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PROPOSALS (reports)

A proposal is a written offer to solve a technical problem in a particular way, under a specified plan of management, for a certain sum of money. Let’s take a closer look at this statement. The written solution to the technical problem describes, often in minute detail, the design or plan proposed, sometimes along with some discussion of alternate plans and designs. Strictly speaking, it is this written solution to the technical problem that is known as the “technical proposal.” The specified plan of management mentioned in our definition above is commonly called the “management proposal.” In general, the management proposal explains to the prospective client precisely how the entire project will be managed, tells who (often by name) will manage it, and suggests a time schedule for completion of the phases of the project. One of its important purposes is to assure the customer that his problem will be worked on by competent personnel during every stage from prototype design through manufacturing, and that the lines of responsibility for quality and reliability will be firm and clear. The phrase “for a certain sum of money” refers to the “cost proposal.” This part of the proposal gives a detailed breakdown of costs in terms of labor and materials.

Often all three of these elements of a proposal will be contained between one set of covers. Sometimes, however, each will be a separate document. We should like to add to this general definition that proposals are commonly referred to as solicited or unsolicited. The former are written in response to a direct invitation to bid; the latter are not- they are sent to a prospective customer in the hope that the excellence of the idea or plan proposed would result in a contract.

In most respects, the proposal is similar to a formal technical report, as the document, which forms the bulk of this chapter, will explain. But we wish to emphasize the crucial importance it bears in relation to a company’s success in meeting competition. A poorly conceived and ineptly presented proposal has an immediate and brutal effect: it means failure to get a contract, less income for the company and, possibly, fewer jobs. In brief, successful technical proposals help a technical man retain his job and make room for his advancement. Typically, the proposal is prepared under circumstances somewhat like the following.

Suppose a firm that manufactures jet engines for aircraft wants a new high-speed wind tunnel in which to test its engines. The firm sends out a number of invitations for bids to companies whose work in this field it knows and respects. Accompanying each invitation is a set of specifications that the engine-manufacturing firm would like to have the wind tunnel meet.

The men in the companies receiving the invitations study the specifications and decide whether to submit a proposal or not. Each company that decides to do so then assigns staff members to the various jobs involved in the task of preparing the proposal. Two of the biggest jobs, for example, might be to develop a suitable design and to make a cost estimate. During this period, each of the competing companies may confer with representatives of the engine manufacturer to acquire as thorough an understanding as possible of the customer’s needs.

As each of the competing companies makes its final decisions, it prepares its written proposals. In the proposal the company presents its design for the wind tunnel and explains how it would do the job. If the specifications have been quite detailed, however, the proposal may be concentrated almost exclusively on how the tunnel would be built, rather than on what kind of design it would have.

When the engine-manufacturing firm receives the proposals, it designates certain of its staff members to evaluate them. And out of the evaluation process there finally emerges a decision as to which company gets the contract.

There are innumerable variations that are found within the general situation described in this hypothetical case. The work being proposed may range from the design and production of a small, simple device to projects of enormous complexity and cost. The number of people involved in the preparation of the proposal may range from one to dozens. And the proposal itself may be as simple as a brief letter or as elaborate as a set of bound volumes.

You can easily imagine the importance attached to the proposal, since it is the means by which many companies obtain their businesses. Few experiences can be more frustrating to a company’s executives, than to feel sure they have developed a better technical design or plan than their competitors, and then to see the competitor get the contract.



The distinguishing characteristic of the proposal, is that more than any other type or form of technical writing it must serve a dual purpose: (1) it must convey information, and (2) it must attempt to instill a favorable attitude toward that information- and toward the company communicating it. In other words, the objective of the proposal is to communicate clearly the facts about a proposed technical design or program plan, and at the same time convince the reader that this design or plan is clearly superior to those submitted by competitors. The proposal must simultaneously possess the best qualities of a formal technical report and those of a superior piece of sales writing.

Superiority of technical design may be clear from the facts alone, even if those facts are poorly presented. But, obviously, we do not want to obscure the merit of a proposed design or program by poor writing, because the technical proposal is the primary means of securing new businesses. Here is where strategy of presentation enters in, for effective organization and styling in a proposal may do much to increase its chances of success.

The purpose of these notes, then, is to discuss some of the means by which presentation may be made more effective. Sound and imaginative engineering design is your key contribution to the technical proposal, of course, but it lies outside the scope of these remarks; what we want to do here is explore the possibilities for making the most of whatever potential advantages you have in that design.

One thinking is certain: we are foolish if we delude ourselves by believing that “the facts speak for themselves.” This fallacy has led many a writer to excuse himself from taking the extra pains that are needed to transform a mediocre presentation into an effective one. The truth is that the facts never speak for themselves. They must be carefully selected, arranged, welded together, and presented in language that the reader will not only understand easily, but also enjoy and admire.

The process of producing a good proposal consists of the following stages: (1) preliminary study, (2) drafting a plan or outline, including decisions about what to emphasize, (3) writing a rough draft and planning illustrations and layout, and (4) review and revision.


In the broadest, most inclusive sense, the preliminaries to the drafting of a formal proposal begin with efforts on the part of service engineers, product department requirements managers, and others to discover market potentials through contact with customers. Such contacts and interviews are designed to find out what a customer’s needs are, and to make clear to him what the Division’s capabilities are in fulfilling those needs. In other words, an effective proposal may have its origin long before a request for bids is received. Once a request is received, a decision to bid or not to bid must be made, if the decision has not already been made during that period when we are trying to get the company on the bidder’s list. Although many factors and a good many people may have a hand in making the final decision, a project engineer will surely make his contribution after having studied the bid request, specifications, and any other available documents which may help him define the problem and determine a plan of attack. With a decision to bid made, the project engineer must then prepare a cost estimate and develop the technical proposal.

