FACULTY OF ENGINEERING SCIENCE. Written and oral reporting Guidelines for engineering students

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1 FACULTY OF ENGINEERING SCIENCE Written and oral reporting Guidelines for engineering students

2

3 Contents 1 Written communication Basic steps in the writing process Report writing: structure and content Title Abstract Table of contents Lists of tables, figures and graphs Introduction Body Conclusion References Appendices Report writing: language and style Writing style Written language Structure Tables, figures and graphs Symbols, formulas and equations References Oral communication Preparing an oral presentation Structure and organization Verbal communication Non-verbal communication

4 1 Written communication Effective written communication is an essential part of each technical and academic assignment. It enables us to disseminate findings and conclusions of our research and to maximize its impact. Writing a good report is difficult and time consuming. For this reason, we will be addressing some fundamentals, tips and tricks as well as good and poor examples. Contents Subject Page Basic steps in the writing process 5 Report writing: structure and content 6 Report writing: language and style 16 4

5 1.1 Basic steps in the writing process Written communication is important and benefits from a strategic and methodical approach. Steps The writing process can be described in three basic steps: Step Action Guideline 1 Pre-writing your document Brainstorm, gather and outline ideas about the content of your report (what? and why?). It is equally important to consider your audience at this point (for whom?). 2 Writing your Select and organize the content of your report and document 3 Editing and revising your document determine the structure of your composition. Format your draft and finalize your report. Proofread and if needed rearrange content and make sure that tone, style and content are appropriate. Correct errors in grammar and spelling and edit to improve writing style and clarity. 5

6 1.2 Report writing: structure and content This section covers guidelines relating to the different parts of a technical text or report. 6

7 1.2.1 Title Aim Titles are designed to inform readers on the content of your work. Aim for a title that is informative and specific to your research. Make sure that your title clearly indicates and reflects the contents of the report. Effective titles 1. Titles should be concise, descriptive and specific. Specify your topic in a subtitle if possible. 2. Do not use abbreviations in titles. 3. The initial working title may not adequately reflect your actual type of study. Adjust your title at the end of your project or research if possible. 7

8 1.2.2 Abstract Aim The abstract is a brief summary of the study rationale, methodology and the main findings and conclusions of the report. Make sure to highlight in which way your paper is making a contribution to the field. Writing an effective abstract 1. An abstract should be self-contained. Do not copy your introduction in your abstract. An introduction is merely introducing your paper, while the abstract is summarizing the whole paper and its conclusions. 2. Although some terminology will be inevitable, ensure that your abstract is written accessibly. 3. Do not include general background information in your abstract. As abstracts should contain a limited number of words (400 or less), they should convey the essential information found in your paper. 4. Do not include tables and figures in an abstract, unless stated otherwise. 5. Do not cite references in an abstract, unless stated otherwise. 6. Leave writing your abstract to the end of your project or research, as you will have a clearer picture of your main findings and conclusions at that point. 8

9 1.2.3 Table of contents Aim The purpose of the table of contents is to give an overview of the subject matter and the structure of the report, so that readers can easily jump to a specific part of the text containing the information they need. The structure of the table of contents needs to be logical and transparent. Formatting a table of contents 1. Use "Contents" as a header for the table of contents. 2. Use the correct indentation: main titles (Contents, Introduction, Conclusion and Appendices) should be left-aligned and titles of sections should be indented from the left margin. For each additional level, you should set an additional indent. 3. Ensure your table of contents is structured in an orderly fashion. Make sure that titles or headings are as significant as possible. Divide all subjects in subtopics, but take into account that each subtopic could belong to only one subject of a higher level. Please note that each subtopic should have at least one other subtopic at the same level. Arrange all subtopics in a systematic manner, using a unique criterion. Use parallel structure for headings at the same level: Not How is heat generated Measurement of heat Heat transfer But Heat generation Heat measurement Heat transfer Common mistakes 1. Limit the depth of detail in a table of contents. Three (e.g ) or four (e.g ) subdivisions would suffice. 2. Make sure the table of contents contains and corresponds to the headings in the text. 9

10 1.2.4 Lists of tables, figures and graphs Aim Lists of tables, figures and graphs guide readers to find the information they are looking for in the body of the text. A list of symbols and abbreviations enables readers to quickly find the meaning of each symbol and abbreviation. For the author, writing and updating lists of symbols and abbreviations contributes to systematic notation and avoidance of double use of symbols. Placement Lists of tables, figures, graphs, symbols, formulas and abbreviations are generally provided after the table of contents. 10

