Familiarity with a topic can make you unaware of content gaps or lack of clarity in a paper or report. In our previous blog, we reviewed How to Correct 5 Common Errors in Technical Papers and Reports. The following checklist will help you locate and correct two additional errors:
- Lack of consistency
- Unclear, ambiguous wording
1. Lack of consistency. Why is consistency so important for technical writers? Inconsistency in format and wording may distract and confuse readers and affect their perception of you as a reliable, credible author. Consistency improves the paper’s or report’s flow and clarity and thereby readers’ comprehension. To help ensure consistency throughout a paper or report:
- As you write and edit, apply the standards and rules of your organization’s style guide (or the Writer’s Guide of the organization to whom you are submitting a paper). Have the guide open and ready for quick reference.
- Create a paper- or report-specific style guide including standards for capitalization, enumeration, graphics, headings, numbers, paragraphing, punctuation, and spacing; for abbreviations, spelling, and use of terminology; and for how you develop comparable topics. Have this guide open and ready for quick reference.
- Create a paper- or report-specific glossary of terms and abbreviations. Have the glossary open to allow your reference, and update it as you work on the paper/report.
- Use your computer’s features such as Microsoft Word Insert>Quick Parts to save re-usable wording and File>Save as>Word Template to create re-usable document outlines/models from previously written documents. Annotate each template with prompts describing the content to insert into each section. Create placeholders for cover pages, tables of contents, acronym lists, glossaries, headings, titles and captions for graphics, as well as reference lists. Insert standard language such as disclaimers. And create links to useful documents that provide examples of preferred writing style and effective use of graphics or re-usable content.
- Within each section of your paper or report, use familiar patterns to organize your content (such as Order of Importance, Chronological Order, or Sequential Order).
With consistency, your writing style will “disappear,” and both you and your readers will focus on your paper’s/report’s content.
2. Unclear, ambiguous wording. How do you ensure that your sentences can be read once and immediately understood as intended?
- Delete unnecessary words (such as actually and very) and worthless phrases (such as It is important to note that) that can obscure meaning.
- Keep only those words that add meaning to a sentence. Also keep words that help readers correctly determine a word’s grammatical use (such as the articles a, an, and the used before nouns) or predict a sentence’s structure (such as the relative pronoun that, signaling an embedded clause).
- Translate any specialized terminology that may be unfamiliar to less expert readers or that may have different meanings in different technical contexts or for different technical disciplines.
- Use precise words with only one meaning. (For example, avoid sufficient and reader-friendly. Those words may have different meanings for different readers. Depending upon context, even common words such as since may be ambiguous: does since mean because or since the time that?) Use factual, literal wording. Consider how sentences would translate into another language.
- Include the information that is essential to readers’ understanding each sentence individually and your paper or report as a whole.
- Correct any vague pronoun use. Use pronouns precisely. Since a pronoun must refer to a specific noun, in each paragraph, introduce the antecedent noun before using each pronoun. Be especially careful with the pronoun it and with the demonstrative pronouns (this, that, these, and those).
- Ensure that you have used familiar vocabulary as well as kept sentences and paragraphs short. Enable Microsoft Word’s Readability feature for objective feedback on the readability of your writing style.
In the next blog, watch for three additional tips to Correct Common Errors in Technical Papers and Reports.
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