The foregoing paragraph lists preliminaries, which, roughly at least, describe what might be called administrative or management procedures; they embrace activities, which are not directly a part of the preparation of a proposal, though they may make an indirect contribution. Producing a first-rate plan for a proposal requires (1) a careful study of the invitation to bid, the specifications, and any related papers or information; (2) careful consideration of background information such as that which may be available from Service Engineering; (3) careful analysis of the competition; and (4) strategic evaluation of the technical design or program to be presented. Perhaps the importance of these points is obvious- certainly so far as the technical solution of a customer’s problem is concerned.

Study of Specifications

It’s obvious that the invitation to bid and the specification must be carefully studied so that a satisfactory solution to the technical problem may be devised. But it is also important to study these documents to get a lead on means for an effective presentation of the proposal. For instance, these documents may reveal what aspects of the problem the customer believes to be most important, most difficult to solve, and most urgently in need of solution. Even though the engineer may know that there are problem areas more critical or difficult than those the customer stresses, he will not be wise if he ignores the customer’s convictions in writing the proposal. Study of these documents can help the writer produce a proposal that is customer-oriented rather than designer-oriented. In other words, the project engineer must satisfy himself that he understands the problem as the customer sees it, since the customer’s evaluation of TI’s understanding of the problem will doubtlessly be made in terms of what he thinks is critical. This understanding can help in deciding what to stress and develop fully in the finished draft of the proposal.

Background Information

As a further preparatory step in planning strategy of presentation, it would be wise to gather any additional information that is available about the customer and his problem (needs and interests). Call Reports may contain such information, and direct contact with Service Engineering field representatives may produce more. For instance, it may be possible to determine what a given company’s attitude is toward alternate approaches, exceptions to specifications, reliability, etc. we don’t want a customer turning us down with a remark, for example, that we described a fine piece of equipment but, “it was not what we specified.” Or, “your hardware looks good, but your study plan does not reflect a thorough understanding of all our problems.” Thorough study of specifications, collated with background information, may not always permit us to avoid such criticisms, but it will help. In any case, the conscientious proposal writer cannot afford to ignore any source of useful information.

Analysis of the Competition

The value of taking competition into account in planning a proposal lies in honestly comparing our own strong points with those of the competitor. If a competitor is recognized as being pre-eminent in some particular technical area that is involved in the proposed design or program, it would not make much sense for TI to stress that particular area. On the contrary, after inventorying our potential advantages in comparison with those of the likely competitors, we should stress those aspects of our solution to the customer’s problem, which show an advantage over our competitors.

Strategic Evaluation of TI Technical Approach

This evaluation should be undertaken to get a line on the points to be stressed in the proposal. Particularly notable aspects of a design or program, for instance, may be usefully highlighted in the introduction or in the foreword, if there is to be one.

Making a Schedule

An important corollary of preliminary planning is the making of a schedule that will enable you to carry out all of the steps in preparing a proposal with a minimum of haste and still gets it out on time. Such a schedule must not only take into account all of the demands made upon your own time, but it must also allow enough time for administrative and service functions. Service Engineering, for instance, must have time to prepare the accompanying letter; the department head should have ample time to review the proposal before approval; illustrating and printing. It simply does not make sense to spend money and time planning a good technical design or program and then rush through the process of producing the manuscript, which is designed to sell that design or program.


If the above preliminaries have been carefully completed, the making of an outline or plan of presentation should not be particularly difficult. The important things to bear in mind about an outline are that (1) a written plan, or schematic is essential as a guide to follow in developing the text; (2) the outline serves a useful and necessary function as a table of contents for the reader of the proposal; (3) the outline should be a logical and strategic outgrowth of the material presented in an order that is most likely to make a favorable impression on the reader; and (4) supplementary material should be included only as needed.

The Outline as a Writing Guide

Putting on outline down on paper is necessary for most of us because this skeletal representation of the material we intend to present offers us an opportunity to check whether we have omitted necessary information; it gives us a visual means of checking whether the parts of our discussion are in balance and in the right sequence; and, of course, it serves as a convenient prod to our memories in the writing process itself. As the writing is done, we may see the need for changes in development, and we may therefore need to make changes in the formal outline. But this is as it should be, for an outline should never be so binding upon the writer as to prevent him from making use of the new ideas which occur to him during the writing process. After all, none of us can hope to be so encompassing in our planning as to envision every point worthy of consideration. Recognition of this need for flexibility in an outline does not, however, detract from the importance of having one as a guide.

The Outline as a Table of Contents

Since the value of an outline as an index to a proposal’s content is obvious, there is nothing to be gained by dwelling on the point here. But it is worthwhile to remember that the headings or entries in an outline must be sufficiently descriptive of content as to be meaningful to the reader. Often, a heading consisting of a single word or a brief phrase is adequate for the writer; it serves to remind him of what he wants to say on the point. This brief outline entry may, however, be ambiguous, misleading, or downright meaningless to the reader who is unfamiliar with the material presented. A heading like ‘Vibration Tests,” for instance, is not nearly as useful as “Procedure for Carrying out Vibration Tests,” or “Deficiencies in Vibration Tests Conducted,” or whatever phrase is necessary to describe what the discussion is actually about.

A second precaution: Be sure that you have enough headings in your outline to give an adequate reflection of content so that later reference is made easy for the reader.
Example of an outline:
III. Components…………………….6
A. Electronic…………………6
B. Mechanical………………..103

Still another point: Since an outline is in effect a logical subdivision of the material to be presented, it must obey the rules of logic. This means that a breakdown of a superior heading or division must result in multiple subheadings; in other words, where there is an “A” there must be a “B.” there may be a “C,” “D,” and so on, depending upon the number of subdivisions which comprise the superior heading, but the single division is logically impossible. Something is wrong, then, when you find you have a “A” but no “B,” a “1” but no “2,” etc.

