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Technical Writing by Phillip A. Laplante

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Scientic Writing
4.1 Introduction
Scientic articles in scholarly journals, magazines, and conferences are a very
special kind of technical writing. Senior, masters, or doctoral theses also fall
into this category. These writings tend to have longer “life spans” as they are
archived in digital libraries for search and retrieval by other scholars, in per-
petuity. The archival aspect of these kinds of writings differs from the techni-
cal writings that you are likely to produce at work. Some of your work writing
will be archived by your company, customers, and perhaps your company’s
legal counsel, but such writings are not intended for public scrutiny.
Many characteristics of the scientic article (such as reference lists, discus-
sion of precedents, etc.) are found in technical reports that you may be asked
to write. For example, you might have to prepare some kind of scientic writ-
ing or technical report for a current or future college course.
You may never attempt to publish a scientic article. But here is a piece of
unsolicited advice: Even if you do not plan to publish some kind of technical
work, reconsider. Having a publication or two on your resumé sets you apart
from those who do not have any publications. A published paper shows that
you have the fortitude to see a signicant project through to completion. The
refereeing process behind a published paper also validates your expertise
in a more convincing way than a claim on your resumé. Any publications,
speaking engagements, and extra activities you conduct help to brand” you
as a distinguished professional.
In this chapter I discuss various kinds of scientic and technical writing.
My hope is that you will better appreciate this kind of writing as a reader,
and that you may one day consider publishing your own work.
4.2 Technical Reports
Technical reports can take many forms: an overview of some technology, a
survey of candidate products for some application, or a forecast of a techno-
logical trend.
64 Technical Writing: A Practical Guide for Engineers and Scientists
You can organize technical reports in many ways. Examples include a set
of research questions, a survey of recent research, or a list of product inno-
vations. Yet another way is to create a taxonomy of a eld, potentially iden-
tifying market or research gaps. An example of this approach for real-time
imaging is included in Section 4.5.1. Finally, you can use the format that your
professor, client, employer, or industry requires.
I wrote a technical report on open-source software for the online jour-
nal Computing Reviews using the research question format [Laplante 2008] (©
2008, ACM, Inc. Included here with permission)*:
In 1983, Richard Stallman created a Unix-like operating system called
GNU (a recursive acronym for “GNU is Not Unix”) and released it
under a license that provided certain rights for use and redistribu-
tion—an open-source license. Eight years later, a graduate student at the
University of Helsinki, Linus Torvalds, created another Unix-like operat-
ing system, Linux, which he also made available for free. Both Linux and
GNU are still widely available, and their evolution spurred the creation
of many other open-source software (OSS) programs. By 1999, a prodi-
gious open-source software developer, Eric Raymond, published his
famous treatise, comparing the development of open-source software to
the market conditions found in a bazaar, and describing the develop-
ment of commercial software as a secret, almost religious experience.
The process and culture created by Stallman, Torvalds, Raymond, and
others formed the basis for the open-source software movement.
There was more to the introductory material, of course, but the remain-
der of the technical report was organized simply as a discussion of lines of
research in the eld, namely,
1. Open-Source Adoption Decision-Making and Business Value
Proposition
2. Legal Issues (Licensing and Intellectual Property)
3. Qualities of Open-Source Software
4. Open-Source Community Characteristics
5. Source Code Structure and Evolution
6. Tools for Enabling OSS and Applications
7. Philosophical and Ethical Issues
*
Here is a “permission teaching moment.The ACM provides the author the right to reuse
any portion of the work, without fee, in future works of the author’s own, including books,
lectures and presentations in all media, provided that the ACM citation and notice of the
Copyright are included” (http://cacm.acm.org/help/copyrights-permissions/).
© ACM, 2008. This is the author’s version of the work. It is posted here by permission of ACM
for your personal use. Not for redistribution. The denitive version was published in Laplante,
P., “Open Source: The dark horse of software,Computing Reviews, July 2008, online at http://
www.reviews.com/hottopic/hottopic_essay_09.cfm], accessed October 1, 2010.

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