Developing your evidence-based content
The content of technical documents refers to the information that writers synthesize and communicate to their readers. Knowing and understanding the messages that you need to communicate about should be established in the early stages of writing (see Box 1). Additionally, such messages should follow a clear and evidence-based logic. In other words, the basis on which you develop your messages and assertions should be made explicit throughout your document (see Box 2).
This approach of writing evidence-based messages can be further examined through the Toulmin Model of Argumentation (Box 3). This model provides the general structure of well-supported arguments and is widely applied in various disciplines. Based on this model, you need to start your arguments with a claim, which is an assertion/ statement/ message that you articulate and that you want to prove. Then, you begin to accumulate the evidence needed to support your claim. Such evidence may come from various sources (as long as you cite specialized information that you do not produce). After collecting the necessary evidence, you then need to provide a warrant that links the claim to its supporting evidence. In other words, the way that the evidence may prove (or support) a claim should be made explicit to the readers. In more complex arguments that involve counterarguments, the model necessitates including rebuttal statements that disprove the counterarguments. Furthermore, in some cases, warrants themselves may need to be supported with backing statements. Box 3 includes an example to illustrate the elements of this model.
Applying the evidence-based approach throughout your document
As discussed above, this evidence-based writing approach is extremely important for your credibility, not only as a writer, but also as an engineer. The way that you approach problems as engineers stems from researching situations and making sure that you are making accurate conclusions and calculated decisions. The same approach should be reflected in your writing. Such approach can help you build strong arguments and messages throughout your text. In this section, you will learn how this approach can be applied in writing about research information.
As engineers, you will conduct two types of research efforts: primary research and secondary research. Primary research refers to the original research efforts that you conduct as engineers (e.g. field observations and experiments, lab experiments, modeling and simulations, etc.). On the other hand, secondary research refers to seeking research information from existing credible sources (databases, scholarly papers, public and governmental records, etc.). Whether your technical writing assignment involves primary research, secondary research, or both, use this evidence-based writing approach to organize and synthesize research information.
For instance, when reporting original results:
- Articulate each main finding in the form of an assertion using full sentences.
- Support your assertions (main findings) with data (e.g. highlight trends, emphasize specific data points, etc.).
- Link your main findings to the evidence provided and discuss the implications/ limitations/ interpretations, especially in relation to your overall purpose, and your readers' interests, questions, goals, or concerns.
Similarly, when reporting information obtained from secondary sources (e.g. in the introduction/ literature review sections of your reports):
- Articulate claims that summarize the main themes found in secondary sources about your topic of interest
- Support those assertions (main themes) through summarizing and citing results from specific studies.
- Link the general themes and gaps in secondary research findings to your overall purpose, and your readers' interests, questions, goals, or concerns.
- Finally, cite the sources used according to a uniform style that is accepted in your discipline (e.g. ASCE, ACS, IEEE, APA, etc.).
Remember that your job as an engineer is to not only produce data, but to also break down, simplify, synthesize, and analyze results for your audience (instructors, collaborators, clients, etc.). This evidence-based approach will help you achieve this goal throughout your curriculum at MSFEA and in your future career as engineers.
After developing your content, read your text critically and revise messages that are not well-supported. Your goal at this stage should be to have a strong draft content-wise. In other words, make sure that the content produced at this point has a clear (1) direction, in terms of the scope, research question(s), and purpose statement(s), (2) message, in terms of problem/gap statements, general findings, and evaluations of findings, and (3) support for the messages included, which is in turn linked to your overall purpose and to your readers' concerns and questions.
Once you feel confident about the technical content in your draft, start focusing on the way that you are communicating and presenting your content to your readers (see Box 1). This is where you should start focusing on how to enhance your writing Style and Form in a way that improves the readability and understandability of your text. You will thus need to rewrite your draft through multiple rounds of revising, editing, and proofreading. The sections below include some important techniques to strategically communicate and present your messages to your readers through focusing on style and form.