Technical Writing



All students and faculty conducting research in support of the C/NRCD are expected to publish the results in the open literature to include the  Defense Technical Information Center (DTIC) .  In the past, students have published in refereed journals and conferences, technical reports, and white papers to archive the results of their research.  We strongly believe that if research artifacts are not produced, the research has little value beyond student learning.

Remember that technical writing is not creative writing. It is meant to be factual in order to communicate to the stakeholders.  Technical writing is meant to inform not to persuade.     Most technical writing is in the third person – words like you, I, and we are to be avoided.  When possible you should write in the active voice.  Past and perfect tenses are acceptable.

Example Technical Report and White Paper Formats

The following link contains a  checklist for reviewing and editing reports.
In general a technical report consists of an introduction, literature review, methodology, results, conclusions, summary, and references.  The research may require additional sections, some of these sections can be combined, or may not be applicable, etc.  There is no “one size fits all” to the required content for a technical report.

  1. Introduction: When writing the introduction, you must tell the readers why this research is important.  The introduction also may include a chronological tracing of previously published research that justifies your problem statement.  The introduction must include a clear problem statement.   Often the introduction will summarize the remainder of the report.
  2. Literature Review: A literature review is written to identify, review, and synthesize all relevant research. A literature review can be just a simple summary of the sources, but it usually has an organizational pattern and combines both summary and synthesis.   The West Point Library has compiled some resources on conducting a literature review. 
  3. Methodology: This section describes strategies employed to gather data, develop models, define variables, etc., into some type of method, process, or tools (MPTs). Sufficient information must be provided so that the reader can replicate/duplicate your work. 
  4. Results: The results provides the application of the methodology to the problem of interest. drawn from the analysis of your data Every variable discussed in the methodology section will be discussed in the results section. The usage of table and figures is critical to conveying the results to stakeholders. 
  5. Conclusions: Conclusions can be included under the results section or be a stand alone part of the report. Conclusion should summarize the results and interpret them in a way meaningful to all stakeholders. 
  6. Summary: The first paragraph in the summary section restates the problem statement and key findings from your study. The ensuing discussion is not a simple summary of your findings. Instead, the purpose of the summary section is to re-examine the stated problem in light of the findings. The summary section should end with a statement on what new areas of research might be undertaken to advance this research.
  7. Figures and Tables: All figures and tables must be presented and discussed in the text prior to being presented. Always use full scale plots .
  8. Footnotes: Footnotes are essential to providing depth to one or more issues in the paper that would otherwise detract from the story. 

The C/NRCD has used the same technical report and white paper formats since inception and adhere to the following formats:

Technical Report

White Paper

Cover Page Cover Page
Abstract About Us
About Us Main Report
Table of Contents Back Cover
Main Report  
Back Cover  

Journal Articles and Conference Presentations Formats

Below are some common formats for journals and conferences. ASEM Annual Conference  -  IEEE Conference  -   IEEE Journal  -  Keith Capstone Conference 


Reference list should conform to APA (American Psychological Association) style. There are a host of free online services that allows cadets to properly create, organize, and manage citations to include: 
Citation resources set up specifically for the Department of Systems Engineering are located through the West Point Library Site .
For technical reports we recommend the use of standard APA guidelines for in-text citations. The Purdue Online Writing Laboratory provides some useful guidelines on how to properly cite a reference in a report.
Ordering references is very important. Some outlets prefer alphabetical order while others look for chronological order based on appearance in paper. Note that some journals use sequential numbering such as [1] for in-text citations in order to save space. 
Format is very important. All elements of a citation must be present. Elements include, Author(s), Date of Publication. Title of Paper or Chapter, and Source of Publication. In the case of a journal, volume number, issue number, and pages are required; in the case of a book, location and publisher are required.
The references provide the contextual justification for your study. Care must be taken to include a comprehensive set of references that provide the context and justification for your study.
Uses of references throughout the text ought to clearly indicate the relationship of the citation to the linked idea or topic. Do not get into the habit of stringing a list of citations to an idea without clearly indicating how each citation in the string contributes to the idea being discussed. Remember that

  • Citations are critical to your credibility,
  • More citations actually strengthen your research, and
  • You should not make assertions or statements of fact without supporting citations.