Consistency – an important step in the preening process…

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In my earlier posts I talked about preening the final draft and the importance writing proper paragraphs.  As you go through your final draft, one thing to check for is consistency.  Here are some tips on how to handle the most common consistency problems…   Read the rest of this entry »


The “four drafts” approach to speed writing…

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If you’re like me, one of the main things that stresses you out about technical writing is never feeling that you have enough time to do it well.  Most people have totally unrealistic expectations of how long it will take them to write a technical report.  I know that from first-hand experience.  Many years ago I did my Masters part-time while holding down a full-time job. After two long years of working on weekends and evenings I finally finished my lab experiments, so I decided to take two weeks’ vacation to write my thesis and get my life back.  I sat down at the desk the first morning and started writing – not outlining mind you – back then I didn’t know that I was supposed to outline first… After about an hour of scribbling and struggling with the overwhelming task ahead of me – it gradually dawned on me that this was not going to be a two week job, it was going to be a six MONTH job!  I hopped in the car and ran out to pick up some beer and movies.  I decided that I might as well enjoy that two week vacation because I knew that the next six months were going to be pure misery.

That thesis did end up taking me about 6 months to write, but today I could easily do it in two weeks.  It’s not only because I am now much older (and thus a tiny bit wiser).  It’s because, over the intervening 25+ years, I have developed strategies for writing reports quickly and efficiently.  I already told you about one key strategy in my first post – planning and outlining.  In this post I am going to tell you about the “four drafts” approach to speed writing.  Hopefully you will find it, or some adaptation, saves you time as well.   Read the rest of this entry »

Say – what the heck is a paragraph anyway?

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Whether you’re writing a term paper in an undergraduate history course or a PhD thesis in biochemistry, you’re going to need to know how to write a proper paragraph.  Paragraphs are the fundamental building blocks in any formal document and yet most students haven’t got a clue how to put one together.  It’s not their fault – likely no one has ever explained it to them before.  Over the years, I’ve found that about 99% of university students adopt one of the following three (improper) strategies to decide when to start a new paragraph.   Read the rest of this entry »

Writing your thesis or report – where to start?

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In this series of articles, I will be providing advice to college and university students, especially those in graduate school, on writing technical reports, theses and papers. This information should also be useful to practicing scientists and engineers working in government, corporations or consulting. In general, the standard of technical writing in professional practice is woefully inadequate; consequently the professional who seeks to achieve a level of writing expertise comparable to their excellent technical skills will have a distinct advantage over the competition.   Read the rest of this entry »