Familiarity with a topic can make you unaware of content gaps or lack of clarity in a paper or report. In our previous blogs, we reviewed How to Correct Common Errors in Technical Papers and Reports. The following checklist will help you locate and correct three additional common errors:
- Poorly written Methods sections
- Unnecessary, inaccurate, or out-of-date content
- Mechanical errors
1. Poorly written Methods sections. The Methods section of a paper or report describes what was done to answer the technical question or to solve the problem posed in your Introduction. The validity of the whole paper or report rests on the Methods section. How do you ensure a clear, credible, sufficiently detailed, and logically organized description of your methodology?
- Consider writing the Methods section while you complete the work, when details are fresh in your mind.
- Follow the established Methods format for your area of expertise. For example, information technology and social sciences may use a format such as the following: (1) provide a methodology overview, (2) describe the design concept including how results will be measured and how your evaluation terminology will be defined/quantified, and (3) describe the procedure step by step.
- Provide enough supporting description to allow readers to evaluate or replicate the procedure. Mention all controls and identify specific equipment, material, or other resources that are critical to the success of the experiment/study/work. Include any Lessons Learned or cautions that will be helpful to those replicating the procedure.
- Provide cross-references to resources and supporting documentation. Cite the author(s) of well-established protocols. Describe, provide the rationale for, and illustrate any modifications to usual protocols.
- Ensure that the Methods section aligns with the Results and Conclusions sections of your report. Cross-check those three sections for consistency and completeness.
2. Unnecessary, inaccurate, or out-of-date content. When you are very familiar with the information presented in the paper or report, how do you maintain objectivity to ensure that the content is pertinent, accurate, and current?
- Clearly define the purpose and scope of your paper or report, and consider the expectations and requirements of your readers. Include only information that supports your purpose, is within your scope, and meets your readers’ needs. Do not include information or graphics just because you have them at hand.
- Once your outline is prepared, request feedback from expert peers on the content you intend to include in/exclude from your paper or report.
- To identify errors in fact that can immediately destroy credibility, proofread your content (especially numerical data and the spelling of names and specialized terminology) against your source material. Check all computations. Check data in the technical discussion as well as in tables and charts. Watch for two obvious but common numerical errors: corrupted numbers (a instead of b) and transposed numbers (ba instead of ab).
- Read edited sections of your paper or report against draft versions, watching for omitted words and sentences as well as misplaced insertions that can change sentence meaning.
- Request that an expert peer review the paper or report for content accuracy and currency.
3. Mechanical errors. When you review your own writing, you may read what you intended to type rather than what you did type. Or you may miss errors resulting from cutting and pasting words or sentences. How do you ensure that your paper or report is free of mechanical errors?
Use a checklist to proofread methodically for errors in punctuation, spelling, usage, grammar, and sentence structure. Especially check for commonly confused words (for example, its/it’s and their/there), subject-verb agreement, precise pronoun use, too-long sentences, as well as omitted letters and words.
- Proofread separately for errors that you typically make. For example, a fast typist may omit letters at the ends of words.
- Read sections and paragraphs out of order. As you read (out loud if you can), touch each word with the eraser of a pencil.
- Proofread illustrations separately and against their text introductions/explanations and against their data sources. Check all computations. Ensure that the final version of each illustration aligns with the final version of the text.
- Read the paper or report against an earlier draft, paying special attention to sections where there have been changes.
- Request that an individual with good proofreading skills review the paper or report to find any mechanical errors.
Now that you have reviewed How to Correct Common Errors in Writing Technical Papers and Reports, you can download or print a checklist of all 10 errors for your ongoing reference.
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