Writing a technical paper for any purpose and on any subject can be a daunting task, especially if you aren’t accustomed to it. Basically, there are two main things to understand when submitting 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’ts that 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 the behavior of other people. For example, some students want to the way readers think about a particular research matter, while others prefer to convince others to use a new approach. Determine the goal you want to achieve and focus all paragraphs around it. In general, technical papers must convince readers of a few important 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, your writing won’t be compelling. Convince other people that your contributions are innovative. When you express this thought, it’s helpful to explain why no one else considered your approach before. Determine how you expect readers’ behavior to change when they appreciate your contributions. Before you start writing, be sure to understand the targeted audience and answer the following questions:
- Who will read your technical paper?
- What are their motivations, backgrounds, beliefs, and interests?
- What are the main points that you want readers to take away from your writing?
Once you determine your audience and thesis, it’s easy to choose the points that your paper will make to serve its purpose.
For every point in your technical assignment, explain why and what. Most students prefer to start with what, but be sure that you don’t omit why. As an example, it’s not enough to simply state how a specific algorithm works because toy need to explain why it works this way and why any other way to solve a given problem is different. It’s not sufficient to present a particular figure and merely help readers understand what it says. Make sure that they understand its implications and significance in addition to the most important parts.
Important details to be included
The main purpose of writing any technical paper is to communicate major ideas, and this means that everything about your document must contribute to this basic goal. If any part of it fails to do that, you should change or delete it. Be ruthless in getting rid of all irrelevant details because everything that doesn’t support your 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 on it, and it may not be intriguing for you. The common mistake done by students is to focus on what you spend a lot of time on. Avoid writing a technical paper as the chronological narrative of everything that you tried. Don’t devote any space in it proportionately to the amount of time spend on every task. That’s because the most work that you do will never be shown in this assignment. The main purpose is to enable you to do a bit of work that is worth writing about. In other words, you write technical papers not to describe everything that you’ve done, but to inform other people of significant results and successful outcomes in addition to convincing them of the validity of your conclusions.
You shouldn’t dwell on any details of experiments or implementation, unless they contribute to the main point of your paper. Remember that most readers usually expect different things. They are interested in what worked and why, so that you need to start with that. If you still want to discuss the approaches that didn’t work, try to do that briefly and only after discussing the successful ones. Ensure that this discussion is focused on differences from successful techniques and provide readers with general lessons or rules that will yield a better insight and help people to avoid repeating your mistakes.
Whenever you want to introduce an inferior approach, say that upfront. Readers should and will assume that everything you write in your technical paper is something you advocate or believe, unless you clearly mark otherwise. It should never detail any technique at first, and then indicate that it’s flawed and proceed to discussing other approaches. This writing style will only irritate and confuse the audience, so avoid this mistake.
If there are many possible approaches to a given problem, give the best or most successful one first. In most cases, it’s not even necessary to discuss other alternatives. If you still want to mention them in your paper, they need to come after the successful one. The main body should provide readers with the most important facts first, while the less important ones come afterwards. The main line of your paper should flow coherently instead of being interrupted. It’s possible to state some imperfect solutions first when dealing with the simpler version of full solutions. Less commonly, you can state them first of they are any obvious solutions that all readers assume to be adequate. However, you should use your common sense with this rationalization because it’s usually wrong to assume that all readers will jump to given conclusions.
Make results and organization clear
A technical paper should clearly and early communicate the key ideas of your research, including results and techniques. Next, the main body can expand on major points because readers who understand your ideas and paper structure can better appreciate further details. Another way to say it is that you need to give away the punchline because your technical paper isn’t a mystery novel or joke. That’s why readers should encounter only a deeper explanation of the ideas that you introduce instead of unexpected surprises.
The same rule applies at the level of all paragraphs, so starting with many details to tell readers main points and how they relate to each other only in the end is a bad approach to write technical papers. You should state each key point and then back it up. In this case, readers are more likely to appreciate important evidence and they are less likely to feel frustrated or confused.
For every section of your technical paper, think about writing a brief introduction that tells the audience more about its organization, all subparts, and how they are related. For the entire piece of writing, it’s a short paragraph. For a section, it’s a short sentence. This writing strategy may seem redundant to you, but readers will really appreciate these important signposts because they orient them within your paper.
