Top 20 Things That Hinder Clarity, Precision, & Your Grade

Each of you have been provided with a copy of Formal Report Technical Writing Guidelines, which was designed by the Mechanical Engineering Department at UNC-Charlotte to help students avoid major errors in the construction of written reports.  You are expected to read and master the material presented in these guidelines.  In general, I will be penalizing errors that have been addressed in this manual at 1 point per error. In addition to the guidelines presented in the manual, I will also be penalizing for the following major technical writing errors.   While most of the problems listed below are addressed at length in your manual, the following issues are found quite often in student work and will result in a significant grade penalty.

1.             Plagiarism: Automatic failure or the paper: grade of zero; required to rewrite for credit.

Do not cut and paste your report directly from your professor’s handouts. You should never cut and paste anything into your paper without quoting and properly citing the material according to an accepted documentation system.  Always remember to cite your sources and provide bibliographic information for all texts consulted (even those on the internet.)

2.             Font Size & Printing Errors: 10-point penalty / Required to rewrite for credit.

Legibility is of the utmost importance in a technical document. Be sure that you have reviewed the Technical Writing Guidelines, which has been supplied to you by the Mechanical Engineering Department. In this document, the font size recommended is Times New Roman 12 (with Times New Roman 10 for labels, captions, etc.).  Papers that are illegible due to printer problems or excessively small font sizes will be assigned the grade of “R”.

3.             Margin Errors: -10 points

You should use 1-inch margins on all sides of a technical report.

4.             Major sentence-level grammar mistakes: Sentence Fragment (SF), Run-On Sentence (RO), and Comma Splice (CS)  -10 points each

The following three sentence-level grammatical errors are serious mistakes that affect the integrity of your document and increase its potential to cause confusion:

Sentence Fragment (SF)

A sentence fragment is a piece of a sentence. These occur when writers fail to include both a subject and a verb in their sentence or when they use a dependent clause (i.e.: because I was hungry) without connecting it to a dominant clause.

Error:                    The experimental apparatus set up to approximate the operation of a heat pump. (This “sentence” is lacking a verb and thus behaves like a dependent clause.)

Solution:               The experimental apparatus is set up to approximate the operation of a heat pump.

Run-on Sentence (RO)

A run-on sentence occurs when a write erroneously fuses two sentences together without placing either a semicolon (;) or a period and capital letter between the two sentences.

Error:                    The experimental apparatus is set up to approximate the operation of a heat pump the infinite heat source is represented by a constant flow of water at a fixed inlet temperature into the evaporator reservoir.

Solution 1:            The experimental apparatus is set up to approximate the operation of a heat pump.  The infinite heat source is represented by a constant flow of water at a fixed inlet temperature into the evaporator reservoir.

Solution 2:            The experimental apparatus is set up to approximate the operation of a heat pump; the infinite heat source is represented by a constant flow of water at a fixed inlet temperature into the evaporator reservoir.

Comma Splice (CS)

A comma splice is the same as a run-on, except that the writer has erroneously connected two sentences using only a comma.

Error:                     The second objective is to determine the by measuring the heat of rejection at the condenser and the compressor energy input, the results are to be compared and any discrepancies explained.

Solution 1:            The second objective is to determine the by measuring the heat of rejection at the condenser and the compressor energy input, and the results are to be compared and any discrepancies explained.

Solution 2:            The second objective is to determine the by measuring the heat of rejection at the condenser and the compressor energy input; the results are to be compared and any discrepancies explained.

5.             Failure to directly address a visual aid (graph, chart, picture, table, equation): -5 points (per instance)

Any visual aids that are included in your reports should be addressed and discussed directly in the report. If you can write the report without finding the need to address a specific graph, chart, picture, table, or equation, then you should remove the visual aid as it is extraneous.

6.             A vague title: -5 points

Titles should be as specific as possible. Remember, a title is like a storefront window: it should give a passerby all the information they need to determine whether or not it is worth their time to enter and explore further.

