5 The Research Process

Chapter Attribution

David Murray

Michelle Miller

Sherena Huntsman

Writing Research Process

The writing process takes you from the very beginning of a writing project—finding topics and analyzing audience and purpose—all the way to the end—writing and revising the rough draft. The following chapters focus on some of the key phases of that process:

  • Strategies for team-writing
  • Audience Analysis
  • Brainstorming and invention
  • Narrowing
  • Outlining
  • Note-taking
  • Libraries, Documentation, Cross-Referencing
  • Strategies for Peer-Reviewing
  • Power-Revision Techniques

Find Report Topics

As a writer in a technical writing course, you may need some strategies for finding topics for writing projects, which are provided in this section.

By definition, technical writing courses are opportunities to focus on practical uses of your writing skills. In the ideal technical writing course, you would have a work-related writing project every two to three weeks: for example, instructions for that pesky printer down the hall or a white paper on a newly adapted software program. However, technical writing courses are also great opportunities for exploring science and technology: latest advances in nanotechnology, theories about the origin of the universe, methods for hydroponic gardening. If your instructor encourages you to find your own topics, take a look at the following suggestions. These are just a few ways you can generate ideas.

Brainstorming Process

Read  Sondra Perl’s Composing Guidelines available through the International Focus Institute Group

These guidelines will help you discover what is on your mind and what you can write about.

  • Answer the 12 questions located in the guidelines
  • Complete the journal response located in the guidelines


Topic ideas from interesting courses or projects related to your major or areas of interest

Accounting Air conditioning technology Aerospace technology Refrigeration technology
Astronomy Automotive technology Biology Biotechnology
Engineering Chemistry Child development Computer science
Culinary arts Diagnostic medical imaging Electronics Building construction technology
Emergency medical service technology Engineering design graphics Information records management Physical fitness technology
Geomatics (land surveying technology) Fire protection technology Medical lab technology Meteorology
Molecular genetics Urban studies Engineering Marine biology
Molecular biology Biochemistry Petroleum engineering Geosystems engineering
Neurobiology Mechanical engineering Electrical engineering Biomedical engineering
Military science Civil engineering Chemical engineering Nursing
Occupational therapy Office systems technology Pharmacy technology Photography
Geology Physics Printing technology Quality assurance
Surgical technology Technical communication Welding technology X-ray operations

See if the following list of audiences brings to mind technical writing projects

City council members

Parent-teacher association Downtown renovation commission
Neighborhood association City transportation board Rural utilities cooperative
Recycling special interest group Student parking action group Student housing board
City mass transportation agency Business secretary association Pet owners society
Save-our-trees action group Citizens antipornography league City beautification commission
Alternative energy-resource investors Friends of sidewalk artists Housing for the homeless society
Computer animators society Alternative-transportation action group College solar-automobile club
High-school science teachers association City bus riders support group Drug-rehab center board
Citizens-against-crime league Computer-game design society Your local government representative
City mayor County commissioners Home-brewers and microbrewers club
Organic foods cooperative Student housing cooperative Local wine makers society
Student services director

Brainstorm Topics for Writing Projects

If you have a topic for your writing project, the next step is to think about subtopics related to it. During this stage, the “invention” or “brainstorming” stage, use the following suggestions to explore your writing project topic:

Subject Possible topics
The sun its temperature

its composition

its unusual phenomenon

its relative size

Ultrasound in medicine its physical properties

equipment used

medical uses


A Checklist of Invention Questions

Use an invention checklist like the following. If you ask yourself the questions listed below, you’ll be less apt to overlook important subtopics; and, with use, these questions eventually become almost automatic.