In this connection, there is a very common fault in many outlines: the fault of using headings that does little more than leads to the subheads under them. For instance, there is not much point in the following if the discussions are brief:
A. Experience
1. Sonar
2. Seismic

A better entry would be, simply: A. Sonar and Seismic Experience, or A. Experience in Sonar and Seismic Work.

Another very general heading raises some doubts in my mind, and it is one that is commonly used: “Technical Discussion” or “detailed Description.” This general heading may work all right if the technical discussion is reasonably brief, but when it is long, it would probably be better to raise the “A,” “B,” “C” entries to the level of Roman Numeral entries. Thus (1) below might be better in the form of (2).
III. Technical Discussion
A. Buoy Electronics Package
(With 9 Arabic subheads)
B. Shipboard receiving station
(With 3 subheads)
C. Texas Instruments Experience in supplying Related Equipment
(With 3 subheads)
D. Reliability
E. Quality Assurance
F. Testing

III. Buoy Electronics Package
(The 9 Arabic subheads now become A-I)
IV. Shipboard Receiving Station
(3 subheads now become A-C)
V. Texas Instruments Experience in Supplying Related Equipment
(With 3 subheads)
VI. Reliability
VII. Quality Assurance
VIII. Testing

The point to remember is that each heading should do its share of work; it should, ideally, say something more to the reader than “Look below.”

Finally, remember this point: the entries in any given phase or portion of an outline should be logically consistent and parallel. For instance, consider the following:
III. Technical Discussion
A. Data-Processing Techniques
1. Time-Shifting Linear Addition
2. Cross-Correlation
B. Time Shifting
C. Characteristics of Correlator Filter

Something looks odd here, with the subheads of “A” reappearing, slightly altered as “B” and “C.” Perhaps the too-general “Technical Discussion” could have been deleted and the following setup used, with appropriate subheadings under “A” and “B”:
III. Data-Processing Techniques
A. Time Shifting
B. Cross-Correlation

Or consider this:
II. Circuit Redesign
A. Preamplifier
B. Modulator and Demodulator
C. Ripple and Lead Networks
D. Servo Amplifier
E. Packaging

Clearly, the entry “E” should appear as “III.”
And this final example:
V. Data-Transfer Subsystem
A. Introduction
B. System Operation
C. Airborne Unit
1. Data-Processing Unit
2. Transmitter
3. Power Supply
D. Ground Unit
1. Translator
2. Telemeter Receiver
3. Sub carrier Discriminator
4. Countermeasures Considerations

Here, obviously, the last item, 4, should appear as “E” rather than “4,” since Countermeasures Considerations are not a component of the ground unit.

The Outline as a Reflection of Strategy

An important fact to remember is that an outline, which may be perfect for one proposal, may be all-wrong for another. It is true that certain elements need to appear in every proposal, but it is not true that these elements must always appear in exactly the same order. We know for example that most proposals must have an introduction; a list of items and services to be supplied; a general description of the equipment to be supplied; a technical discussion or detailed description of the proposed equipment; a section on packaging or other special considerations, if applicable; and finally, a conclusion. But it does not follow that these items must constitute the main divisions in every proposal, nor does it follow that these items must always appear in the order listed above.

In a given situation, for example, it might be critically important to place the list of items and services to be supplied right after the introduction, in a position of importance; but this placement would be strategically desirable only if the customer is primarily interested in seeing whether TI has a complete and thorough understanding of the problems presented in the invitation to bid; in this case, it might be far better for the second section of the proposal to present a discussion of the problem- the exact wording to reflect the problem itself.

With the decisions about what must be included in a discussion already made, constructing an outline to reflect strategy becomes a matter of deciding on the order of presentation of the items to be discussed. This order should reflect your best thinking about what the customer will want to hear about first (in other words, answers to those problems he considers most difficult and pressing), and what needs to be said first so that subsequent discussions will be clear and meaningful. Since problems dealt within proposals are not all alike, and since customer needs and interests are certainly not all identical, it surely follows that a standardized outline will not work for all proposals. What we should try to do is tailor-make plans to suit the particular case; what the customer reacts favorably to is a custom fit, not an ill-fitting, ready-made job.

Supplementary Material

Appendixes are a useful means of presenting material that may be needed by the reader, or material that may be interesting to him but which would be awkward or unwise strategically to include in the body of a proposal. As you know, such material may include mathematical analyses, biographical résumés, lists of facilities, company information and capabilities, and the like. The careful planner will see to it that such material appears in a proposal if it is needed, particularly when the customer has expressed a desire to see it.

But the careful planner will also be very cautious about overloading his proposal with a lot of boilerplate that the reader has no interest in, and no need for, seeing. Size has no necessary relation to quality or effectiveness- as people working for a company specializing in miniaturization should very well know.


The main things you have to be especially careful about are (1) the introduction, (2) transitions between parts of your discussion, (3) correlation of text and illustrations, (4) exception taking, (5) the concluding section, and (6) style.