11 1.2.5 Introduction Aim An introduction should capture the audience's attention. Introductions generally start by identifying and situating a problem in the existing literature. Next, introductions describe how the project or research was conducted, formulate the purpose of the research or paper and highlight in which way it is making a new contribution to the field. Finally, the introduction indicates the main points as well as the outline of the report. Do not forget to mention the relevance of the work done. Writing a strong introduction Step Element 1 Describe the problem statement and situate the problem in its wider context. If appropriate, the introduction defines key concepts and explains new concepts. 2 Frame your research within the existing literature and refer to previous work. Present a comprehensive yet brief literature review and cite the sources you have used both in the text and in a reference list. 3 Provide a brief overview of your methodology or the procedures followed. 4 Finally, indicate the outline of the report with explicit reference to the different chapters and/or sections. Common mistakes 1. An introduction is more extensive and comprehensive than an abstract. 2. In the introduction references should be carefully selected and limited to those sources that are most relevant to your research. 11

12 1.2.6 Body Aim The body of the text explains in detail how the study was conducted, reports key findings and provides evidence supporting your conclusion. Organizing the body of the text 1. Divide the main body of the text in chapters. Chapters should follow a logical outline and usually include the following three main parts: methodology, results and discussion and interpretation: Methods: describing the project (elaboration), while explaining the key working principle applied. The method section elaborates on the methodology used and makes objective arguments to justify the approach taken. Results: reporting results and analyses, focusing on key results and interpretations, acknowledging limitations and implications for the interpretation of results. The line of reasoning should be clear and well-supported and assumptions should be justified. Discussion: discussing main points in relation to the problem statement, analyzing and interpreting main findings through consistent reasoning and argumentation, eliminating alternative explanations and pointing to the significance of the results. 2. Check whether the body of the text is balanced. Long chapters could perhaps be split up in smaller chapters. If you have a few short chapters, verify whether they or not could be combined with other chapters. Organizing chapters in sections 1. Subdivide chapters in sections and do so in a systematic manner. Sections consist of associated paragraphs: lines of thought with each developing only one main idea. Check whether ideas are equally developed in each paragraph and that the length of your paragraphs is proportional to your paper. 2. Ensure appropriate titles or headings. Use parallel structures for headings at the same level, to make your text easier to understand. 3. Open each chapter with an introduction describing the procedure, main insights developed and the outline of the chapter. 4. Close each chapter with a conclusion shortly summarizing the main results. Indicate and explain the connection with other chapters in the body of the text as well as what contribution the chapter has made to the whole of the paper. 12

13 1.2.7 Conclusion Aim The main text ends with a concluding section. Remember that this section will be read by prospective readers first, therefore it should be independent of the main body of the text. Writing your conclusion Step Element 1 Recapitulate your main findings, general conclusions and contributions. 2 Briefly discuss your results if appropriate and provide an answer to the problem statement. 3 Conclude with recommendations for improvement and/or suggestions for further research. Common mistakes 1. Do not add new information to your general conclusion. 2. Relate your results to previous work, but do not include an extensive discussion. 3. Identify the limitations of the study and explain their implications for the interpretation of the results. 13

14 1.2.8 References Aim The reference section comprises a list of all sources that were cited in the text. Compiling a reference list The reference list should be alphabetical according to the first author's last name. If you use the number system, then references are listed in the order that they have been cited in the text. Difference with bibliography There is a difference between a reference section and a bibliography. A bibliography is an inventory of references you have read during a specified period. A reference list is containing only those sources of information you have used drafting the text and cited in the text. In a technical report, it is common to include a reference list instead of a bibliography. Common mistakes 1. Compile the reference list preferably as you write the body of the text. 2. Note that the reference list should always be accurate and complete. 3. If you are listing your references alphabetically, make sure that the first line of your reference is at the margin and subsequent lines are indented (e.g. 0,5 cm). 14

15 1.2.9 Appendices Aim Appendices convey important but non-essential information, such as raw data, long proofs, calculations and extensive experimental results. If they would be included in the body of the text, these could harm the readability of the text. Common mistakes 1. Appendices should always be numbered, captioned and referred to from the text. 2. Appendices should be clear and self-contained. 15

16 1.3 Report writing: language and style This section covers guidelines relating to writing style and presentation and design. 16