  • Problems or needs: Does your writing project concern itself with a problem or a need?
  • Solutions and answers: Should your writing project discuss potential solutions or answers to the problems or questions presented in the project?
  • Historical events and natural phenomena: Does your writing project concern itself with some historical event or natural (or mechanical) phenomenon?
  • Causes and effects: Should your writing project discuss the causes, effects, or both related to the phenomenon, historical event, or problem you are discussing?
  • Descriptions: Which aspects of your writing project require description?
  • Processes: Does your writing project involve processes, procedures, routines, or repetitive events that must be discussed in steps?
  • Classes: Can the main topic or any subtopic within your writing project be divided into classes or types?
  • Comparisons to similar or familiar things: Can similar things in your writing project be compared to each other? Can you compare something complex in your writing project to something familiar or common?
  • Illustrative examples: Will a discussion of examples related to your writing project be effective?
  • Theoretical background (definitions): Are there unfamiliar terms in your writing project? Should you include them in your project and define them?
  • Applications: Can you discuss the applications related to your writing project?
  • Advantages and benefits: Should you discuss the advantages or benefits related to your subject?
  • Disadvantages and limitations: Are certain disadvantages, problems, limitations, or drawbacks associated with your subject?
  • Warnings, cautions, and guidelines: Does your writing project need cautionary or guideline statements?
  • Economics or financial considerations: Should you discuss cost factors, purchase expenses, maintenance and operation costs, production or output costs, or savings?
  • Importance of the topic: Should you discuss the importance of your subject, why people should be concerned about it or interested in it?
  • Historical background and important names: Is there some important historical background—events and names—that should be discussed in your project?
  • Future developments: Should your writing project speculate about future developments or possibilities related to the subject?
  • Social, political, legal, or ethical implications: Does the topic of your writing project raise certain social or ethical questions—as, for example, certain medical technologies do?
  • Reasons for or against: In your writing project, should you try to convince readers to take certain actions or think a certain way concerning your topic?
  • Conclusions: Should your writing project draw certain conclusions about what it discusses?
  • Recommendations: Should your writing project make certain recommendations to its readers?
  • Alternatives or choices: Should your writing project discuss several alternatives or choices related to your subject matter?
  • Criteria, requirements: Will your writing project use certain criteria to draw its conclusions or to make its recommendations?
  • Tests and methods used: Should you have a section on the tests you perform, the methods or theories you use, or the procedures and equipment you use?
  • Statistical presentations and analyses: Should you include a section that summarizes and analyzes the data you collect in your project?
  • Legal and administrative demands: Should your writing project discuss which agencies to apply to, which forms to fill out, or which steps to take in order to accomplish the purpose of your project?
  • Business or professional contexts: Should you describe the specific business or professional situation, for example, a supervisor’s orders, that generates the need for your project? (This applies if you invent a writing situation also.)

Narrow That Report Topic

For a writing project in a technical writing course, the ideal starting place is a workplace problem requiring some writing as part of the solution. With such a project, the audience and problem are there to help you narrow the topic. However, if you begin with a topic, it’s harder to narrow. Narrow the topic and do some careful research—the result will be a practical, useful document that doesn’t go on forever.

Narrowing means selecting a portion of a larger topic: for example, selecting a specific time period, , component, or use or application. Narrowing also means deciding on the amount of detail to use in discussing those topics.

Following the Narrowing Process

  1. Let’s walk through a typical narrowing exercise to see how it works. This works “backward” from a topic to a realistic audience and purpose.First ask yourself what you are interested in, and what your frame of reference is.
  2. What can you do with your topic? Is there a specific type or method you want to focus on?
  3. What are some of the components of this topic? Are there different theories? Practices? Steps? Components?
  4. Now you are getting somewhere! Since you can’t write about everything, pick one. If this idea sparks your curiosity; it’s the right topic for a technical document of some kind.
  5. What is your specific interest with this topic? Is there something you personally would like to know more about? It might help to look at what the people who are in the discourse community like to talk about.
  6. At this point, pick the narrowed topic that is most accessible given your knowledge.
  7. So what’s it going to be? What questions do you have about your topic that you plan on answering? What kind of project could this become? Are there any expenses? What do you need to write about it?


