Types of Documents

By the end of this lesson, you should be able to:
1. List ten different types of documents typically produced by technical writing.

2. Describe a good approach to writing academic research papers.

3. Describe an approach to writing technical reports.

Types of Documents

Most college students and professionals in industry probably do more writing than they had ever expected. Students may be asked to write proposals, lab reports, essays, research reports, synopses, reviews, letters, outlines, resumes, and many other types of documents. The variety of documents industrial professionals produce is even greater, including training manuals, annual reports, press releases, employee evaluations, grants and contracts, and advertisements.

No single style is appropriate for all of these documents. The author should carefully consider who the audience is and what the purpose of the writing is.

Usually, a piece of technical writing for a clear purpose. However, on a rare occasion, there may be a hidden agenda; for example, sometimes a new employee is asked to write a report on a topic for the only purpose of assessing that employee's writing skills. But more often, technical writing has a clear purpose, and tends not to use some of the persuasive tools of rhetoric that speech writers may use. 

This lesson will look at two types of technical writing, the academic research paper, and the technical report.

Writing Academic Research Papers

A short listing of the steps in writing a research paper has been put online by Purdue University's Online Writing Lab:

Unlike some other forms of writing, research papers usually rely very heavily on previous research literature. Authors should be careful to use other sources appropriately, with citations. Some students make the mistake of including too much material from other authors, while others include too little.

Another mistake made by new authors is to use an encyclopedia as one of the only main sources. Over-reliance on too few sources can limit the author's ability to objectively assess the information contained in those sources. It is recommended that college students only use encyclopedias for their own background information, and use more "direct" sources in their own research.

A specialized form of the research paper is typically used for master's theses and doctoral dissertations. The format for these is usually specified by the student's graduate school.

Writing Technical Reports

A good introduction to writing technical reports can be found at:

Technical reports differ typically differ from academic research papers in a number of ways. Technical reports do not usually rely as heavily on literature. They also may have a more specific audience, thereby eliminating some of the need to define jargon. Furthermore, technical reports within a company may be confidential.

There are many types of technical reports. Some are technical briefs, possibly describing a new hardware or software implementation. Others may be economic reports, such as a benefit-cost analysis. Still others are fitness reports, budget analyses, proposals, performance reports, and inventory reports. Authors should generally consider the purpose and the audience of a report, and inspect similar reports to determine the best format and style to use. 

Other Technical Writing

Other types of technical writing may require vastly different strategies and formats. For example, if you were asked to write an instruction manual, for example, you would probably make significant use of second person. Illustrations would probably be a significant part of the instruction manual, and you would probably wish to test it prior to submission.

Keep in mind the audience and the purpose of the writing. Look for similar examples.

All information is subject to change without notification.
© Jim Flowers
Department of Technology, Ball State University