17 1.3.1 Writing style Aim A scientific paper is a formal text written in an impersonal, objective, neutral and professional way. The writing is concise with specific wordings and formulations. The writing should be clear as well and lead to a deeper understanding of the subject. Writing style in academic writing 1. Avoid colloquial or informal language. Eliminate all 'filler' and needless words. Biased language is not acceptable in academic writing. 2. Avoid personal or familiar language. Do not directly address the reader and do not ask rhetorical questions. Remember that the use of personal pronouns does not fit into an objective, scientific paper. 3. Avoid ambiguous, imprecise or vague words such as various', 'some', 'particular', 'numerous'. Try to avoid impersonal expressions. Be clear, concrete, specific, precise and direct. If possible, choose specific wordings which will lead to more concise writing. 4. Do not use 'wordy' expressions either. To illustrate: 'Since' or 'because' are easier to read than 'for the reason that' or 'owing to the fact that'. 'Although' is easier to read than 'despite the fact that' or 'regardless of the fact that'. 'If' is easier to read than 'in the event that'. Abbreviations and contractions 1. Limit the use of abbreviations in academic writing. Explain the abbreviations you are using. 2. Avoid contractions such as 'doesn't', 'haven't'. Always write full forms. 17

18 1.3.2 Written language Aim Scientific papers should be written with correct grammar, spelling and punctuation. Reporting numbers 1. Write out numbers at the beginning of a sentence. 2. Spell out cardinal numbers from one to nine and ordinal numbers from first to ninth. Numbers below 10 are usually written as words. Also write out hundred, thousand and million in words. Please consider the following exceptions: Write the number in numerals if numbers have been measured or calculated, followed by a unit of measurement. Usually, a space is inserted between the number and the unit. Round numbers to, for instance, two decimal places unless stated otherwise. Percentages require numerals, except when beginning a sentence. Punctuation 3. Writing correctly punctuated sentences is essential to enhance readability: Do not forget punctuation. Make sure you are using punctuation marks correctly. Do not use commas instead of full stops. To separate items in a list, use a colon. Commas are used between each item (use a semicolon if you are including the items on a separate line in the text) and end the last item in the list with a full stop. Do not use excessive punctuation. 18

19 1.3.3 Structure Introduction A scientific paper or text should have a logical structure and organization. Typically, an academic text comprises of different chapters and sections of about equal length flowing smoothly into each other. Sections consist of associated paragraphs that are carefully formatted in a consistent page lay-out. Writing paragraphs 1. Organize the text in paragraphs and ensure that paragraphs are more or less evenly distributed. 2. Structure paragraphs along a topic sentence. The topic sentence adequately describes the main idea of that paragraph. The remainder of the paragraph then develops that idea more fully. 3. Develop a paragraph in a systematic way, for instance working from general to specific or from theory to practice. 4. Be consistent in tense use throughout paragraphs. 5. Pay attention to transitions between and within paragraphs: Include transitions between paragraphs to maintain coherence. Link sentences within paragraphs using signal phrases, connecting phrases as well as reference words. Paragraphs should be coherent and presented as a whole. Possible transition words and phrases are the following: a. Indicating a purpose: in order to, so, so that,... b. Indicating a reason or cause: since, because of, due to, for,... c. Indicating a result or an effect: consequently, therefore, thus, hence,... d. Indicating more information: in addition, furthermore, besides, moreover,... e. To compare or contrast: although, however, on the other hand, in contrast,... f. To summarize or conclude: in short, in sum, in conclusion,... Sentence structures 6. Avoid complex sentence structures making your text difficult to follow. 7. Use correct, simple and compound sentences. Break up long sentences creating multiple sentences in order to improve readability. 8. Focus on one idea per sentence and emphasize the most important element. The most important agents should be used as a subject. Avoid using first person pronouns ('I', 'we') as well as personal experience in academic writing. 9. Eliminate redundancies and avoid unnecessary repetition of words. 10. Never begin a sentence with conjunctions such as 'for', 'and', 'or', 'but'. 19

20 Tenses and structures 11. Give preference to active verb forms and impersonal constructions in the simple present: An abstract, as well as a method and results section are generally written in the simple past. They are referring to what was done. An introduction, as well as a discussion and concluding section are typically written in the simple present. To refer to existing research, the present perfect is common. 12. Reduce the number of nouns and, if appropriate, try to replace nouns with their verb form. Too many nominalizations (use of nouns instead of verbs) may produce a text which is difficult to read. Example Not But In this chapter it is described how the 2D system is extended to a 3D This chapter contains the extension from a 2D system to a 3D system. system. The following results are obtained in this experiment. The experiment yields following results. Control of heavy machines,... Controlling heavy machines,... Word choice 13. Define novel or specific characters (concepts, symbols,...) on first use in the text. 14. Choose the most specific term and always use names consistently throughout your paper. In a technical or scientific paper clarity and unambiguity are of utmost importance. 20

