More Tips for Technical Writing


affect/effect affect: to influence accept/except accept: to take willingly
effect: the result of except: excluding

its/it's its: possessive pronoun few/little few: refers to numbers
it's: contraction of 'it is' little: refers to amount

datum/data datum: singular form your/you're your: possessive pronoun
data: plural form you're: contraction of 'you are'

among/between among: used when you refer to one of many
between: used when you refer to one of only two

much/many much: refers to quantity
many: refers to countable elements

analysis/analyses analysis: singular form basis/bases basis: singular
analyses: plural form bases: plural

every one/everyone every one: each one elicit/illicit**elicit: evoke
everyone: everybody illicit: unlawful

principle/principal principle: strongly held belief
principal: foremost attain/obtain** attain: to accomplish
obtain: to acquire
there/their/they're there: refers to a place
their: possessive pronoun
they're: contraction 'they are' do/due** do: to perform
due: owing
whose/who's whose: the possessive of 'who' due to: caused by
who's: contraction of 'who is'

than/then than: conunction used when making a comparison
then: refers to the past in time

that/which that: that is used when you are making a specific reference to a particular object (for example: "the report was submitted by Ulinski")
which: which is used when you make a nonspecific reference (for example: "the report which was submitted last week")

cite/site cite: make reference to
site: location

* taken from Bordens, K. S. & Abbot, B. B. (1988). Research design and methods.
Mountain View, CA: Mayfield Publishing Company

** added to the original Bordens & Abbot (1988) list by Specht(1994).


  •   When you are writing about science, you should never mispell the following words:
experimentor should be experimenter
independant should be independent
dependant should be dependent
preform should be perform

  • Sometimes the way we speak misleads us to write words improperly. For example:

"could of" should be could have
"would of" should be would have
"should of" should be should have
"might of" should be might have
"once and a while" should be once in a while

  •   Listed below are some awkward phrases which should be avoided:

"the experiment was done" "the experiment was conducted (or performed)"
"the experiment was run"

"questionnaires were handed-out" "questionnaires were distributed"
"questionnaires were given-out"
"questionnaires were passed-out"

"questionnaires were filled-out" "questionnaires were completed"
"figure out/find out" "solve; determine"
"found out" "determined"

"take a test" "complete a test"
"take a seat" "subjects were asked to be seated"

"paired up" "paired"
"to see if..." "to determine/assess/reveal"
"looked at" "examined" or "investigated"
"came up with" "developed/designed/formulated"
"made up of" "consists"
"time was up" "time had expired/elapsed"
"did a study on" "studied/investigated/examined"
"as far as goes" "with regard to..." or "concerning..."
"besides" "in addition to"
"does, in fact/does, indeed" "does"
"set up" "arrange; establish; develop"
"results agree(d) with" "results were consistent with/support"
"our data coincides with..." "our data are consistent with..."
"the study concluded..." "based on the findings of the study, it can be
concluded that..."
"An experiment on the Stroop effect..." "An experiment examining the Stroop effect"
"The experiment tested..." "The experiment was conducted to examine..."

  • It is obvious that you should not use the word "obvious" in technical writing (isn't it?). If something is "obvious", then it need not be stated. If something is not "obvious", then by saying it is "obvious", you run the risk of "offending" the reader.
  • Do not use the words "prove", "proof", "proved" or "proven". You will learn through the course of your education that the logic of determination of cause and effect in science does not allow scientists to prove anything. When we collect data we may say that the data are consistent with or support our hypothesis.
  • Do not begin a sentence with any of these words: "this", "that", "it", "they", "these" or "he/she". By using these words at the beginning of a sentence, you run the risk of confusing the reader with a vague referent.
For example: "This explains the subject's failure to recall the word list."
Better: "The absence of a retrieval cue explains the subject's failure to recall the
word list"
  • In the methods section of a technical research report, you may find yourself listing the procedures of an experiment in chronological order. Avoid using the following words to begin a sentence: "next", "then" or "also".

For example: "Then, subjects were asked to recall the words from the list."
Better: "Subjects were then asked to recall the words from the list."

  • Avoid terms such as "the article 'said', 'deals with', 'looks at', 'takes into account'.


  • Don't start a sentence with "In 1978, ..." Place the year of the publication within the citation.
  • Make certain that you retain the order of authors in your citation

(e.g., Smith and Jones, 1978 = Jones and Smith, 1978).

  • Don't use author's first name.
  • You don't need to explicitly state that a particular author 'wrote' the article (e.g., "Smith wrote an article entitled ...")

  • Write for 'The Reader'
  • Communicate 'cleanly', concisely and completely
  • Explicitly identify the main point early in your writing
  • Avoid vague referents (for example, beginning a sentence with "it" or "that")
  • Avoid run-on sentences (avoid using many commas in one sentence)
  • Specify the origin of data and information used from other sources
  • Use a dictionary
  • Proof-read and REVISE
  • There is no such thing as good writing, only good revising

the phrase: can be written more simply as:
red in color red
aluminum metal aluminum
few in number few
completely eliminated eliminated
past history history
true facts facts
absolutely essential essential
actual experince experience
at the present time at present; now; presently
collaborate together collaborate
connect together connect
cooperate together cooperate
in many cases often
in most cases usually
in this case here
in all cases always
during the time that while
involve the necessity of necessitates; requires
in connection with about; regarding
in the event of if
in the neighborhood of about
make application to apply
make contact with see; meet; call
maintain cost control control costs
make a purchase buy
on the part of by
provide a continuous indication of continuously indicate
range all the way from range from
subsequent to after
through the use of by; with
until such time until

*taken from: Mills, G.H. and Walter, J.A. (1986). Technical writting (5th Ed.) New York: Holt,
Rinehart and Wilson.