The Introduction

Although the introduction is the first, and in many ways the most important, focus of reader attention, it does not necessarily have to be written first. Many writers find it advisable to wait until the rest of the manuscript is finished before writing this critically important part of the proposal. Their reasons are simple and reasonably sound: they want to wait until the manuscript has been fully developed so they can see precisely what it is that they have to introduce. By the time the manuscript is completed, furthermore, the writer may have a better knowledge of what he should emphasize in his introduction. All of this becomes more convincing when we remind ourselves of the functions of a good introduction. These are, broadly speaking, to introduce the subject matter and to introduce the presentation or treatment of that subject matter. For a proposal, this means (a) identification of the nature of the proposal and (b) a statement of the purpose of the document, preferably in terms of subsequent sections. These would constitute an absolute minimum. Most proposals are vastly improved by two and possibly three additional elements: (c) a brief discussion of the problem to which a solution is proposed, (d) a discussion in which the key points of TI’s solution are highlighted, and (e) a discussion of solutions other than the one proposed.


Linking the parts of a discussion together so as to produce a coherent whole is one of the means of making a good impression on a reader, and more importantly from our standpoint, of insuring that he will be able to follow our discussion intelligently and appreciatively. The job of providing transitions usually begins at the close of the introduction, with a forecasting statement that subsequent sections of the proposal will deal with so-and-so. But this job must not stop there. Often it is critically important to bridge the gaps between segments of a discussion with words, phrases, sentences, even paragraphs, which will help the reader understand the relationship between facts and ideas.

Illustrations and Layouts

Since publications people settle most problems of layout and printing, we can assume that they will not have to be dealt with by the proposal writer. This may not be strictly true, of course, especially for the all-out proposal, which calls for a special cover and other special features in which the author may take a direct interest and a part in choosing. But illustrations are another matter, for the engineer knows the illustrations are one of the important communication tools in engineering. Along with words, of course, go pictures, charts, and flow sheets, and- diagrams, not to mention mathematics- in rounding out an effective presentation. The writer will therefore want to work closely with his editor and the assigned illustrator to see to it that the proposal is suitably illustrated and, particularly, that illustrations and figures are strategically placed to be of the greatest help to the reader at the least expense of his effort.

Illustrations and figures may serve two purposes: as a primary means of presenting information, and as enhancements of the text to stimulate interest. The proposal author will have an interest and responsibility in seeing to it that the text of his proposal is supplied with enough drawings, diagrams, etc., to support the discussion technically, and he should take pains to help plan the placement of these figures so that they are of maximum benefit and convenience to the reader. In general, it is desirable to have a figure in plain sight when it is referred to in text, particularly if understanding of the text hinges upon reference to the figure. As a rule, readers do not like having to search for a figure to which allusion is made. If possible, full-page figures should appear on the page facing the text in which reference is made to them; partial-page figures should, ideally, appear on the same page with appropriate text. The number of illustrations in a given document may make this ideal impossible, but it should be an ideal more often met than not. Purely supplementary illustrations should appear where the author and editor believe they will be most effective.

Exception Taking

Since taking exceptions to specifications involves the risk that the proposal will be regarded as non-responsive, it is clearly necessary to exercise all possible skill in suggesting that changes be made. Special effort should be made to demonstrate that an exception would result in a better product or program for the customer. The writer needs to call upon whatever arts of expression he possesses in phrasing an exception so that it would not sound offensive to the reader. The publications editor should be of help here.

I think I can do o better on this important topic than quote from a Publications Group Practice (P5-1, 23 May 1959) issued by Jimmy Jones. He states that the following general principles should govern exception taking:

1. Have a reasonable explanation for every exception.
2. Make it clear that we could meet the specification as written but that the change is recommended in order to give a better unit.
3. Get a feel, from the specification and briefings, for the customer’s more important design objectives.
4. If possible, keep the discussion in the section devoted to exceptions.
5. In taking exception to testing requirements or specifications, do not state simply that we do not have the testing equipment.

An example of an original exception, together with an improved version follows:

ORIGINAL: As discussed in section II, the TR tube contemplated for this application requires a minimum of –600 V for satisfactory operation. Texas Instruments has not found any TR tube that functions properly at –250 V. It is therefore suggested that a higher voltage supply be provided.
IMPROVED: The technical requirements specify –250 V for the TR tube. As discussed in section II, we are proposing a TR tube that requires –600 V. Since this tube has better performance characteristics for this applications than any which will operate at the lower keep-alive voltage, we propose to provide the required –600 V. The penalty in increased shielding requirements and larger power supply will be negligible, and the performance of the equipment much improved.

The Concluding Section

What we want in concluding section of a proposal is something more than a purely perfunctory, routine closing. A good, strong, final impression should be left with the reader, preferably one that re-emphasizes the strong points of the proposed design or program, and one that leaves the reader with the feeling that Texas Instruments is eminently competent to do a fine piece of work for the customer.

Style in the Proposal

Two considerations should govern all decisions about the suitability of the writing style in the proposal: accuracy of statement and adaptation to the reader. What we want is an accurate, clear, readable style. When we speak of accuracy of statement we must think primarily of ourselves. But when we speak of clarity and readability, we must think not of ourselves but of the reader.


The final chore in the preparation of an effective proposal is reviewing and revising the manuscript before final printing. Careful review and revision pays big dividends, both in personal satisfaction and in prospects for new contracts. The conscientious writer will take full advantage of his last opportunities to polish and refine his product and to eliminate those errors and oversights that would otherwise mar it.

The time it takes for the rough draft to be typed will probably be long enough to constitute a cooling-off period so that your first formal review of the manuscript may be carried out with the critical detachment that is essential if this is to be done successfully.

Your second opportunity to review and revise will occur when the editor returns your copy- edited. Once again you will need to go through the text carefully, not merely to approve or disapprove editorial changes, but to satisfy yourself that you have produced the best piece of work that your abilities will permit within the time available. If you are not satisfied with the results of editorial changes, and if the editor is convinced that your original needs fixing in some way, the two of you together should be able to work out a version that will satisfy you both. During this next-to-last phase, you should check up on the preparation of illustrations and figures to make sure they are prepared, or being prepared, that they are suitable, and that the text makes adequate and accurate reference to them.

