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The Writing Timeline

Writing is a process both linear and recursive. It is linear because effective writers constructdocuments in well-defined and ordered stages. It is also recursive, however, because at anypoint an author may need to return to a previous stage.

Starting to Write

The first stage is concerned with planning and document design and may or may not be collaborative. Identify the purposeof the document by clarifying both the reasons for its creationand its specific objectives. Often, technical and scientificdocuments are written as answers to a specific problem, which is articulated in a problem statement.

Technical and scientific documents are tools designed to be used by their readers.Accordingly, define your audience--the person or personswho will be reading the document. Then determine your audience's level of expertise and their purpose inusing the document. It is also important to assess the attitudeof the audience toward both you and the document's subject matter.

Once you have identified the document's purpose and audience, you should be able to determine the document's general type and specific formatelements.

Organizing Material

Once you have defined the purpose, the problem, the audience, anddocument type, assemble your information. Sketch out a preliminaryoutline to organize it. Keeping purpose and audiencein mind, sketch out graphics, such as tables, to display your data. Take care togive your reader a roadmap of the document.


Like other stages, drafting may be collaborative. In any event, using your outline and preliminary graphics, writea first draft, a rough working version in which you get your ideas on paper. At this point inthe process, do not be overly concerned about grammar, style, or usage. However, make surethat important reference information is available and that youfollow a format appropriate to your document's type and purpose. Include graphics to illustrate and condense the information in yourdocument.


Revision is not correcting grammatical errors or changing a few words; it is "re-seeing" yourwriting. If possible, put your first draft away for a day or two. Then, revise your documentin three stages. First, check that the paper's format conformsto the conventions for its document type. Next revise for organization. Finally, bearing in mind document density, revise the content.Be certain that you have given proper credit to your sources and,if pertinent, that you have followed an appropriate citation style.


Edit paragraphs and sentencesto make them easier to read by improving their clarity, conciseness, and coherence. Checkthat your choice of words is appropriate to the document's purpose and audience. Thencorrect any problems in grammar, including parts of speech, sentence parts,or types of sentences; usage; punctuation; mechanics; and spelling. Writers who are bilingual or notnative speakers of English often need to perform a separate edit to catch specific typesof problems in grammar and usage.


The last major step for most technical documents is one or more reviews. Writers of most technical and scientific documents ask peers to review their manuscripts for accuracy, clarity, coherence, and appropriateness.In many cases, a technical expert will review the document fortechnical content. An editor may review the document toensure that it conforms to the organization's style and to correct any remaining problems.There may be legal reviews as well. Finally, a supervisor or a manager may review the document to ensure thatit achieves the organization's purpose and is appropriate to the audience.

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