To this point, you’ve been operating in a vacuum, not considering audience and situation, focusing instead on your interests in this topic. Now it’s time to get real—to define a real or realistic audience and situation. Who wants this document? Who would hire you to write it? How would people obtain this document? Are we there yet? Not quite. Narrowing means two things: zooming in on progressively smaller and smaller subtopics. And deciding on level and amount of detail. In this overview, must you cover the subtopics in excruciating detail? No, at most you’ll want to cover practicality in moderate detail: readers need enough detail to see that the method actually works. Use the same amount of detail for yield, perhaps citing some comparative studies. But use only light detail for management and costs. You must keep this overview relatively brief and readable.



Home hydroponics system: topics
  • Costs—how expensive to build and run a system? light detail
  • Practicality—do they really work? moderate detail
  • Management—how much hassle? light detail
  • Yield—how much and how good is the produce? moderate detail

Finishing the Process

In the end, try to produce something that is integrated with a real or realistic situation. The questions below can help you do this.

What does the audience that you are responding to request? .
Describe the organization or individual making the request.
How will the organization or individual use the requested document?
If the requesting organization will make the document available to others, who are those people and how will they get the document? .
What kind of document is requested? What is the purpose of the document?
What are the characteristics of the target readers of the document (knowledge, background, experience)?



In some outlines, however, you almost don’t notice the chronological pattern. For example, effects come after causes; solutions, after problems; or findings, after research method. The chronological pattern is most important in a research proposal outline:


I. Introduction

A. Historical background on caffeine studies (past)

B. Objectives of the study

C. Limitations of the study

D. Plan of development

II. Review of the literature on caffeine

III. Experimental method to be used

IV. Results of the tests

V. Discussion of the results

VI. Summary and conclusions

VII. Implications for further research (future)


Chronologically, the researcher first defines the problem, the reviews the literature on the problem, plans a research method, conducts the research and gathers data, analyzes the data and draws conclusions from it. Afterward, she may consider areas for further research on the problem. At-rest to in-motion sequence. Another common outlining pattern is to start with an object at rest, motionless as if in a photograph, and then to move to a discussion of it in operation, in action as if in a motion picture.


II. Basic Components of Wind-Powered Electrical Systems

A. Rotor (motionless)

B. Generator

C. Tower

III. Basic Operation of Wind-Powered Electrical Systems

A. Wind energy into mechanical energy

B. Mechanical energy into electrical (in motion) energy

C. Stabilization of electrical energy

D. Conversion to household current


Specific to general sequence. Some outlines move from a specific, close-up focus to a more general, panoramic focus. They seem to start with a microscope, examining the minute details of a subject, and end with a telescope, considering the subject from a distance in relation to other things. (This pattern can also be reversed.)


I. Introduction

II. Characteristics of municipal solid waste (MSW)

III. Methods of disposal of MSW (microscope)

IV. Processing municipal solid waste

V. Plant modifications for co-combustion

VI. Advantages of co-combusting MSW

A. Environmental advantages

B. Economic advantages (telescope)

VII. Case studies of three co-combustion plants


In this next outline, the focus broadens after part III, changing to aspects related to computerized voice recognition technology:

I. Introduction

II. Human voice production

A. The generation of sound

B. Factors affecting the human (microscope) voice

III. Components of the isolated word recognition system

A. The preprocessor

B. The feature extractor

C. Components in the classification phase

D. Decision algorithms

IV. Problems with computerized speech recognition

A. Accuracy

B. Limited vocabulary size

C. Privacy

V. Applications of voice recognition systems

A. Data entry

B. Mobility

C. Security

D. Telephone access

E. Devices for the handicapped (telescope)

VI. Current availability of speech recognition systems

VII. The future of the computerized speech recognition industry


Rhetorical sequence. Elements in outlines can also be arranged rhetorically, in other words, according to what is most effective for the reader. Here are some examples of rhetorical patterns:

  • Simple to complex
  • Least important to most important (or vice versa)
  • Least controversial to most controversial
  • Most convincing to least convincing (or vice versa)
  • Most interesting to least interesting

This list is by no means complete, but you can see that elements in it are arranged according to impact on the reader—that is, the impact the writer would like to have. Here are some excerpts of outlines where these patterns are used.

