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How to Publish Technical Articles

Updated on June 24, 2012

Determine the Guidelines

Writing technical articles for publication in newspapers and magazines is accomplished according to a set of guidelines that is dependent upon the nature of the publication, its mission, and its target audiences. If guidelines are failed, any article may be more readily discarded, along with the writer’s hard work.

Readability

For example, many American daily newspapers (“dailies”) are largely written at the 8th grade reading level – that’s the reading level of the average American child enrolled in the 8th grade and from ages 12-13, all of which indicates that the child is “on grade level” in reading skills. As a comparison, romance novels are written generally on the 6th grade level. Popular magazines may be found that contain articles often written at the grade levels of 8, 9, and 10; i.e. Popular Mechanics, Psychology Today, Science, Prevention, and many others. Peer reviewed journals offer pieces written above the 12th grade reading level – often far above. Non-American publications may proceed from a different set of standards altogether, and the author must determine what these standards specifically include.  

Determine the Readability Statistics of any article you prepare by setting that feature of the word processing program in use to provide those numbers. The program will likely offer a grade level and other statistics, such as length of average sentence, etc. 

Suggestions for Technical Articles

  • Requirements for technical articles vary, according to the nature and mission of the publications to which they will be submitted. These publications have guidelines that must be followed, The author must first access the website of the publication in which he or she is interested, or find the guidelines in the hard copy publication or locate the address to which (s)he may write in order to obtain a copy of the Guidelines for Submission.

  • Guidelines for Submission will be more stringent for peer-reviewed journals, requiring the use of the Scientific Method and of appropriate reporting in the article itself.  In addition, pay attention to the number of words permitted or required. Depending on the publication, a good article might have 3 to 5 graphics and less than 500 words, or 10 graphics and 1,000 words. In this light, it is easy to see that a PhD Dissertation or a Master’s or other graduation Thesis might contain enough material for many articles.

  • The author must determine whether the publication chosen accepts uninvited articles. Some do not and will simply discard your article and not communicate with you. Therefore, it is the author’s responsibility to determine and follow the proper procedure. Some publications accept articles “by invitation only.”

  • A writer must understand that some publications require that the article not be re-published elsewhere, either in hard copy print or online. If re-publication is permitted, then you might be able to prepare a set of articles on the same topic, written at different grade levels for different audiences.

Formatting A Technical Article

In preparing a technical article for publication, follow this formula [or the Guidelines for Submission if more stringent]:

  • Gather and organize your graphics: tables, charts, diagrams, pictures, etc. A reader should be able to gather the gist of the article by reading the titles and captions of the graphics.
  • Prepare a meaningful Title and Caption for each graphic. The Title should serve much the function of a Heading in the article. The Caption should explain the graphic data in a short summary.
  • Use good labels on any graphic – meaningful and understandable, without confusion or multiple meanings.
  • Supply understandable, clear text between the graphics to tie them together in a meaningful flow, step by step, summarizing the date succinctly.

Plan your text in this manner:

  • Title - Choose a title that is pertinent, clear, and easy to understand. It should not be too wordy or in any way ambiguous.
  • Statement of the Problem or Area of Interest or Instruction,
  • Short Introduction and Background – Answer the question Why is your topic important?
  • Data Presentation – Graphics and Explanatory Text
  • Short Summary of Results
  • Short Discussion of Implications for the Future – Answer the question Why are the results important?
  • In short, using your article, tell your readers THE SIX W’s [not the 5 of journalism]: Who, What, Where, When, Why, and So What?
  • Add references, and depending upon the publication, you might include a list of community and online resources related to the article.

SEE A SAMPLE TECHNICAL ONLINE AT Technicle Article and TECHNICAL ARTICLE.

Formatting Resources

  • AP style 
  • APA
  • Chicago
  • Harvard
  • MLA

Find these and others at THE PURDUE OWL ONLINE.

Alternative Methods of Wtiting Technical Presentations

From Computer Science at Columbia University: Publication Methods.


Example of a Technical Presentation

Readability Example

For comparison, listed below are the Readability Statistics for the article presented above:

Reading Level: Grade 12

Words per sentence: 19.7

Sentences per paragraph: 2.0 (This is fine for news type articles; technical articles will likely have fewer paragraphs with a greater number of sentences in each.)

Number of Paragraphs: 33

Passive Sentences: 15% (Aim for a low percentage.)

The Word for Windows Readability Statistics feature also offers the number of characters included in the entire document, the number of characters in each sentence, and even the number of characters in each word. This information is useful, because populations that have lower reading levels are generally more comfortable with shorter words and sentences. However, a PowerPoint Presentation of the same article may use either shorter or longer words or sentences, according to the audience viewing it and the purpose of the presentation. A writer may check the readability of any sentence or paragraph in a document, For example, this paragraph is one of grade level 16.2, according to the year and edition of software I am using.

Careers: Becoming a Technical Writer

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