you don’tunderstand this concept clearly. Think harder and determine itssalient and important characteristics. It’s always best to nameall techniques and paper sections based on what they do insteadof how they do.
Be sure to use all terms in technical papers precisely andconsistently. Avoid any possible elegant variations because theyuse different terms for the same concept because you will have toexplain its different aspects. Although elegant variations aresuitable in essays and poems, they aren’t acceptable in technicalwriting because you need to use clear terms consistently. If youswitch words gratuitously, it will only confuse readers whilemuddling your main point. People who read technical papers thinkthat the use of different terms indicate different meanings, sothey will wonder the subtle difference that you want tohighlight. For this reason, you shouldn’t confuse your audienceby substituting terms. All you need to do is to pick the bestterm for a specific concept and stick to it throughout the entirepaper.
Using a single term to refer to multiple concepts is a bad ideabecause it will also confuse readers. When you present lists inyour technical paper, be consistent in how each element isintroduced. You need to either state the size of a list or usespecial formatting to make it stand. Your basic goal is to make amajor argument clear instead of achieving elegant variations atthe expense of paper clarity.
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