If you have ever studied computer programming, you know that commands like PRINT are simple; variable assignment commands (like LET A = 30), less simple; and FOR-NEXT loop statements, rather complex. If you were outlining a report on fundamental BASIC commands for the beginner, you’d probably start with the simple ones and work your way to the complex:

Simple-to-complex order







An obvious outlining principle is to avoid creating interruptions within an outline sequence. Here’s an example:

Outline excerpt with interruption

I. Municipal solid waste generated in the US

A. Total amounts of MSW

1. Increases since 1950

2. Projected increases to the year 2000

B. Processing MSW for cocombustion

1. Primary storage

2. Grinding

3. Air sorting

4. Magnetic separating

5. Screening

6. Secondary storage

C. Characteristics of MSW

1. Composition of MSW

a. food waste

b. paper and other rubbish

c. non-combustibles

2. Factors affecting energy content

a. moisture content

b. areas of MSW origination

II. Power plant modifications for co-combustion

Revised outline excerpt

I. Municipal solid waste generated in the US

A. Total amounts of MSW

1. Increases since 1950

2. Projected increases to the year 2000

B. Characteristics of MSW

1. Composition of MSW

a. food waste

b. paper and other rubbish

c. non-combustibles

2. Factors affecting energy content

a. moisture content

b. areas of MSW origination

II. Processing MSW for co-combustion

A. Primary storage

B. Grinding

C. Air sorting

D. Magnetic separating

E. Screening

F. Secondary storage

III. Power plant modifications for co-combustion


In the problem version, the municipal solid waste discussion is interrupted by the MSW-processing discussion. A better arrangement would be to discuss MSW fully before going on to the discussion of how it is processed. Use these common arrangement principles to get your topic list into an initial rough order. The rearranged version of the topic list shown previously might look this way:

I. Historical background

A. Rising energy, utility costs

B. Search for alternatives (review)

II. Composition of MSW

III. Special components of the co-combustion plant

IV. Steps in the co-combustion of MSW

V. Economics

A. Cost to build or convert

B. Cost to operate

C. Cost of produced electricity

VI. Advantages

A. Less coal used

B. Reduction of utility rates

C. Less landfill used

D. Reduction of landfill costs and needs

VII. Disadvantages

A. Expense of converting existing facilities

B. Handling MSW

C. Increased emissions


Electronic Note-Taking Methods

As of 2015, the writing-teaching world—at least at the college level and in terms of textbooks—is seriously behind in terms of what it knows and what it teaches about note-taking for major writing projects. Strangely, the very best writing resource on the Internet, the Purdue OWL, has nothing on note-taking. Read the following section Traditional Note-Taking Methods for a review of just what good any note-taking system is.

Until we get our act together, consider how the traditional note-taking system is implemented in software applications.

A number of software applications are available that support note-taking and related tasks: Evernote, EasyBib, NoodleTools, and more. Their basic functions are similar so let’s use NoodleTools. It has a nice set of YouTube videos that walk you through the main phases of its use.

Traditional Note-Taking Process: An Overview

In the traditional system of taking notes for a long report, you:

  1. Develop a rough outline.
  2. Do any preliminary reading necessary to construct a rough outline.
  3. Locate your information sources, and make bibliography cards for each source.
  4. Take the actual notes on index cards.
  5. Label each notecard according to its place in the outline.
  6. Provide bibliographic information on each notecard.
  7. Change or add extra detail to the outline as the note-taking process continues.
  8. Check off the areas of the outline for which sufficient notes have been taken.

When you have taken sufficient notes to cover all parts of an outline, you transcribe the information from the notecards into a rough draft, filling in details, adding transitions, and providing your own acquired understanding of the subject as you write. Naturally, you may discover gaps in your notes and have to go back and take more notes.

Developing the Rough Draft

As the section on outlining emphasizes, you must have a working outline before you begin gathering information. The rough outline shows you which specific topics to gather information on and which ones to ignore. Think of the outline as a series of questions.