Although the editor will see a title page, table of contents, list of illustrations, and the pre-printed appendix material are prepared; it will do no harm for you to check them to make sure they are what you want. You will want to make certain, for example, that the table of contents entries corresponds exactly with the headings and subheadings in the text, and that there is an exact correspondence between the illustrations listed and those, which actually appear in the text.

Finally, remember this: although you will have another opportunity to catch errors when you read the multilith masters, you should make every possible effort to have the copy exactly as you want it before it is typed on the masters. Last minute changes of any magnitude in the masters will require unfortunate delays- and increased costs- in getting out the finished proposal on time for mailing.

The end is really in sight- or should be- when you read the multilith masters. This last reading is, normally, little more than a double check of the work of the people who have typed and proofread your copy, but this does not mean that the task should be undertaken casually. Even the best proofreader can overlook a textual error- and textual errors are what you do not want. So it is advisable that you take your time and read- not scan- these masters. Once you have done this, and checked the corrections, which have to be made, you can arrange for the signatures- confident that you have produced a workmanlike job.


In conclusion, a proposal, which is the end product of the procedures and considerations discussed in the foregoing pages may not invariably result in a contract, but it will surely be superior to the proposal that is casually thrown together out of bits and pieces of old proposals and organized in exactly the same way the last one was organized, or like one at hand which is used as a model.

It is probably no exaggeration to say that every proposal is a special problem that requires its own special solution- not only in technical content but also in technique of presentation. Remember these essential steps: collect and study all available pertinent information as a preliminary to working out a plan of presentation; write your rough draft and then alter and work with it until you are satisfied; finally, review and revise your copy with all the ruthlessness you can, and encourage the editor- and anyone else who will help- to do the same.


Abstracts are written solely for the convenience of the reader. Their purpose is to enable the reader to learn the chief points in the content of a report without having to read the report itself or to learn enough of the report’s content to determine whether it should be read in full.

An abstract is a short description, or a condensation, a piece of writing. It is a timesaving device. Naturally, it is a device that is highly popular with executives. The man whose opinion of your report matters most may read only the abstract of it.


One type of abstract, the descriptive, tells what topics are taken up in the report itself, but little or nothing about what the report says concerning these topics. The advantages of a descriptive abstract are that it is easy to write and is usually short; a serious disadvantage is that it contains little information.

The other type of abstract is sometimes called “informational.” In this type, there is a statement of the chief points made in the report. Instead of learning merely that such and such topics are taken up in the report, we are told something of what the report has to say about these topics. The advantage of an informational abstract is that it provides much more information than that of a descriptive abstract. Of course, it is harder to write, and it may be a little longer than the descriptive type. Except where the length is of special importance, however, there can be no question as to the superiority of the informational type.

A good rule of thumb is to make it as short as you can, and then cut it by half. Some people say it should be about 5% of the length of the report. In industrial reports, an abstract rarely exceeds one page.

In concluding these remarks on types of abstracts, we must point out that most abstracts are not exclusively either descriptive or informational, but a combination of both. This is perfectly all right. Writing an abstract invariably presents a problem in compromising between saying everything you think you ought to and keeping it as short as you think you ought to. Descriptive statements here and there in an informational abstract often help solve this problem. Sometimes the term ‘epitome’ is applied to a very short informational abstract in which only the most important facts or ideas are presented, and the term “abstract” is reversed for a longer, more detailed statement. Whatever the terminology you encounter, you have fundamentally two sets of conflicting variables to balance; brevity vs. detail, and description vs. information.


The best suggestion we can make about writing an abstract is to have a well-organized report to start with. Having that, you simply write a brief summary of each one of the major divisions of the report. It is often wise to write the abstract from the outline rather than from the text, if you have checked the facts.

Another suggestion is that you give special attention to sentence structure. Use of subordination, particularly helps to produce a short, smooth, highly informative abstract.

In form, the abstract is usually set up as a single paragraph, double-spaced on a page by itself. It should be written in good English: articles should not be omitted, and no abbreviations should be used which would not be acceptable in the body of the report. A special effort should be made to avoid terminology unfamiliar to an executive or any reader who is not intimately acquainted with the work. With the exception noted in the next section, the abstract should be regarded as a completely independent unit, intelligible without reference to any part of the report itself.


Abstracts are sometimes called summaries, so it is easy to guess that an introductory summary is a combination of introduction and abstract. It isn’t exactly a combination, however, in the way that H2 and O make water; it is rather a joining together, as a handle and a blade make a knife. It’s still easy to identify both parts.

There are really two kinds of introductory summaries. One is an ordinary abstract put at the top of the first page of the text of a report. The only thing introductory about it is the fact that it is the first thing the reader sees. Since this is just a matter of what name you want to call an abstract by, we shall say no more about it.

In the second type of introductory summary, special emphasis is given to the introductory portion. The idea back of this is to show clearly at the outset how the project being reported on fits into the whole program of which it is a part. If the report itself is short there may be no further introductory material. In longer reports, there is likely to be a formal introduction following the introductory summary. There is always a temptation, however, to let the introductory summary do the whole job, even when a separate formal introduction is definitely needed.

The introductory summary that follows is a fictitious one, which the Hercules Powder Company has used as a model for its staff. The Hercules Powder Company calls it a digest.

Example of Descriptive Abstract

Flies, mosquitoes, and rats are vehicles of infection for ten widespread diseases. These diseases can be prevented by removing or destroying the breeding places of these insects and rodents and by killing their adult forms. Proper methods of control are described.