Some students prefer to write an abstract and an introductory paragraph last. This technique makes it easier for them to write because the rest of their technical paper is complete and can be easily described. If you know the outlook and organization of your assignment, writing its front matter takes only little effort. Otherwise, take enough time to determine important information by writing a front matter. Some students state that writing the main body without knowing a broad outline takes more time.
Another common mistake is to dive into the implementation of details or a technical approach without framing a given problem and sharing enough backgrounds and motivation first. Readers want to understand the task that you complete before they’re convinced that it’s worth their attention. First, you need to state the main goal or problem and the output before discussing any further steps. Don’t share any information that is not helpful to the audience because it will only distract them from the main content.
Effective tips on how to get started
How to write a technical paper? Some students feel overwhelmed and they have problems when getting started. If you’re one of them, there are some effective tricks that will help you overcome procrastination and writer’s block. Once you succeed to get started, it becomes easier to revise the first draft and notes. At this stage of completing your technical assignment, the main idea is to write something interesting and worthy, because you can 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 to other people. Write down everything that comes to your mind and focus on the main ideas instead of words. Many students find it easier to speak than write. Give clarifications and get feedbacks because they will help you discover existing problems with your explanation, argument, and word choice.
If you don’t feel ready to write full paragraphs, you can create an outline to determine the main sections of your paper and give them a descriptive title. Once you come up with a basic paper structure, write a brief outline of each paragraph and indicate subsection titles. Next, expand them into topic sentences for every part. You will find it easier to write full paragraphs because you’re aware of their topic ideas.
Write down everything you know about the chosen subject without any particular format or order. Take notes and organize everything you write thematically to bring relevant points together. The next step is converting them into a brief outline and proceeding as stated above. When taking your notes, use only keywords or phrases instead of complete sentences because this approach is faster and you’re less likely to derail your brainstorming process. Besides, notes are easier to organize and you’ll feel less attached to them when deleting.
Rather than writing the entire technical paper, you should pick a specific part and move on to the next one. Find other texts written on the same topic and start from them. For example, progress reports offer a great source because they remind you everything that was interesting or difficult. You’re unlikely to want to reuse your text verbatim because you can convey major points better now. Another reason is that writing on different contexts and for different readers requires other phrases and arguments. Technical talks and papers have similar goals but they come 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 is organizing major ideas instead of creating polished sentences.
The main principles of technical writing
If you focus on the clarity of technical papers, you’ll inevitably gain more clarity in thinking. There are certain principles of technical writing that will help you become a more successful student.
- Pay attention to correctness, use the right language and check grammar once everything is finished;
- Refer to every item in the singular instead of the plural to differentiate one-to-one relationships;
- Refer to every important character, including concepts, algorithms, and language, using the same language and give a new one a proper name;
- In every sentence, move readers from familiar information to the new one;
- Put all important characters in the subjects joined to the verbs that express significant actions;
- In a coherent passage, pick the subjects that refer to a consistent set of relevant concepts;
- In a paper abstract, avoid enumerating a list of covered topics because you need to convey important information found in your 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 how relevant concepts are both different and similar.
Helpful technical writing practices
There are some practices that will help you master technical paper writing faster and easier.
- Write a technical paper in short sessions on a daily basis and ignore a common myth that all successful writers prefer big and 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 a draft;
- Don’t be concerned with page limits because you can always cut down a paper size.
The role played by brevity
Be brief and make each word in your technical paper count. If some words don’t support your thesis, delete them because excess verbiage will only make it harder for readers to convey your message. It’s advisable to use shorter and more direct sentences whenever you can.
Make your writing clear and to the point. You should get rid of any text that fails to support your statement. There is one extremely and time-consuming technique that will help you succeed:
- Examine every section of your paper and determine the purpose it serves and if it contributes to the main point to delete everything unnecessary;
- Within every section, you need to examine all paragraphs and determine whether they have a single point and contribute to the goals of a specific section;
- Within every paragraph, examine each sentence that you write to determine if it makes a clear and single point that improves the whole text;
- Within each sentence, evaluate every word to replace or delete everything that doesn’t prove your point.
Feel free to repeat this process a few times to keep a fresh perspective on your technical paper. Some students find it easier to use this approach bottom-up.
