5WH Questions

Refers to six questions (five "w" questions and one "h" question: who, what, where, when, why, how?) used to generate writing and topic ideas.


Typically found in scientific and academic articles, content tends to mirror IMRaD structure of paper. Summarizes important ideas using key terms which may be more easily found in database searches.

Active indicative

A strong verb form written in the present tense, has a subject carrying out the verb, and is true (rather than imagined). For instance, “They go to the park.”


Principle of graphic design where elements, such as graphics and text blocks, are lined up, either by the edge of the element or through an invisible center line through the elements.


Process of breaking something larger down into its smaller parts.


Illustration that uses movement to simulate a process, operation, or incident.


A supplementary section to a document that provides information that a reader may wish to consult but is either not crucial enough or too large to be included in the body of the document.


Intended or potential consumer(s) of a text.


Perceived credibility of a document based on the creator(s) reputation, the research discussed in the document, and the document’s presentation. See also: ethos.

Bar graph

Two-dimensional graphic that uses horizontal bars to compare and contrast two or more subjects at the same point in time, or compares change over time. See also: column graph

Block format

Textual formatting style where text is left aligned and single spaced with a line space between paragraphs.

Boolean operators

Terms used when searching in a search engine or database, including AND, OR, and NOT, that expand or limit the search.

Bottom Line on Top (BLOT)

A useful acronym to help you remember how to structure a paragraph.

Box heads

Headings used at the top of each column in a table.


Prewriting technique used to generate and organize ideas.


Giving of something in return for an expected favor, consideration, or privilege.


Boxes created by intersecting rows and columns in a spreadsheet.

Cherry picking

Use of inadequate or unrepresentative data that only supports one position and ignores substantial amounts of data that contradicts it.

Chronological résumé

Traditional résumé format whose principal and most-developed section is the Employment Experience, where jobs are listed in reverse chronological order with most recent jobs listed first.


Timeline or sequence of events.


Organization process where a larger text is portioned into smaller “chunks” or focused paragraphs.

Citing a Source

Method of documenting a source by providing information on the creator(s) of the material and the publication in which it appears.


Method of data analysis common to the social sciences where a researcher reviews transcripts of interview data and assigns specific categories to it.


Use of power or force to compel action.


Practice of working together at one or more stages of a project.


Information or a group of cells arranged vertically in a table or spreadsheet.

Column graph

Graph that shows data in vertical columns. See also: bar graph.

Comparative analysis

Method of data analysis where two or more data sets, objects, texts, or processes are compared.

Complex sentence

Sentence that includes one independent clause and at least one dependent clause.

Compound sentence

Sentence that contains at least two independent clauses, either joined by a comma and a coordinating conjunction or a semicolon.

Compound-complex sentence

Sentence that contains at least two independent clauses and at least one dependent clause.


Persuasive strategy where a speaker or writer acknowledges (or concedes) that certain opposing arguments have some validity, but this acknowledgment does not negate the writer’s argument.

Confirmation bias

Type of bias that occurs when someone seeks out and uses information that only confirms their current opinion.


Person external to a project who has no ownership or responsibility for producing content, but who offers content and process-related feedback.


Material, such as words or images, included within a text.


Surrounding factors that impact a document’s creation and presentation.


Design principle where components of a document are formatted differently to visually reinforce relationships between sections, including the hierarchical importance of information.

Controlled vocabulary

Specified terminology to describe information.

Coordinating conjunction

Part of speech that combines grammatically and logically equivalent items. The seven major coordinating conjunctions in English are for, and, nor, but, or, yet, and so.


In writing, when two or more grammatically alike items are joined together with a coordinating conjunction to make them of equal importance.

Corporate bias

Type of media bias that occurs when a news agency, media conglomerate, or accreditation agency privileges the interests of its ownership or financial backing, such as an employee, client, or advertiser.


Exchange of messages between two or more people.

Cost/benefit analysis

Method of data analysis that compares something’s cost versus other measurable benefits it will create.


The quantitative and qualitative categories and standards used to evaluate something. (singular: criterion)


Protection of web-based electronic information and infrastructure.


In academic research, a curated collection of full text, abstracts, and/or bibliographic information of journals and journal articles.


Use of lies, partial truths, or the omission of relevant information to mislead an audience


Final product that a team can pass on to another team, to executives and administrators, to consumers, or to the public.


Person engaging the audience in communication.

