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Communication Skills, Report Writing, and Courtroom Testimony for Forensic Analysts

Flow and Style

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National Institute of Justice (NIJ) (see reuse policy).

The issue of flow of material poses difficulties for many writers of technical information. One problem is we tend to think that each topic is separate and apart from the whole, concentrating our efforts on communicating each item individually. This problem is exacerbated by the use of multiple authors who are experts on various portions but have no concept of the other issues. The simplest resolution to this difficulty may be to have one author or an outside editor work on the connections among sections of the document. Smooth transitions between major headings often summarize what has been said and set the stage for the information to come. To the extent possible, creating some excitement and anticipation that causes readers to want to continue reading is optimal. Remember the articles and books (including fiction) that best captured your attention. For the most part, these pieces were stimulating, comprehensible, and compelling.

Technical writing may seem the antithesis of style, but that does not mean readers ask less of your documents. Stylistic considerations include many of the issues mentioned previously and require writers or editors to consider clarity of major points, flow within and among key sections and topics, and readability to lay audiences. Flowery language and verbosity are inappropriate, but too terse a presentation may leave readers wanting. A larger problem is reliance upon scientific idioms that are well known within the professional domain but are off-putting to persons who do not share the same academic background. Thus, the individual who works on flow can also edit the manuscript for a common and consistent use of language that is appropriate to your audience. A much-used tactic to support this process is to have people outside the boundaries of the profession read the material and give additional feedback about clarity, flow, and readability.

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