If you don’t have a good, specific outline, the sky is the limit on how many notes you can take. Think of the outline as a set of boxes that you fill up with the information you collect as you do your research for the report:


5 boxes representing sections of the paper with the term "information" filling up the boxes from the research sources represented at the top of the page.
Gathering information and taking notes: you continue gathering information from the various sources until all the boxes are filled.

Direct Quotes

In most technical reports, direct quotation is needed only for the following situations:

  • Statements by important or well-known authorities or leaders
  • Controversial statements you do not want attributed to you
  • Statements expressed in unusual, vivid, or memorable language

There are essentially two types of direct quotation: “block” quotations and “running” quotations.

Here is an example of a block quotation (any quotation over 3 lines long):

In Myers’ view, the nuclear power industry has every reason to comply with the NRC’s regulations to the very letter:

The NRC issues an order to shut down or imposes civil fines only after repeated violations have indicated what the NRC considers “a pattern of non- compliance.” The NRC argues that, particularly with power plants, civil penalties are unnecessary for the most part. “The greatest penalty,” one official said, “is to require the plant to shut down, forcing it to buy replacement power (often at a cost of $100,000 to $200,000 per day) elsewhere. A civil penalty’s largest cost—the NRC is limited to a $5,000-per-violation ceiling per 30 days—is the stigma attached to it.” (8:46) The “stigma” refers to the fact that, once a nuclear power plant is fined, it will likely be the target of public concern and even more stringent and frequent NRC inspection.


“Running” quotations are direct quotations that are trimmed down and worked into the regular sentences of a report. Notice how much smoother and more efficient the running quotation is in the revised version below:

Ineffective direct quotation: There are two types of light water reactors: the pressurized water reactor and the boiling water reactor. LWRs of both types convert heat to electricity with an efficiency of about 32 percent—significantly less than the best fossil-fueled plants, although about equal to the national average for all thermal electricity generation [13:438]. As for harnessing the energy potential of uranium, LWRs are estimated to average only between 0.5 and 1.0 percent.


Revision with running quotation: There are two types of light water reactors: the pressurized water reactor and the boiling water reactor. According to Paul Ehrlich, who has been a consistent critic of nuclear power, both these types of LWRs “convert heat to electricity with an efficiency of about 32 percent—significantly less than the best fossil-fueled plants, although about equal to the national average for all thermal electricity generation” (13:438). As for harnessing the energy potential of uranium, LWRs are estimated to average only between 0.5 and 1.0 percent.

Guide for Using Direct Quotes

When you use direct quotations in your report, keep these guidelines in mind.

Using ellipsis in direct quotations. The three dots “…” show that words are omitted from the sentence. The brackets “[ ]” indicate changes made by the writer using the quotation so that it would read as good English and make sense.

  • Never use “free-floating” quotations in reports. Always “attribute” direct quotations; that is, explain who made the quoted statement. Notice how this is done in Figure 6.
  • Always provide adequate introduction for direct quotations and explain their meaning and importance to your readers. Notice how the block quotation above on NRC penalties (a) prepares the reader for the quotation, and, afterwards, (b) provides interpretive comment, on the meaning of the word “stigma” in particular.
  • Use indented or “block” quotations whenever a direct quotation goes over three lines long. With any lengthy quotation, make sure that it is important enough to merit direct quotation.
  • Whenever possible, “trim” the quotation so that it will fit into your own writing.
  • Punctuate direct quotations correctly. You can see the rules for punctuating direct quotations.
  • Use ellipses to shorten direct quotations. When you do, however, make sure that the resulting quotation reads as good English.
  • Use direct quotations only when necessary: if the passage doesn’t fit one of the reasons for direct quotation cited at the beginning of this section, paraphrase or summarize it instead.


In technical-report writing, usually the better approach is to paraphrase. When you paraphrase, you convey the information fact-by-fact, idea-by-idea, and point-by-point in your own words. The writer of the original passage ought to be able to read your paraphrase and say that it is precisely what she or he had meant.

