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Quad chart

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A quad chart is a form of technical documentation used to briefly describe an invention or other innovation through writing, illustration and/or photographs.[1] Such documents are described as "quad" charts because they are divided into four quadrants laid out on a landscape perspective.[2][3][4] They are typically one-page only; their succinctness facilitates rapid decision-making.[5] Though shorter, quad charts often serve in a similar capacity to white papers and the two documents are often requested alongside one another.


Quad charts as a genre were developed by the United States Department of Commerce's National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in an attempt to improve budgeting and planning systems, and became widely used in the Administration's National Weather Service.[5] The genre's development was parallel to that of display boards, also an early tool used by the NWS for staff communication.

In the early 2000s, software was developed to allow automated creation of quad charts as a means of saving time for technical writers who would otherwise spend long periods of time drafting them.[citation needed]


Both government agencies and large businesses often require submission of a quad chart on the part of potential contractors as part of the contract bidding process.[6][7] NASA, for example, uses quad charts to document the process of all Small Business Innovation Research projects.[8] Because decision makers often review a large volume of both solicited and unsolicited proposals, the quad chart may be the only submission from a potential contractor which the decision maker actually reads.[4]

Due to the nature of quad charts as relatively short documents, there are opportunities for misuse. While quad charts are intended for brief overviews of a topic, they can also be misconstrued to influence public policy and budgeting decisions, as was the case with the politicization of the National Defense Strategy's 2005 edition.[9]


While there are no industry-wide standards for quad charts, there are a number of common elements. In addition to the title of the invention or idea and the name of the developer, the technical approach and the need which the invention or idea addresses are often included.[4] Decision makers often look to operational needs first, though including the cost and projected schedule are also often required elements.


  1. ^ Quad Charts Archived March 30, 2013, at the Wayback Machine at the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory official website. British Ministry of Defence. Accessed February 19, 2013.
  2. ^ NASA Technical Memorandum, Issues 4192-4200, pg. 3. Ames Research Center, 1990.
  3. ^ Bob Paladino, Innovative Corporate Performance Management: Five Key Principles to Accelerate Results, pg. 300. Hoboken: John Wiley & Sons, 2011. ISBN 9780470627730
  4. ^ a b c James E. Driskell and Jennifer King, "Conducting Applied Experimental Research." Taken from Laboratory Experiments in the Social Sciences, part three, pg. 341. Eds. Murray Webster and Jane Sell. Waltham: Academic Press, 2007. ISBN 9780123694898
  5. ^ a b Government Accountability Office report to the United States House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, Managing for results enhancing agency use of performance information for management decision making[permanent dead link], pg. 28. GAO-05-927, September 2005.
  6. ^ Quad Chart, Defense Threat Reduction Agency. Accessed February 19, 2013.
  7. ^ Engagement at Centre for Defence Enterprise. Accessed February 19, 2013.
  8. ^ The United States National Research Council's An Assessment of the Small Business Innovation Research Program at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, pg. 120. Washington, D.C.: National Academies Press, 2009. ISBN 9780309124423
  9. ^ Nathan P. Freier, "Present at the Counterrevolution: An Essay on the 2005 National Defense Strategy and Its Impact on Policy." Taken from the United States Army War College Guide to National Security Issues, Volume 2: National Security Policy and Strategy, pgs. 120-121. Ed. J. Boone Bartholomees, Jr. 4th ed. July 2010.

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