Dependent/subordinate clauses

Group of words that contains a subject and predicate, but cannot function as a complete thought or sentence on its own.


Graphic that identifies the parts of a subject and their spatial or functional relationship rather than showing how it looks in real life.


Word choice.

Document management

Approaches used to maintain version control of a document.

DOI (Digital Object Identifier)

An assigned alpha-numeric string that uniquely identifies a digital text.

Dunning-Kruger Effect

Tendency of those with low ability or knowledge of a topic to overestimate their competency in that topic.


Making changes focused on low-order concerns, such as grammar, word choice, and syntax.


Person responsible for the overall content production of the writer, who may make structure, style, and content changes.


Tools used in a procedure.

Ethnic prejudice

Microaggressions and macroaggressions focused on a group’s shared culture.


The persona that a deliverer emphasizes in any communication. This emphasized persona typically consists of qualifications, experience, expertise, and wisdom (whether yours or others’) in an attempt to build readers’ confidence in you and your document.

Executive summary

Summarizes the key facts and conclusions contained in the report. Typically found in business reports, they provide some description of the subject and how it was investigated for the sake of context, but executive summaries emphasize results and recommendations above all else. Meant to be read instead of the full report by certain audiences.


Scientific research method that tests hypotheses and verifies previous results.

Explicit bias

Conscious beliefs usually held or expressed about a group of people; can be positive or negative.


Person external to a team who leads the team through processes but doesn’t give content-related feedback.

Fair use

Copyright principle that allows for certain public uses of works still under copyright.


Visual elements in a text, such as graphs, charts, diagrams, photos, that are not tables.

Film clip

Visual that depicts a process, operation, or incident using motion and realistic detail.

Flow chart

Graphic that uses connected boxes to show the sequence of steps in a process or procedure.


Incomplete sentence that lacks an independent clause.


Brainstorming exercise in which a creator writes freely about a topic for a set amount of time to generate ideas.

Front Matter

Paratextual components of a document that appear before the content of that document. These components may include title pages, tables of contents, and copyright information.

Gantt chart

Graphic that visually depicts timelines of tasks within a planned project; commonly used in proposals and progress reports.

Gender bias

Bias that privileges words and experiences of a particular gender over others.

Genre system/set

Intersecting genres that facilitate a particular kind of work.


How the deliverer is transmitting the message and employing the conventions that accompany that textual form (text can refer to a variety of media, not just written forms)


Unofficial, informal communication network within an organization.

Hostile Media Effect

Tendency of those with strong opinions or beliefs to assume that the mass media is against them, in favor of the counter point of view

human subjects research

Research that involves data collection from other human beings. Methods of data collection include surveys, interviews, observations, and analyzing collected documents from human participants.

Hybrid/combination résumé

Résumé style that uses elements of both the chronological and skills resume styles.

Idea mapping

Brainstorming technique that uses circles, lines, and arrows to visualize ideas; also called clustering or webbing.

Implicit bias

Unconscious or underlying beliefs, associations, or stereotypes held about a group of people; can be positive or negative.


Acronym for a common scientific report structure: Introduction, Materials and Methods, Results, and Discussion.

In-text citation

Type of citation where a source’s identifying information is included within the body text of a document. Common examples include parenthetical citations and signal phrases.

Independent clause

Group of words that contain both a subject and a predicate, and can function as an independent idea and sentence.

Intentional bias

Selection of information to support a position while framing negatively or ignoring any information that might challenge that belief.


Research method involving data collection by asking questions one-on-one or in small groups.


Particularly favorable moment for an action or decision to occur.

Known-New Principle

Also known as the Old/New Contract. When a writer starts with information that the audience knows and then adds on new information.

Lab reports

Scientific report that documents an experimental process conducted in a laboratory.

Letter of transmittal

Introductory letter at the beginning of a formal report signalling the movement of the report from the creators to a (usually administrative) reader.

Life-cycle analysis

Determines overall sustainability of a product or process, from manufacturing, through lifetime use, to disposal.

Line graph

Shows the degree and direction of change relative to two variables; compares items over time, shows frequency or distribution, or shows correlations.

List of figures, tables, and/or illustrations

Ordered list, similar to a table of contents, that provides page numbers for the graphics in a document.


Brainstorming technique where a writer creates a list or lists that include multiple examples of a topic or subject.

literature review

A comprehensive survey of scholarly literature (including books, peer-reviewed articles, and other documents based on the discipline) that evaluates and synthesizes key findings and developments related to a specific topic. Often included as part of report or study, but longer literature reviews may be published as articles on their own.