Paraphrases are necessary and preferable for a number of reasons:

  • You paraphrase because the content of the passage is so important to your report that you need every bit of it.
  • When you paraphrase, you adjust the wording of the original to meet the needs of your audience, the purpose of your report, and your own writing style. In other words, you “translate” other writers’ material into your own.
  • A report of mostly direct quotations would be hard to read.
  • Readers tend to skip over direct quotations, particularly long ones.
  • One final reason for paraphrasing: you are actually writing bits of the rough draft of your report as you paraphrase.

Here is an example of an original passage and its paraphrases, with the unique wording of the original (which must be changed in the paraphrase) underlined.

Original passage: About a third of light-water reactors operating or under construction in the United States are boiling-water reactors. The distinguishing characteristic of a BWR is that the reactor vessel itself serves as the boiler of the nuclear steam supply system. This vessel is by far the major component in the reactor building, and the steam it produces passes directly to the turbogenerator. The reactor building also contains emergency core cooling equipment, a major part of which is the pressure suppression pool which is an integral part of the containment structure. . . . . earlier BWRs utilized a somewhat different containment and pressure suppression system. All the commercial BWRs sold in the United States have been designed and built by General Electric. Several types of reactors that use boiling water in pressure tubes have been considered, designed, or built. In a sense, they are similar to the CANDU, described in Chapter 7, which uses pressure tubes and separates the coolant and mo- derator. The CANDU itself can be designed to use boiling light water as its coolant. The British steam-generating heavy-water reactor has such a system. Finally, the principal reactor type now being constructed in the Soviet Union uses a boiling-water pressure tube design, but with carbon moderator. Anthony V. Nero, A Guidebook to Nuclear Reactors, Berkeley: University of California Press, 1979.


Paraphrased version: Boiling water reactors, according to Anthony V. Nero in his Guidebook to Nuclear Reactors, either completed or constructed, make up about one third of the light-water reactors in the U.S. The most important design feature of the BWR is that the reactor vessel itself acts as the nuclear steam supply system. The steam this important component generates goes directly to the turbogenerator. Important, too, in this design is the emergency core cooling equipment, which is housed with the reactor vessel in the reactor building. One of the main components of this equipment is the pressure suppression pool. The containment and pressure suppression system currently used in BWRs has evolved since the early BWR designs. General Electric is the sole designer and builder of these BWRs in the U.S. The different kinds of reactors that use boiling water in pressure tubes are similar to the CANDU, which separates coolant and moderator and uses pressure tubes, also. CANDU can also use boiling light water as a coolant. The British have designed a reactor generated steam from heavy water that uses just such a system. Also, the Soviets have developed and are now building as their main type of reactor a boiling pressure tube design that uses carbon as the moderator. [12:232]

Guide for Writing and Using Paraphrases

Here are some guidelines to remember when paraphrasing:

  • In most cases, paraphrase rather than use direct quotation.
  • Avoid the distinctive wording of the original passage.
  • Do not interpret, criticize, or select from the original passage.
  • Include bibliographic information on the author, source, and page numbers.
  • In the rough draft, cite the author’s name and other important details about her or him just as you would if were quoting directly.
  • Refer to the paraphrased author in such a way to make it clear where the paraphrase begins and ends.
  • Document a paraphrase just as you would a direct quotation. Mark the area of the paraphrase by citing the paraphrased author’s name at the beginning of the paraphrase and by inserting a footnote or parenthetical reference at the end.
  • See what the Purdue OWL has to say about paraphrasing.


Summaries are usually much shorter than their originals. A summary concentrates on only those points or ideas in a passage that are important. Unlike in a paraphrase, the information in a summary can be rearranged. Here is a passage from which summaries below will be taken:

Numerous systems are available for controlling abnormalities [in boiling water reactors]. In the event that control rods cannot be inserted, liquid neutron absorber (containing a boron compound) may be injected into the reactor to shut down the chain reaction. Heat removal systems are available for cooling the core in the event the drywell is isolated from the main cooling systems. Closely related to the heat removal systems are injection systems for coping with decreases in coolant inventory.

