MEEN 363 Technical Memorandum (TM)


TO:            MEEN 363  Students

FROM:        Class instructor

Subject:     Writing Technical Memos – FORMAT for REPORTS
(Computational Assignments)

Date:         August 30, 2011



This memorandum explains (and demonstrates) how to write a technical memorandum (TM). Webster’s defines a memorandum as a “usually brief communication written for interoffice circulation . . . a communication that contains directive, advisory, or informative matter”. Adding the adjective “technical” implies a certain degree of structure both in format and content. A TM is a concise and well written communication approximately three to six pages long[1] that:

defines a task,

specifies the objectives of the task,

identifies and outlines a solution method and/or an experimental procedure,

reports and discusses the results of implementing the solution and/or the estimated parameters from the measurements, and

provides conclusions and recommendations.


It is often necessary to include an informal appendix (sometimes handwritten) containing the data, sample calculations, etc. to support statements made in 4 and 5. Description of the various parts of a TM follow.



The heading should follow the format of this memo. The tech memo must be dated. (All correspondence, analysis, etc. should be dated.) The heading of a memo contains parts for “TO”, “FROM”, and “SUBJECT”. The TO part identifies the recipient of the memo by name and title, i.e. Dr. San Andrés or responsible TA. The FROM part identifies you by name and course/section number; e.g., Joe Studious, Student. The SUBJECT part is equivalent to a title and tells what the memo is about as completely and concisely as possible.



Concisely define the task in terms of the objectives of the assignment and specify any restrictions/constraints. Summarize the major findings, conclusions and difficulties found. Sound engineering practice demands a precise usage of technical terms and short sentence structure. This is not an introduction; do not give a lot of background and motivation. The recipient of the TM is knowledgeable about your work and you do not need to explain to him/her why you are doing it. You must explain exactly what you are going to do, but you do not need to give the motivation for the project. (The total length of this section should not exceed 200 words).



Describe the method you used to solve the problem (theoretical, experimental, or both) including any major assumptions, derivation of important equations, and/or experimental procedures. Describe the physics of the problem, show assumptions for the physical model and the governing equations of motion, including boundary and initial conditions. Provide a concise nomenclature to follow.

This section almost always requires some sketches or drawings, i.e. figures. The main text should always refer to the figures before they appear. The writer needs to explain the items depicted with attention to trends and important characteristics. Figures should be referred in the text in ascending number and accompanied by meaningful and explanatory captions. Figures with multiple curves should have clear symbols (and keywords) differentiating them.



Here you must describe in a logical manner the procedures for analysis, exact or numerical, for example. Provide statements on the validity of the solution procedure highlighting advantages or shortcomings. For numerical solutions, you must provide statements on the accuracy, convergence and stability of the results.



All results are to be presented in the units of actual measurement or calculation, either English or SI, with final values in alternative units given in parenthesis.

Present the calculated results in a form best suited to help the reader understand their significance in light of the stated objectives. This will usually be graphs or curves, supplemented by tables highlighting identified (measured) or calculated values. Present all of the significant findings of the study and explain any important observations, trends, or limitations. Discuss how these observations (results) will lead to your final and important conclusions.



Always state your conclusions. Conclusion must address the purpose of the assignment. Some students (and professionals) do not want to risk making erroneous conclusions so they waffle on stating conclusions. For example, they may list several possible conclusions, but leave it up to the reader to choose one. You are educated and qualified to analyze the data (results) and draw conclusions from it. As a future engineer, your boss will think enough of your qualifications to pay you a good salary, and he/she expects conclusions and sound recommendations. The only exception is the case in which the data does not support a conclusion; and in this exceptional case, the method used is inadequate for the purpose and you should so state.



List all references in your main text according to the ASME format, see:


Please remember that you will become a mechanical engineer. It is good practice to learn the guidelines for writing established by your professional society.


In general, a reference must contain the authors’ names (last-first initial), year of publication, title, journal or periodical name, volume and page numbers. All material found on the internet (URL or web sites) must be clearly acknowledged, including any graphs copied.



Your main report MUST NOT include a copy of your computer program. In particular, inserting MAPLE or MATLAB printouts is NOT allowed. A computer program OUTPUT may be included as an APPENDIX and must contain detailed text or comments for any reader to understand your important work.

Figures and Tables should always be inserted AFTER text citing them. In particular, Figures and Tables must contain COMPLETE captions, i.e. descriptive titles (full sentences). Labels in Figures (X,Y axes) must display appropriate physical units, for example, X: distance [meter], Y: acceleration [meter/s2]. Point deductions will be taken for incomplete figures and tables.

Most technical papers and reports are written in the third person, i.e. they are impersonal. Reports with statements such as “We did” or “I have found,” are NOT good for professional practice. Incidentally, avoid writing with passive voice and in the past tense, it is bad English!



The Elements of Style, by W. Strunk and E.B. White:

"Vigorous writing is concise. A sentence should contain no unnecessary words, a paragraph no unnecessary sentences, for the same reason that a drawing should not have unnecessary lines and a machine no unnecessary parts. This requires NOT that the writer makes all his sentences short, or that he avoids all detail and treats his subjects only in outline, but that every word tells."


From The Real Thing, by Tom Stoppard

Words are innocent, neutral, precise, standing for this, describing that, meaning the other, so if you look after them you can build bridges across incomprehension and chaos. But when they get their corners knocked off, they are no good anymore.

I don’t think writers are sacred, but words are. They deserve respect. If you get the right ones in the right order, you can nudge the world a little or make a poem which children will speak for you when you’re dead.


[1] Type font should be maximum 11 points, 1 ½ spaces and with 1 inch margins in 8 ½ by 11 inch pages.