Logos (Logical Appeal)

Rhetorical appeal that uses reason, logic, and factual evidence to support claims; preferred method of persuasion in technical and professional communication.


Management of facts, ideas, or points of view in order to play upon inherent insecurities or emotional appeals to one’s own advantage.

Meeting Agenda

Outlines main points for discussion at a meeting.

Mid-level revisions and editing

In editing and revising, refers to concerns that occur between large structural issues and small, detailed issues.


Professional document that records topics, decisions, and other relevant information discussed in a meeting.

mixed method

Type of research that combines quantitative and qualitative research methods.


Noun form of a verb.

Nonverbal Communication

Communication that uses gestures rather than words to convey meaning. It can include gestures and facial expressions, tone of voice, timing, posture, and where you stand as you communicate.

Noun stacks

Group of nouns placed in close proximity to each other.

On-site research

Research method where data is collected at a primary physical location as opposed to in a laboratory or through documents.

Organization chart

Graphic that maps the divisions and levels of responsibility or hierarchy within an organization.


Prewriting technique where the structure of a document is presented in organized headings.

Page design

Arrangement of visual elements such as columns, typography, and graphics on a page.

Parallel writing: horizontal division

Method of collaborative writing where collaborators work in parallel but distribute writing assignments randomly.

Parallel writing: stratified division

Method of collaborative writing where collaborators work in parallel but distribute writing assignments based on talents or skills.


A significant rewording and syntactical reorganization of a specific passage from a source. Smaller in scope than summarizing.

Passive voice

Grammatical structure where the receiver of an action is the main subject.

Pathos (emotional appeal)

Rhetorical appeal where the deliverer rouses emotions such as fear, anger, sympathy, or pride to persuade the audience of a claim. In technical and professional writing, pathos may more commonly appear as an appeal to shared motivations, goals, or values.

Peer review

Editorial practice where at least one person of equal status to the creator reviews a text with the aim of recommending improvement.


Group of similar steps within a single-task procedure.


Graphic that shows what a subject looks like in realistic detail or shows it being used.

Pie chart

Circular graphic that uses “slices” to represent the number and relative size of the divisions of a subject and show relation of those divisions to the whole.


Use of words, thoughts, or ideas that belong to someone else without attribution.


Part of speech that conveys the action or state of being expressed in the sentence.

primary research
Primary sources

Data from research you conducted yourself in lab experiments and product testing, or through surveys, observations, measurements, interviews, site visits, prototype testing, or beta testing. Primary sources can also be published statistical data, historical records, legal documents, firsthand historical accounts, and original creative works.


Whole set of activities that instructions are intended to discuss.

Process analysis

Studies each aspect of a process to determine if all parts and steps work efficiently together to create the desired outcome.

Progress report

Report that updates the audience and relevant stakeholders on the status of a project.

Project manager

A person on a team who acts as the hub for communication and tasks. This person helps provide direction and guidance for the team.


Design concept that states that elements more closely related to each other conceptually are more closely positioned to each other on the page.

Pure summary

Gives an overview of main points and information. Often used simply to introduce a larger document or speech and to provide some initial signposting to help the audience navigate it.


In rhetoric, a deliverer’s goal in relation to the topic and for addressing the audience.


Word-based data that is used to describe data collected.


Numerically-based data used to measure, make comparisons, examine relationships, and test hypotheses.

Racial bias

Bias that privileges words and experiences of a particular race over others. Racism can manifest in both macroaggressions and microaggressions.

Reactive writing strategy

Collaborative writing strategy where collaborators create, review, and revise a document in real time, without much pre planning or explicit coordination.


The formula whereby words, sentence length, and sentence complexity determine how hard or easy your sentences are to read.


Response to a counterargument.

Reference list

Section of a research-based document that includes all bibliographic information for any sources used in the document.


Method of incorporating sources in a document where just the source is mentioned as an example of a larger point or grouping.


Technique of providing information in words or visuals again and again.

Request for proposals (RFP)

Professional document created by an organization or company that asks individuals for proposals in response to a specific situation or problem.


Systematic process of finding out more about something than you already know, ideally so that you can prove a hypothesis, produce new knowledge and understanding, and make evidence-based decisions.

Research methods

Techniques of collecting, sorting, and analyzing information.


