Writing Across the Curriculum, NIU


| Report Guidelines | Tips for Writing Descriptions | Formatting |

Technical Report Guidelines

Developed by Mark Waters

Oftentimes, a report can be developed from an earlier proposal. The problem analysis, literature review, and research aims and objectives of your proposal can be adapted to the
introduction of your report. The report, however, should reflect what you've learned from your research.

The organizational structure below is a guide for writing your report. However, you will need additional headings and subheadings to help focus your work and direct your readers.

Front Matter

Title Page


Your title should be informative and concise. It should contain "keywords" that readers would use if searching an index for a paper on this subject.

Table of Contents


Both a table of contents and a list of titles and page numbers of any figures used are recommended for reports in excess of ten pages.

Abstract / Executive Summary


In one page or less, explain (1) what you researched, (2) how you went about it (i.e., method), and (3) what you found out.

Body

Introduction

Readers of a report need to know why this research is important to them. To accomplish this, your report should announce the topic and explain the significance of your research.

Announce Topic
This can be done in the first sentence of the introduction. (For the past six months, Technology Inc. has been developing an assembly line safety system which will eliminate worker injuries without hampering production.)

Explain Significance of Your Research
1. Relevant Benefits: Explain what problem your research will solve, improvement it will make, or need it will fulfill (e.g., reduce costs, improve safety, increase production, etc.). To do this, you must first explain the current problem or need and then describe how your research set out to improve this situation.

2. Literature Review: Involves (a) presenting main pieces of knowledge communicated in literature about your subject and (b) identifying some significant gap in this knowledge--the gap your research will fill.

The introductory information above gives readers necessary background information for understanding your report.

Objectives

A report must supply readers with criteria for measuring the success of your project. This is done by stating your project's objectives, including the final goal and significant steps involved in achieving this goal.

Outlining objectives sets the scope of your document. At no point should you be discussing information that does not clearly relate to these objectives. Furthermore, readers should always be aware of this relationship.

Method

Detailing your method (how you went about achieving your objectives) helps persuade readers that your research design was sound. It is often necessary to discuss why you chose one particular method or procedure over another.

Results

Results are the heart of your report, but they may take up only a small bit of space. Generally they are presented in two ways:

1. Tables and Graphs (must be referenced in text--e.g., "see graph 4.2").

2. Prose (see "Combining Results and Discussion" below).

Discussion

Reports must not only present data but must interpret this data. Results and discussion of those results can be treated separately or integrated into one section. If combined, your headings and subheadings should make this clear to readers. Either way, the discussion must link interpretive comments with corresponding results.

Combining Results and Discussion When results are presented in prose only--rather than graphs and charts--begin paragraphs with general interpretations of data. Then, cite relevant results as evidence in support of the interpretation.

In studies of several assembly line arrangements, machine group B demonstrated the greatest positive impact on production. For example, during the two-week test period, group B completed 55 units compared to only 44 and 31 units from machine groups A and C, respectively.

Separate Results and Discussion When commenting in the "Discussion" section, refer to corresponding results shown on tables or other visual aids when appropriate.

As Table 4 shows, radio transmissions were only 51% successful with model A. Considering the need for radio communication in the mountainous terrain, this model proved inadequate for the trucking company's needs.

Conclusions

Conclusions explain the significance of your results as they relate to your original objectives and research problem.

Discuss whether or not your project achieved its intended goal, and account for any discrepancies. You might also compare your results with those of similar studies, assessing the impact of your findings on the state of current research.

Recommendations

A report must ultimately recommend a course of action. The "Recommendations" section should include general as well as specific suggestions dealing with both the task at hand as well as future research.

Recommendations for future studies might stem from the limitations in your own research. For example, a report dealing with developing a satellite communication system for a specific topographical region might suggest that later research adapt the system to regions with different topographies.

Back Matter

Bibliography / References

(future link to ENG Home Page "Citing Sources")

List the sources of any information you've used.

Appendices

Present (1) data tabulations, (2) derivations of equations, (3) sample calculations, (4) visuals, and (5) other supporting material in your appendices.

Tips For Writing Technical Descriptions

(1) Present the whole before the parts. In describing a new concept, a new device, or a new procedure, describe the essence, the function, the purpose of the concept, device, or procedure--considered as a whole--before confronting the reader with details. Move from general to specific.

(2) Try always to proceed from the familiar to the unfamiliar.

(3) Present tense vs. past tense.

(4) Avoid first-person language (I, we, us, me).

(5) Use technical language, not colloquial language.

Formatting

(1) Headings: Headings help organize material as well as guide readers toward information they need. Do not use "Front Matter," "Body," or "Back Matter" as headings.

General headings such as "Introduction," "Method," "Results," and etc. provide an organizational structure for reports but are too vague to lend much reader guidance in longer documents.

Subheadings: Subheadings should be used to identify bodies of significant information throughout reports. For example, you may use a subheading for each objective in the "Objectives" section. Conversely, you may combine the general sections. Often, for instance, objectives are listed as subheadings of the general "Introduction" section.

(2) Document Length: There are no standard page lengths for documents. Some assignment lengths, however, are dictated by instructors.

In general, be brief. Do not simply chronicle your research by listing all data and acquired information (a report is not a research journal). Provide only information that readers need to understand your conclusions.

(3) Line Spacing: All theses, reports, term papers, and proposals should be double-spaced between lines.

(4) Paragraph Spacing.

(5) Documenting Sources (Future Link to ENG Home Pg. "Citing Sources")

(6) Consult the NIU Graduate School writing manual.