Example of Informational Abstract

Flies, mosquitoes, and rats are vehicles of infection for ten widespread diseases. These diseases can be prevented by removing or destroying the breeding places of these insects and rodents and by killing their adult forms. The breeding of flies is controlled by proper disposal of decaying organic matter, and of mosquitoes by destroying or draining pools, or spraying them with oil. For rats, only the indirect methods rat-resistant houses and protected food supplies are valuable. Control of adult forms of both insects and rodents requires use of poisons. Screens are used for insects. Minnows can be planted to eat mosquito larvae.



The graphic aids discussed in this chapter are charts, drawings and photographs, and tables. The term “chart” covers a broad field, however, which will actually occupy our attention.

Before entering into a discussion of the particular types mentioned, we must note two problems in the selection and use of any graphic aid: (1) differentiating between dramatic emphasis and communication, and (2) establishing the proper relationship between the graphic aid and the text.

All graphic aids communicate facts to the reader, but some communicate with much more precision than others. Comparing a curve carefully plotted on coordinate paper with the pictograph often found in newspapers can easily see this difference. You might imagine, for example, that a newspaper has indicated the number of workers in a certain industry by a series of drawings of identical over-alled men, each man representing 5,000 workers except the last man, who is worth only 3,000 and consequently lacks part of the left side of his anatomy. Such a pictograph may be dramatic but it is not precise. A curve plotted on coordinate paper, on the other hand, can be fairly precise in communicating information. For a technically trained reader, it may also be dramatic, but the dramatic element is a secondary, rather than a primary consideration. This difference between precise information and dramatization, qualified by reference to the intended reader, should always be noted in selecting a graphic aid.

Our second general problem is how to establish the proper relationship between the graphic aid and the text. Practically, this usually means deciding how much to say about the graphic aid, and deciding where to put it.

Our experience has been that writers often go to extremes in deciding how much to say. One writer will repeat in words practically everything that is shown in a graphic aid, and another will not even note that he has used one. If you question the second man, he will tell you that it’s all there in the graph, why should he have to talk about it? You will have to make up your own mind as to which of these offenders is worse. We suggest that you note your reactions on this point as you read various technical materials. You will probably find yourself most nearly satisfied when the following three practices are observed:

1. If a graphic aid has some bearing on a conclusion to be drawn, no matter how simple, a reference is made to it in the text. An aid used solely for an aesthetic or “dramatic” purposes need not be mentioned.

2. The significant points shown by an “informational” graphic aid are commented on in the text, but minor details are not mentioned.

3. Some directions are given on the reading and interpretation of a complex graphic aid. What “complex” means depends on the reader.

Finding the most effective location for a graphic aid is usually a simple matter. Informational aids that have a direct, immediate bearing upon conclusions or arguments presented in the text are usually located as close as possible to the pertinent portions of the text. Informational aids of a more general, supporting character are put in an appendix, unless they are so few in number as to offer no serious interruption to the reading of the text. Aids used to dramatize are placed at appropriate points in the text. In general, graphic aids that belong in the text are likely to represent derived data, in the appendix, original data.

If the aid is small enough, it may be placed on a page on which text also appears. Usually, it has a border. Larger aids should be put on a separate page. In a typed manuscript, they may be bound on either the right or the left edge. If comments on the aid are pretty well concerned on one page, the aid should be bound on the right edge so that it may face the comment. If there are several pages to which the aid is pertinent, it may be wise to bind it on the left edge and locate it near the beginning of the comments. A page occupied solely by a graphic aid is given a page number if it is bound on the left edge but is not given a page number if it is bound on the right edge.



Charts, or graphs, are a means of presenting numerical quantities visually so that trends of, and relationships among the numerical quantities can be easily grasped. Although a chart does not, in most respects, permit as accurate or detailed a presentation of a data as a table, it has the advantage of making a significant point more readily and in a manner that is more easily remembered. The basic kinds of charts are the line or curve chart, the bar or column chart, and the surface chart. Additional varieties are the circle or “pie” chart, the organization or line-of-flow chart, and the map chart. Each of these varieties will be discussed. First, however, we must review briefly some elements of chart construction. The elements to be discussed are the scales, the grid, the title, the scale captions, the source reference, and labels or a key.

Most charts have only two scales, a horizontal (abscissa) and a vertical (ordinate). Typically, an independent variable is plotted on the horizontal scale, and a dependent variable on the vertical. Thus, if we were graphing the temperature rise of an electric motor, we would plot time on the horizontal scale and the temperature on the vertical. It is desirable to have both scales begin at zero, at their point if intersection, and to progress in easily read amounts, like 5, 10, 15, 20. Failure to observe either of these last two principles increases the possibility that the reader will misinterpret the chart. There are many cases, however, in which the scales cannot be started at zero. Suppose that values on the vertical scale, for instance, begin at a high numerical range, as in plotting temperature changes above 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit. It would be impractical to begin the vertical scale at zero if intervals in the scale beyond 2,000 are to be small. In such a case, it is occasionally desirable to give the base line a zero designation and place a broken line between it and the 2,000-degree line to indicate the gap in the numerical sequence of the scale.

Much of the visual effectiveness of a chart depends upon the proper slope or height of the line or bar or area plotted. The idea of movement and trend is emphasized by steepness and minimized by flatness. The American Standards Association suggests that an angle of slope over 30 or 40 degrees in a curve is likely to be interpreted as being of great significance. It is often difficult to satisfy all the ideal requirements: that is, the proper slope or height, an easily read scale, ample room for scale captions, and a little space between the highest point of the curve or bar and the top of the grid. Sometimes it is desirable to use the long dimension of the coordinate paper for the horizontal scale to meet the requirements. If this method still does not solve the problem, larger paper should be used, and a fold or folds made so that the folded chart, when bound into the text, will come somewhat short of the edges of the pages of the text. If you construct a grid by yourself, you should if possible, use “root-two” dimensions for the rectangle formed by the grid. Such dimensions are aesthetically pleasing. However, this advice must be qualified by observance of pleasing proportions between the shape of the grid and the shape of the page.