Person, internal or external, who provides specific content feedback but is not responsible for making changes.


Attention and changes made to higher-order concerns, such as purpose, content, and structure.

Rhetorical situation

Circumstances that surround and affect an instance of communication.


Different duties or responsibilities of members of a group or study.


Horizontal line of cells in a spreadsheet, table, or graph.


Writing error that occurs  when multiple independent clauses appear in one sentence without appropriate punctuation or conjunctions.

Secondary sources

Sources that discuss, interpret, analyze, consolidate, or otherwise rework information from primary sources.


Considered to be a seventh ethical principle; certain information that needs to be encrypted (according to law or company policy).

Sentence case

Capitalization structure wherein the writer capitalizes only the first word, any proper nouns or adjectives, and the first word after a colon or period.

Sentence-level editing

In editing and revising, issues or concerns that appear at the sentence or word levels.

Sequential writing strategy

Each member is in charge of writing a specific part and write in sequence.

Signal phrases

Body text that introduces attribution information to quoted, paraphrased, and summarized material.


Key words that alert the audience to a change in topic, a tangential explanation, an example, or a conclusion.

simple sentence

Sentence that includes one independent clause.

Simple sentences

Sentences that have one main clause (one subject + one verb) and any number of phrases.


Experiment that tests hypotheses and solutions in a virtual setting that approximates the real world.

Single-author writing strategy

One member writes for the entire group.

Skills Résumé

Résumé style that organizes information by skills as opposed to paid employment history.

Spoken headings

Verbal signposts that indicate movement from one subtopic to the next, or announce new subtopic.


People who are invested in the business/project/team and have an interest in the outcome.

Status Report or Status Update

Records the completed tasks and work left to complete (see Chapter 19).


Set of instructions to perform a task.

Structure-level revisions

Paying attention specifically to “big picture” items such as informational value, internal organization, and topic sentences.


Headings used on the leftmost side of each row in a table.


Main topic or focus of a text.

Subject headings

Headings carefully organized in a hierarchy intended to help researchers both broaden and narrow their search terms.

Subordinating conjunction

Part of speech that opens a subordinate clause (examples: since, because, although, despite, etc.).


Putting one item lower (or subordinating it) to another.


Consolidating large chunks of information from a source and expressing it in your own words.  In certain contexts, a summary may also refer to a short overview of the main contents of a report. This overview is a front matter section usually intended for a different audience than the main body of the report. See also Pure Summary, Abstract, and Executive Summary.


Items consumed or used in a procedure.


Surveys are a form of questioning that is less flexible than interviews, as the questions are set ahead of time and cannot be changed. Surveys can be in print format or delivered electronically. This method can reach much larger groups of people than interviews, but results in less detailed responses.

Sustainability analysis

Form of data analysis that focuses on whether a product or process is environmentally, economically, and socially sustainable.


Word order.


Graphic composed of rows and columns, which in turn create boxes or cells.


Semi-independent group of actions within a procedure.

Task approach

Instructions that focus on tasks.

Task schedule

Allows team members to plan tasks and their subtasks, as well as distribute responsibilities.


Group of people who come together to work in an interrelated manner towards a common goal.

Team charter

Document that establishes rules and expectations for a group working together.

team intelligence

Refers to the way teams collectively have more knowledge and skill than the single individuals working separately.

Team writing

Also called collaborative writing; writing practice where multiple individuals work together to plan, write, and revise a writing project.

Tertiary sources

Reference sources that provide a consolidation of primary and secondary information such as dictionaries, encyclopedias, and handbooks.

Title case

Capitalization structure where all major words are capitalized.

Tools approach

Instructions focus on tools.


Subject of a deliverer’s communication to the audience, as well as how the subject is framed and defined.


Words or phrases that indicate the relationship between ideas, sentences, and paragraphs.

Umbrella term

Broad search term that includes a number of narrower concepts.

Venn diagram

Graphic that uses overlapping circles or ovals to illustrate overlapping concepts.


Occurs when a member of an organization (usually someone of lower rank) reports pervasive unethical activity (usually committed by someone of higher rank).

Work Log

Records the tasks and time spent for each team member.


Person who is responsible for writing a portion of the content.


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Howdy or Hello? Technical and Professional Communication Copyright © 2022 by Matt McKinney, Kalani Pattison, Sarah LeMire, Kathy Anders, and Nicole Hagstrom-Schmidt is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.