Instead of titling your lab:  Heat Pump Experiment                        

Title it this: Two Methods of Determining Coefficient of Performance for a Heat Pump

7.             Vague language: -5 points (per instance)

In a technical document, there is no room for confusion.  Thus, it is important for engineers to avoid confusing or unspecific writing.  A common mistake is to use words like this, these, they, and it as the subject of a sentence.  Such writing leaves the reader to question, what “this” could be.  Always specify what words like this is. See example below:

Instead of writing: This was done to ensure system stability.                                

Write: The temperatures were monitored to ensure system stability.

8.             Grey lines where red and blue lines should be: -5 points (per instance)

Make sure your graphs are different enough that they can be distinguished from one another. Do not refer to a red or blue line unless you are printing in full color; instead, refer to a dotted or solid line or else label each line with a marker. Note too that certain graph generators produce poor-quality graphics. All lines should be thin and clearly printed.

9.             Use of 1st -person perspective: -5 point (per instance)

The 1st –person perspective includes the following terms: I, we, me, us, my/mine, our/ours.  These words bear with them a subjectivity that is undermining to the objective aims of technical writing. Avoid them entirely.

10.          Use of 2nd-person perspective: -5 point (per instance)

There are two ways that students make the mistake of using the 2nd person perspective in technical writing. The first is to use any form of the word “you.” As a general rule, avoid “you” in formal written reports. You should also avoid the “you” made implicit in the imperative voice. This mistake often occurs when students cut and paste directions from their lab guides, putting to use the second person imperative voice.

Error:     At 30-second intervals, record the condenser reservoir temperature, the evaporator reservoir temperature, the inlet and outlet water temperature for the evaporator reservoir, and the compressor power from the power meter. Record the data for 30 minutes.

               

Solution: The condenser reservoir temperature, the evaporator reservoir temperature, the inlet and outlet water temperature for the evaporator reservoir, and the compressor power from the power meter were recorded at 30-second intervals.

11.          Tenses:  -2 points (per instance)

As a general rule, procedure and descriptions of work done should always be written about in the past tense.  Data analysis, theory, and discussion should be written in the present.

 

12.          Untitled / Unlabeled / Double-Labeled / Mislabeled graphs and tables: -2 points (per instance)

Title your tables and graphs and label their components with appropriate units.  Rules for tables and graphs are discussed at length in your Formal Report Technical Writing Guidelines. Be sure to consult these routinely.

13.          Improperly Cited Sources or Absences of Citations: -2 points (per instance)

According to the Formal Report Technical Writing Guidelines, you are required to use Chicago Style for sciences. Here are links that might help you with Chicago Style formatting: http://www.libs.uga.edu/ref/chicago.html and http://library.osu.edu/sites/guides/chicagogd.php.

14.          Inconsistent use of capitalization: -1 point (per instance)

Keep capitalization consistent with professor’s handout. If the professor capitalizes Coefficient of Performance, then

you should capitalize it consistently throughout the entire document.  Remember: “Table 3,” “Equation (2),” and

Figure 1” are all capitalized every time.

15.          Failure to define abbreviations, symbols, and variables: -1 point (per instance)

                Always be sure that any abbreviations, symbols or variables used in your writing are defined somewhere in the text.

16.          Inconsistent formats: -1 point (per instance)

Use your professor’s formats for labeling equations, graphs, tables, and images. 

Instead of writing:  Equation #1, equation 1, Eqn. 1, Eq. [1], Equation #1, Equation [1], etc.

Write: Equation (1)

Furthermore, keep your formats consistent throughout the entire paper. If you are uncertain of how to label and format the components of your lab report, you can find a thorough explanation of current technical writing standards in your Formal Report Technical Writing Guidelines.

17.          Spelling Mistakes: -1 point (per instance)

18.          Missing Words: -1 point (per instance)

19.          Missing Punctuation: -1 point (per instance)

20.          Imprecise sentence mechanics: -1 point (per instance)

The Precision Guidelines & Rules for Use of Commas and Conjunctions Handout outlines some of the most common mistakes made in technical writing.  Please become familiar with these rules and feel free to drop in during my office hours (Mondays and Tuesdays from 1:30-3:30 ) if you need any further explanation.