In general, you should use coordinate paper with as few grid lines per inch as the necessary accuracy in reading will permit. The purpose of the chart- the degree to which it is informational- and the probable error in your data determine the accuracy with which it should be readily possible to read the chart. Sometimes, the use of stubs or “ticks” provides a good compromise between the precision afforded by numerous grid rulings and the clarity and force of fewer rulings. In a bar chart, the grid normally has only horizontal rulings if the bars are vertical, and vertical rulings if the bars are horizontal.

The title of a chart may be placed either at the top or at the bottom. Usually, but not invariably, it is placed outside the rectangle enclosing the grid. If there is a figure number, it should appear either above or to the left of the title. In using 8 ½ by 11 coordinate paper you will often find it necessary, because of the narrow margins, to draw the axes an inch or so inside the margin of the grid to provide space on the grid itself for the title, the scale numerals, the scale captions, and the source reference if there is one.

Source references for graphic aids are written generally in the same manner that text source references are. More abbreviation is permissible in the reference to a graphic aid than in a footnote reference, however, because of the need to conserve space. Any abbreviation, which will not confuse the reader, is acceptable.

It is often necessary to use labels, or a key to identify certain parts of a chart, such as bars or curves representing various factors or conditions. Labels often appear in a blank area with a “box” or border around them, but this is not always possible or necessary. If you are using commercially prepared coordinate paper, it may be helpful to put a box around the label even though there is no white space left for it. Labels for bars may be written at the end of the bar or, if there is no possibility of confusion, along the side. In circle or “pie” charts, the labels should be put within the individual segments. A “key” or “legend” is simply an identification of symbols used in the chart. Another element occasionally found is a note, usually in a box on the grid, about some aspect of the chart.


Line Charts

Of all charts, the line chart is the most commonly used. Simple to make and read, it is especially useful for plotting a considerable number of values for close reading or for plotting continuous data to show trend and movement. It is usually not as good as the bar chart for dramatic comparisons of amount. For making comparisons of continuous processes, however, the use of several curves on the same chart makes the line chart superior to the bar chart. An illustration of this point might be seen in a chart in which the plate current of a triode tube is plotted on the vertical scale against the grid voltage on the horizontal. For different values of plate voltage, the relationship between the plate current and grid voltage is different; therefore, if one curve is drawn for each of several different values of plate voltage, the result of such changes is very effectively shown.

In a multiple-line chart of the kind just mentioned, labels are often written along the sides of the lines, without boxes. When lines intersect, the lines may be broken in various ways to help in differentiating them; or colors or symbols with an accompanying key may be used. Particularly when the lines intersect, you should be careful not to put too many lines on a chart, nor too many within a small area of the chart. The latter problem can of course be alleviated somewhat by the use of an appropriate scale on a large sheet of paper. If comparisons are to be made between different charts, the scales used on the charts should be identical.

Another problem in either single- or multiple-line charts is whether the line connecting points plotted should be drawn straight from point to point or smoothed out (faired). If you are showing the trend of a continuous process, like the temperature rise of a motor, it is usually desirable to make a faired curve; but if the process or change is not continuous, fairing the curve may be misleading. For example, if you were plotting an increase in student enrollment in a certain university for
Successive years, and your data showed enrollments of 10,000, 10,200, 14,000, and 14,300, a fairing of the curve would obscure a significant fact; the sharp was rising steadily throughout each year. Incidentally, where precision is necessary, making a very small dot and then circling it lightly with a pencil so that it can later be found easily should plot a point.

The foregoing discussion has been concerned only with the simplest and commonest of line charts. There are a great many possible variations of elements, including the use of special grids like the logarithmic and semi logarithmic, that it is important to know about.

Bar Charts

Bar or column charts represent values or amounts by bars of scaled lengths. They are useful for showing sizes or amounts at different times, the relative size or amount of several things at the same time, and the relative size or amount of the parts of a whole. In general the bar chart is preferable to line chart for making dramatic comparisons if the items compared are limited in number. Arranged vertically, the bars are effective for representing different amounts of several items at one time.

Although the bars of a bar chart may be joined, it is more common practice to separate them to improve appearance and increase readability. The bars should be of the same width, and the spacing between them should be equal. The proper spacing depends upon keeping the bars close enough together to make comparison easy, yet far enough apart to prevent confusion. Another convention of bar chart construction is that the bars are arranged in order of increasing or decreasing length. This convention applies to charts in which each bar represents a component; it does not apply of course to those representing a time series.

Surface and Strata Charts

A single-surface chart is constructed just like a line chart except that the area between the curve line and the base of zero line is shaded. Multiple-surface or strata charts are like multiple-line charts with the underneath areas shaded in differentiating patterns; i.e., the vertical widths of shaded or hatched surfaces, strata, or bands communicate an impression of amount. They can be satisfactorily used to achieve greater emphasis than is possible with a line chart of the same data when amount is more important than ratio or change. They are not intended for exact reading, and should never be used when the layers or strata are highly irregular or where the lines intersect. Gradual, regular movement or change can best be charted by this means. As in the subdivided bar chart, darker shadings should be used at the bottom.

Circle or “Pie” Charts

A circle or pie chart is simply a circle of convenient size whose circumference represents 100%. The segments or slices show percentage distribution of the whole. Since it is difficult to estimate the relative size of segments, labels and percentages must be placed on each segment. Not a particularly effective graphic aid, the circle chart may be used for dramatic emphasis and interest so long as the subdivisions are not numerous.

