Reports serve a variety of functions in technical organizations, and although they often appear to readers as independent, self-contained documents, they are informed by other documents in a workflow. Technical reports might incorporate several different genres of reports found in the workplace: progress report, feasibility report, design report, recommendation report, and research report, just to name a few.
What is technical writing?
8 basic differences between technical writing at work and at school
- Writing at work achieves job goals.
- Writing at work addresses a variety of readers.
- Writing at work addresses readers with different perspectives.
- Writing at work creates excessive paperwork and email.
- Writing at work may be read by readers unknown to the writer.
- Writing at work has an indefinite life span.
- Writing at work creates legal liability for the writer and the organization.
- Writing at work uses a variety of written documents.
Houp et al, Reporting Technical Information, 2009
What is a problem statement?
The Mayfield Handbook of Scientific and Technical Writing says that problem statements often include
- the problem itself, stated clearly and with enough contextual detail to establish why it is important
- the method of solving the problem, often stated as a claim or a working thesis
- the purpose, statement of objective and scope of the document the writer is preparing.
Your team might start drafting this document using one of these processes:
- Have your project manager create a straw document, or a rough outline that he or she expects to be changed as your group writes their drafts. Then, have the group give feedback to the project manager. What sections seem like the most work? What sections might be moved to a different place in the document? What sections are different team members interested in writing?
- Do a little Googling to find out the answers to these questions: Who else has worked on this problem? Have other industries or other disciplines investigated this problem from a different angle? What are some trends that you can spot in the previous work on this problem? What gaps in the research still remain?
- What are the (social, cultural, economic, environmental, etc.) factors that have impacted your decisions so far on this problem? What factors might be playing into others’ decisions on this problem? What factors would users consider as important in this problem?
- If you and your group are feeling overwhelmed, instead of trying to determine what you do know, write down what you don’t know. Make a list of questions about your innovation that you think a reader would ask. Group those questions in terms of topic or themes in order to form a straw document for your problem statement.
- Julie Gerdes of Writing Commons provides an overview of professional and technical writing.
- Jon Leydens debunks some common myths about engineering communication.
- This link will automatically download a pdf of problem statements from engineering design capstones.
- Alan Nicol on the everyday usefulness of the problem statement.
- A list of common problems that come up in technical writing from MIT.