How (and How Not) to write a technical paper:: Tips to myself (Part 1)

I would like to provide guidelines to myself. After writing qualifying dissertation, progress report, thesis audit and thesis outline. I have to prepare on writing my own thesis (the big book later).  I am planning to start writing in a little while. The overall thesis structure is there but writing is a complicated process especially when English is not my first language, limited vocabulary and the difficulties in expressing what I really wanted to say.  My assessor is very meticulous, every single sentences every single word, every single comma every single figure, leaving me with lots of frustration. It must look perfect for her, if I managed to feast her eyes in the documentations, she will be very happy. I want to write like them, I have to learn on how I can write and expressing my research so that they will understand.  I never had any steps in writing, leaving me with lots of papers to refer, not sure about the content, everything is scattered in my memory. It’s time for a change I guess.  It might be wrong, or not complete but then it is a good start for me.

I presume in writing, there are several steps

  1. Preparation
  2. Research
  3. Organisation
  4. Writing a draft
  5. Revision

Preparation: Before I sat down to write this paper, I asked myself some questions,  then, I discussed and asked Jon,  to conform. Things that I need to clarify:

  • the purpose of the document
  • the audience
  • the scope

Research: The purpose of the paper is to convey information. In order to convey information, I have to understand it. – but can I explain it?. This is a major problem….If don’t have the gist of the paper, that I cannot really explain it. Here, collection of references are needed and must be accurate.

Organisation: I understand that a poorly organised documentation may in fact be worse then I really thought it will be. I have to remember about what I need to tell users and how the information can best be conveyed. I need to choose the method that best suits my topics and my purpose. Fiona always mentioned that in writing you have to explain each sections and how the sections work together and general-to-specific writing manner. In general-to-specific writing manner, you begin with general/broad information about your research and move to more specific information in tha latter sections.

So now, I need to  prepare an outline based on the organisation that I have in mind. This will provides a road map for my writing.  Personally, I use an iterative approach: I start with a very broad outline as follow ( it’s not easy as I am stuck few times to relate each sections, to maintain coherence of the paper..:( ) I then go through my outline and break categories into sub-categories and sub-sub-categories until I feel I have a clear enough map.

  • Introduction
  • Swarm Robotics
    • Fault Tolerance
  • Swarm Taxis Algorithm
  • Experimental Setup
    • Initial Result
  • Proposed Solution
    • General Ideas
    • Algorithm
  • Conclusion
  • References

Writing a draft: I am now ready to begin writing. I need to expand the outline into paragraphs. I save the introduction for last, so that I will have a better idea of what is covered in the body of the document. There is also a need to write a conclusion to the paper later – I should remember the basic rule of technical writing:

Tell them what you’re going to tell them. (Introduction)
Tell them. (Body)
Tell them what you’ve told them. (Conclusion)

Revision: Finally I need to check for completeness and accuracy.

  • Check for conciseness, and covers a topic clearly.
  • Check spelling and grammar. I use spell check
  • Review abbreviations, acronyms, and initialisms expanded at their first usage?

Conclusion: So finally, I need to tell them what I’ve told them.

In preparing a technical paper, key points discussed were: establishing the purpose, assessing the audience, determining the scope, and selecting the appropriate medium. The research section covered the reasons for research and strategies for writing a paper. In organisation, methods of development were introduced such as  division, classification, and general-to-specific writing manner. Outlining was also discussed. Finally, strategies for writing and revision were covered.


2 thoughts on “How (and How Not) to write a technical paper:: Tips to myself (Part 1)

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