Choosing the best writing style
Passive voice is not acceptable in technical paper writing because it obscured important facts. You need to use active voice in addition to clear, simple, and direct phrasing to earn better grades. The first person is rarely appropriate in technical papers, so you should avoid using it when describing operations. In rare cases, you’re allowed to use the first paper when describing something that you did manually. Avoid using any value, self-configuration, and puffery judgments. Your basic goal is 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 pointing it out. If it’s not, you simply demonstrate your inability to communicate the intuition. Choose singular over plural numbers to end up with a perfect technical paper. When describing any experiment or other actions that happened in the past, you need to use the past tense. However, when you describe the technical paper itself, be sure to use the present tense. The main reason is that readers experience everything in real time, and your piece of writing is just like a conversation with them.
Avoid any gratuitous use of the future tense because you should use more direct and shorter phrases. If your paper contain any 3-or-mote element list, it’s necessary to put a special comma between each item. In English, all compound adjectives are hyphenated, unlike compound nouns, so use this knowledge when completing a technical writing assignment.
Some of the above-mentioned suggestions are all about good writing, and they may seem secondary to your research. However, writing clearly and logically helps you think better while revealing evident flaws. If your writing isn’t brilliant, other people won’t be able to understand any of your major ideas and they 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 to complement your mathematical or textual presentation with the graphical one and use figures. Even for readers with their textual primary learning modality, another form of presenting key ideas can help them clarify and fill gaps while enabling to verify their own understanding. Furthermore, figures also help you draw the audience into the text, illustrate important concepts, and make your technical paper more visually appealing.
It’s quite helpful to give clear and interesting examples to clarify all of your ideas because they make concrete in the minds of all readers. The running examples that you use throughout your technical paper are also effective for illustrating how a particular algorithm works. A single example allows you to save the space and time spend on explaining everything to readers. It’s a bit difficult to find a single example to be reused throughout the entire paper, but it’s definitely worth it.
Figures should stand on their won and contain all the information necessary for other people to understand them well. Good captions should contain multiple sentences and they provide the right explanation and context. Captions are also used to explain the meaning of specific columns in tables or symbols in figures. Try hard to put important information in figures correctly, including using labels and legends. When your technical paper contains any details in captions, it may bring a few negative effects. For example, readers are forced to hunt all over the text to understand figures and the flow of your writing is interrupted with the details that are relevant only after looking at figures. They also become inefficient at drawing readers the consistency that you need to cater to.
Use pictorial elements consistently and only two different arrow types when they denote some distinct concepts. Avoid introducing them inconsistently only because this method pleases your individual aesthetic sense. Keep in mind that almost any diagram that contains many types of elements requires a legend that explains their meaning. The body of every figure can be a drawing, 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 be either real codes or close to them. It’s not allowed to use any synthetic examples, including variables and procedures because they are more difficult to understand and build intuition for readers. Another common problem is that they provide readers with an impression that the technique that you use isn’t applicable in practice because you failed to find real examples to illustrate and support it.
Any type of highlighting should be used if you want to indicate the most significant parts of your technical paper. When it comes to code snippets, you shouldn’t use this technique to highlight any syntactic elements because they aren’t suitable objects for drawing readers’ eyes. As an example, it’s acceptable to use boldface if you need to indicate the names of different procedures instead of their return types.
Everything about naming in technical papers
Provide every concept in your technical paper with its descriptive name to make it more remarkable for the audience. Avoid acronyms whenever it’s possible, and if you can’t come up with any good name, there is a high chance that you don’t understand this concept clearly. Think harder and determine its salient and important characteristics. It’s always best to name all techniques and paper sections based on what they do instead of how they do.
Be sure to use all terms in technical papers precisely and consistently. Avoid any possible elegant variations because they use different terms for the same concept because you will have to explain its different aspects. Although elegant variations are suitable in essays and poems, they aren’t acceptable in technical writing because you need to use clear terms consistently. If you switch words gratuitously, it will only confuse readers while muddling your main point. People who read technical papers think that the use of different terms indicate different meanings, so they will wonder the subtle difference that you want to highlight. For this reason, you shouldn’t confuse your audience by substituting terms. All you need to do is to pick the best term for a specific concept and stick to it throughout the entire paper.
Using a single term to refer to multiple concepts is a bad idea because it will also confuse readers. When you present lists in your technical paper, be consistent in how each element is introduced. You need to either state the size of a list or use special formatting to make it stand. Your basic goal is to make a major argument clear instead of achieving elegant variations at the expense of paper clarity.
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