What is technical writing?
Technical writing is a style of writing used when preparing protocols, reports, investigations and other laboratory documentation.
What are some examples of technical documents?
In general, any regulated manufacturing site will use the following technical documents: validation documents, reports, Standard (Operating) Procedures, SOP’s and Work/Operator Instructions (OI’s), standard forms and overriding policies and a Site Quality Manual all within the framework of a Quality Management System (QMS),
Most technical documents are intended to be used by their reader. They must be easy to read by their intended audience and contain enough information to enable a process to be reliably repeated. Investigations tend not to be repeated as they are specific to once off incidents. However, sufficient information must be in the report to allow the reader to clearly understand what was investigated and how. Here, it is important to clearly define what corrective action was recommended (if any), so if a similar incident occurs, one can assesses the effectiveness of the preventative action.
What is a report?
A scientific report usually details an experiment, presenting the plan, method and materials and results which are discussed and summed up in a conclusion. The discussion and conclusion are based on the results and are not speculative. Reports should be clear, objective, accurate, concise and coherent. There should be an aim to the work detailed in the report, otherwise there was no point conducting the work.
The format of these reports has developed over the years into the following general format:
- Introduction / background / history
- Method & Materials
- Potentially report preparation and approval signatures
The Title is short and to the point:
- Recovery of Staphylococcus aureus from Room 2.123 Far Wall
- Not Investigation into the Action level Result of Staphylococcus aureus When Swabbing The Far Wall of Room 2.123
- Briefly states the objectives and scope
- Concisely summarises the results
- States the principle conclusions
Why is it you are doing this experiment or investigation? Is it a novel experiment, or is it something somebody else has done previously. For investigations, has this issue previously occurred? If so, why was the cause? Was any CAPA implemented? Is the issue cause new?
The Method & Materials:
The main aim of this section is to provide enough information to allow someone reading your report to duplicate your investigation. You need to list all materials (including source) and any storage conditions. You need to detail what was done in a logical order. If you can’t replicate your study in 6 months time, nobody else will be able to.
Show the results in a condensed tabulated format (but don’t be too concise) – the reader needs to be able to work out where you data comes from.
Here the results are discussed. What do they show? What generalisations can be drawn? What are the implications of the results? Make sure you address the investigation’s objectives and do not speculate – only base the discussion on the results. What is the significance of the results? Summarise the most important findings at the beginning.
End the report with a short summary or conclusion regarding the investigation. Was the aim met? What is the impact to the product? The conclusion can be a direct answer to the aim and should be supported by the results and discussion.
What tense should a report be written in?
Laboratory reports are best written in passive voice. Eg. A swab recovered >4cfu/cm2. instead of We/I recovered >4cfu/cm2 from a swab. Journal articles are written in active voice as the emphasis is on what the author did, not what the investigative process was. The exceptions are the introduction and discussion/conclusion, where present tense may be used.
The purpose of the report is to present and discuss data, not to entertain the reader.
Acronyms and short forms needs to be presented fully the first time. Eg: Colony Forming Units = CFU. Staphylococcus aureus = S. aureus.
What are the advantages of using a consistent format when writing reports of a technical format?
- The reader knows where to look for information in a document (eg the safety instructions or references).
- The writer does not have to determine how to set out a document.
- Using a consistent tense allows the document be easily read/
- By keeping things concise and simple, the document is easily read.
- Once you have written a document, file it for 24 hours and then proof read it.
- Use a template wherever possible
- Use existing documents as aids to the formatting of and content of your documents
- Scientific Writing for Microbiology Majors – technical writing guide
- Scientific Writing Guide
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