Flowsheets and Organization Charts

A flowsheet is a chart, which makes use of symbolic or geometric figures and connecting lines to represent the steps and chronology of a process. An organization chart is like a flowsheet except that instead of representing a physical process, it represents administrative relationship in an organization.

The flowsheet is an excellent device for exhibiting the steps or stages of a process, but its purpose is defeated if the reader finds it difficult to follow the connecting lines. Flowsheets should generally be planned to read from left to right, and the connecting lines should be arrow-tipped to indicate the direction of flow. The units themselves, representing the steps or stages, may be in the form of geometric figures or symbols. The latter are simple schematic representations of a device, such as a compressor, a cooling tower, or a solenoid valve. Standard for such symbols have been adopted in a number of engineering fields today, and you should make it a point to familiarize yourself with the symbols acceptable in your field. Publications concerning symbols may be obtained from the American Standards Association. These symbols may be used, by the way, in drawings as well in flowsheets. Labels should always be put on geometric figures. Whether labels should be used with symbols depends on the intended reader.

Flowsheets, like other figures, should usually be enclosed in a ruled border, and the title and the figure number centered at the bottom, inside the border.

Organization charts are very similar to flowsheets. Rectangular figures represent the units of an organization; connecting lines, as well as relative position on the sheet, indicate the relationship of units. Good layout requires that the figures be large enough so that a lettered or typed label can be plainly and legibly set down inside them, and they must be far enough apart so that the page will not be crowded.

Colored flowsheets and organization charts are effective for popular presentation. Like the pictograph, such color charts require the services of trained artists and draftsmen.

Map Charts

The map chart is useful in depicting geographic or spatial distribution. Recording suitable unit symbols on a conventional or simplified map or differentiated area of any sort makes it. It is particularly important in a map chart that the symbols and lettering be clear and easy to read. Geographic maps suitable for use in making map charts are readily available from commercial suppliers.


Drawings and diagrams are especially valuable for showing principles and relationships that might be obscured in a photograph, but of course, they are sometimes used instead of photographs simply because they are usually easier and less expensive to prepare. A photograph, on the other hand, can supply far more concreteness and realism than drawings or diagrams. We are using the terms “drawing” and “diagram” loosely to refer to anything from a simple electronic circuit diagram to an elaborate structural blueprint or a pictorial representation of a complex mechanical device.

Parts of drawings should be plainly labeled so as to make textual reference clear and meaningful. If the drawing is of a simple device with but few parts, the names of the parts may be spelled out on the drawing itself, with designating arrows. If the drawing is of a complex device, with a large number of parts, letter symbols or numbers with an accompanying key should be used. Figure number and title should be centered at the bottom, inside the border if one is used. If a source-reference is necessary it should appear in the lower right-hand corner.

Photographs should be taken or chosen with special attention to how prominently the elements important to your discussion stand out. Very often this principle necessitates the use of an artificial background. A cluttered background distracts attention, not infrequently producing the impression that the photograph was originally intended as a puzzle, with a price for anybody who could find gear B.

Glossy prints are better than flat prints because of their greater effectiveness in reproducing highlights and shadings. Each reproduced print should have an attractive margin of white space. If smaller than page size, prints may be satisfactorily mounted by use of rubber cement. Rubber cement has fewer tendencies than paste or glue to wrinkle the page.

The figure number and title, as well as explanatory data, should be put directly on full-page photographs in black or white ink.


The table is a convenient method of presenting a large body of precise quantitative data in an easily understood form. Tables are read from the top down in the first column and to the right. The first, or left column normally lists the independent variable and the columns to the right list dependent variables. The table should be designed so as to be self-explanatory, but textual comments on it should be made according to the same principles that apply to the use of a chart.

To make a table easy to read, you should leave ample white space in and about it. If the table appears on a page on which there is also typed text, triple-space above and below the table. Leave a generous amount of space between columns and between the items in a column. The title and the table number should appear at the top. It is advisable to use Arabic numerals for the table number if Roman numerals have been used in the same report for numbering other kinds of graphic aids, or vice versa.

In separating parts of the table from one another- that is, one column from another, or one horizontal section from another- use single lines in most instances; but where you wish to give special emphasis to a division, use a double line. Some people make it a practice to use a double line across the top of the table, under the title. Usually a single line should be drawn across the bottom of the table. The sides may be boxed or left open, as seems most pleasing. But we will add this: in case of doubt as to whether a ruling should be used at any given point in the table, leave it out. More harm will probably be done by too many lines than by too few, provided ample white space has been left.

A heading should be written for each column, with the initial letter of important words capitalized. The headings should be written horizontally if possible, but if that would se too much space, they may be written vertically. Indicate units in the heading so that the units will not have to be noted in the column. If you have data in different systems of units, you should convert all to the same system before entering them in the table.

If the data in the table are not original, acknowledge their source in a footnote just below the bottom horizontal line of the table. Instead of using a superscript number in the table to refer to the footnote, use a letter symbol (Roman), an asterisk, or some other convenient symbol. Tabular footnotes, that is, notes that refer to specific items in the table itself, should be placed between the bottom line of the table and the source note, if one is needed. Tabular footnotes may be keyed with the asterisk or a Roman superscript letter, whichever is not being used in the source note.


Graphic aids in their simpler forms are easier to prepare and easy to understand. In either their simple or more complex forms, they often convey information or provide dramatic emphasis with an effectiveness that would be difficult or impossible to achieve in writing. On the other hand, if they are relied on too much they may become a hindrance rather than help.


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