Both abnormalities associated with the turbine system and actual loss of coolant accidents can lead closing of the steam and feedwater lines, effectively isolating the reactor vessel within the drywell. Whenever the vessel is isolated, and indeed whenever feedwater is lost, a reactor core isolation cooling system is available to maintain coolant inventory by pumping water into the reactor via connections in the pressure vessel head. This system operates at normal pressures and initially draws water from tanks that store condensate from the turbine, from condensate from the residual heat removal system, or if necessary, from the suppression pool.

A network of systems performs specific ECC [emergency core cooling] functions to cope with LOCAs [loss-of-cool- ant accidents]. (See Figure 6.) These all depend on signals indicating low water level in the pressure vessel or high pressure in the drywell, or both.

Diagram of BWR emergency core cooling systems
BWR emergency core cooling systems

The systems include low-pressure injection, utilization of the RHR system, and high- and low-pressure core spray systems. The high-pressure core spray in intended to lower the pressure within the pressure vessel and provide makeup water in the event of a LOCA. In the event the core is uncovered, the spray can directly cool the fuel assemblies. Water is taken from the condensate tanks and from the suppression pool. On the other hand, should it become necessary to use low-pressure systems, the vessel must be depressurized. This depressurization can be accomplished by opening relief valves to blow down the vessel contents into the drywell (and hence the suppression pool). Once this action is completed, the low-pressure core spray may be used to cool the fuel assemblies (drawing water from the suppression pool) or RHR low-pressure injection (again from the suppression pool) may be initiated, or both. The RHR system may also be used simply to cool the suppression pool. (Two other functions of the RHR are to provide decay heat removal under ordinary shutdown conditions and, when necessary, to supplement the cooling system for the spent fuel pool and the upper containment pool.)

Anthony V. Nero, A Guidebook to Nuclear Reactors, Berkeley: Univ. of California Press, 1979, pp. 104-107.

Sentence-length summaries. Often summaries are only a sentence long. To create sentence-length summaries, use one or a combination of the following methods:

  • Locate a sentence or two in the original passage that summarizes the information that you want, and simply rewrite it in your own words.
  • If no individual sentence will work, locate several sentences that contain the right information, and combine them.
  • Sometimes, the summary sentence is like a new sentence, scarcely resembling any in the original.

Extended summaries. A summary can be longer than a single sentence because of the important information contained in the original passage. (Remember, however, that a paraphrase is a point-by-point recap of the original, while the summary is a selection, reordering and condensation of the original.)

Guide for Using Summaries

Whenever you summarize, you must handle the resulting summary the same way you would a direct quotation or paraphrase.

  • Cite the name of the author and other important information about that author.
  • Document that summary using whichever system is appropriate for your report.
  • If it is an extended summary, make it clear where that summary begins and ends, for example, by referring to the author’s name at the beginning and placing a footnote or parenthetical reference at the end.


If you follow the guidelines presented in the preceding, plagiarism should not be a problem at all, but make sure you understand what it is.

Reports with plagiarized information are often easy to spot for several reasons:

  • Plagiarism is the practice—whether deliberate or not—in which a writer borrows other people’s facts, ideas, or concepts and presents them as if they were her or his own.
  • Plagiarism is also the practice—again whether deliberate or not—in which a writer uses other writers’ exact words without quotation marks.
  • In all cases, plagiarism is the lack of proper documentation: documentation refers to any system of footnoting or reference that indicates the author and source of the borrowed information.
  • A reader may recognize the ideas or facts in the report as those of someone else. An expert in a field of knowledge can spot this theft of information right away.
  • A reader may realize that the report writer could not possibly have developed certain information in the report. If a writer who is at the beginning of his studies sounds like an advanced physicist, something is fishy.
  • Most readers can also spot a sudden change in the style or tone of the language of a report. Most people’s writing style is as readily identifiable as their voices over the telephone.

Plagiarism is bad business: the plagiarizer can fail an academic course or lose his or her reputation among business and professional associates. It only takes simple documentation to transform a report with plagiarized material in it into one with legally borrowed material. The section on documentation explains these procedures in detail.


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An Introduction to Technical Communication by sherenahuntsman is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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