Module 3. Technical skills for effective communication


Lesson 10


10.1  Introduction

Any branch of knowledge requiring a systematic study involves the use of scientific and technical writing for the purpose of recording and reporting information. Technical writing is used in all fields of science, technology, agriculture, engineering, social sciences, and even the humanities.  Therefore, many forms of written communications fall within its range.

Scientific and technical writing may take the form of reports, articles, papers, dissertations and theses, manuals, and correspondence. Mechanics of style and techniques of technical writing are applied in all types of scientific and technical writing. Several forms of scientific and technical writing are as follows:

10.2  Reports

A scientific and technical report may follow a pattern according to its purpose and scope. The most important types of scientific and technical reports are form reports, article reports, and formal reports such as research papers, dissertations and theses.

Form reports are made on given proformas designed especially by an organization according to its specific requirements. The report writer has to fill in the columns and give the required facts under different heads. It is a true statement of facts, figure, or data, which form the basis for the evaluation of work in an institution or organization. Such reports are quite common in the fields of technical education, industry, and scientific research.

Article reports take the shape of technical articles. The use of headings and sub-headings, tables and figures, charts and graphs, etc. is made for effective communication of facts and findings. Related information may also be given in appendices, if it cannot be integrated into the text of the report.

Formal reports involve big institutions, scientific organizations, and technical establishments. Annual reports of institutions, formal reports of committees, commissions, public and private enterprises fall under this category. A formal report takes the shape of a book and is divided into many chapter and sections. The writing of this report requires a sound selection of facts and careful organization of subject matter.

10.3  Articles

Scientific and technical writing often takes the shape of articles of varying length and specific format. Such articles may communicate knowledge on a particular subject for preservation and dissemination of ideas. These articles may be sub-divided into three categories-technical, semi-technical, and popular.

Technical articles contain highly specialized information and involve the use of technical vocabulary and scientific abbreviations, which are understood by experts belonging to a particular discipline. These are published in specialized journals.

The scope of semi-technical articles is much broader as they can also be understood and used by people working in similar disciplines. The use of technical vocabulary and abbreviations is, therefore, reduced to the minimum. These articles are also published in scientific journals but they have wider readership.

Popular articles on scientific and technological subjects are meant for the educated people who are not specialists. The use of technical vocabulary and abbreviations is, therefore, avoided. The emphasis is on easy and interesting communication of information and not on complicated details. These articles are published in periodicals and journals of common interest and are widely read.

10.4  Scientific/Research Papers

Scientific/Research papers are written and published reports describing original research results. A scientific experiment, no matter how spectacular the result, is not complete, until the results are published. In fact, the cornerstone of the philosophy of science is based on fundamental assumption that original research must be published. Only this way, new scientific knowledge be authenticated and then added to the existing data base that we call science.  Research papers are instrumental in cross-fertilization of ideas in the fields of science, agriculture, and technology. These papers are published separately or included in journals of research brought out by universities and other educational institutions. The techniques of scientific and technical writing are strictly observed in research papers.

A scientific paper is primarily an exercise in organization. A scientific paper is, or should be, highly stylized, with distinctive and clearly evident components parts. Each scientific paper should have, in proper order, its Introduction, Materials and Methods, Results and Discussion. “Good organization is the key to good writing”. However, there have been several somewhat different systems of organization that is preferred by some journals and some editors. The tendency towards uniformity is increasing nowadays; the same order is being followed.

10.5  Dissertations and Theses

Dissertations are like research papers, but they are wider in scope and longer in size. A dissertation is based on a student’s research on a particular subject. Like research paper, it must conform to specific format requirement and should strictly follow the rules of scientific and technical writing. A thesis is also based on the research work of a student or a scholar. It often refers to the outstanding research work done by scientists in various disciplines. While the term “dissertation” is modest in connotation, the term “thesis” is high sounding; the former should, therefore, be preferred while referring to the research work done by a student at the master’s or doctoral level.

10.6  Manuals

It is a functional form of scientific and technical writing, which aims at attracting the user’s attention and providing him with easy and accurate information and guidance about methodology, experiments, a machine or a product. Information brochures, instruction books, guidance manuals and style manuals contain useful information for the users. All these publications require skill in scientific and technical writing. Manuals should, therefore, be written with great care to have the desired effect. The success of these manuals, to a great extent, depends on the effectiveness of the information provided in these booklets. Many industrial establishments engage experts to do this job.

10.7  Scientific Correspondence

Scientific communication may be in the form of correspondence between two different organizations or within the same organization for vertical and horizontal flow of scientific information. Both letters and memoranda are the two useful tools for scientific and technical communication. They help in recording technical information, making and seeking recommendations on scientific and technical matters, providing clarifications, co-ordinating projects, initiating action, and meeting many other requirements of different institutions. All these forms of scientific and technical writing are used by students, scientists, scholars, administrators, and industrialists according to their specific needs.