21 1.3.4 Tables, figures and graphs Aim Use tables, figures and graphs only to display main and significant results. Tables are used to present exact values or information. To understand patterns and relationships between multiple sets of data, a graph is usually better suited. Elaboration 1. Present information only when it is of value to the reader. Each table, figure or graph should convey interesting new information and add value to the text. 2. Number every table, figure and graph in the sequence in which they will be referred to. Tables should be numbered and captioned above the table. Figures and graphs should be labelled below with their number and descriptive title. 3. Refer to every table, figure and graph included in the text by using the present tense. 4. Ensure that each reference to tables, figures and graphs cites the corresponding number. The text should highlight and interpret only two or three key results shown. 5. Cite references if applicable. Tables 6. Be consistent in font type and size. 7. Make sure column and/or row labels are clearly separated from the data, for instance by placing them in another font type (e.g. bold). Do not forget to include units of measurement. 8. Make sure that decimal numbers are aligned on the decimal point. 9. Keep it simple. Too much unnecessary elements and decoration, such as horizontal and vertical rules or borders between rows and columns, should be omitted. Graphs 10. Label axes. 11. Show parameters and units and describe the scale of every graph. 12. Make sure the center point of the graph is located at the zero point on the horizontal (x) axis and the zero point on the vertical (y) axis. If the y-axis is not starting at the zero point, your graph can easily mislead the reader. 13. Make sure that both the x- and the y-axis are divided into equally spaced intervals. 14. Add a legend or explanatory caption. A legend should be carefully placed. In some cases, removing the legend and labelling the lines in a graph directly should be possible. 15. Ensure graphs are sufficiently large and readable. Guide the reader in interpreting the information. 16. Keep it simple. Unnecessary ornamentation, such as gridlines, tick marks and crosses should be omitted. Try to avoid three-dimensional graphs as well, as they are rarely clear and easy to interpret. 21

22 17. Provide comparable graphs with the same format, size and lay-out. Include all information you want to compare in one graph as far as possible. More information More information and useful examples through: Zobel, J. (2004). Writing for Computer Science. New York: Springer. 22

23 1.3.5 Symbols, formulas and equations Guidelines 1. Use standard symbols and notations consistently throughout the text. Symbols are written in italics. 2. Define symbols on first use in the text and add units and parameters. Be consistent in using symbols throughout the text. 3. Keep record of the symbols you are using in a (numbered) list, in order to avoid double use of symbols. Do not mix capital and small letters. 4. Formulas and equations are cited in the text by means of an equation editor such as MathType (i.e. the equation editor of MS Word). 5. Insert short formulas and equations in the text, long formulas and equations are placed on a separate line in the text. Use punctuation marks. Example This yields y = ax2 + bx + c, where a, b and c result from (3.23). 23

24 1.3.6 References Aim Referencing is an essential part of writing any research or scientific paper. All sources of information should be both referred to from the text and cited in the reference section. If you do not cite references, it will be assumed that words or ideas are your own. KU Leuven defines plagiarism as follows: 'Plagiarism is any identical or lightlyaltered use of one's own or someone else s work (ideas, texts, structures, images, plans, etc.) without adequate reference to the source' (KU Leuven, ). More information through Basic principles In a text you should cite all references and all references cited within the text should be listed in a reference list at the end of the paper or report. Unlike a bibliography, a reference list includes only works to which you refer. Correct referencing is twofold: Element 1 A short reference to the source within the text; 2 A detailed description of the source(s) used in the reference list. Every reference, both in the text and in the reference list, needs to be correct and complete. Essential parts of a reference in the reference list are: The author(s)' surname(s); The year of publication; The title of the publication; If necessary the name of the journal with its volume number and page range; If necessary the place of publication and the name of the publisher; If necessary the date of access of a website, and so forth. Citation and referencing strategies In-text citations and references in the reference list should be consistent. Generally speaking, there are two common referencing standards: Method 1 Referencing alphabetically; 2 Referencing numeric style. 24

25 Example method 1 In-text citations In the text, the author(s)' last name(s) as well as publication year should be mentioned between brackets, separated by a comma. If you are including the author(s) directly in a sentence, do not forget to include the publication year between brackets. One author Two authors More than two authors Citation (Author, publication year, page number or range). (Author 1 & Author 2, publication year, page number or range). If there are two authors, always give both authors' last names. If there are three, four, five,... authors incorporate all authors' last names in your first in-text citation. Afterwards only repeat the first author's last name, followed by et al.: (Author 1 et al., publication year, page number or range). If you have two sources in one parenthetical citation, they should be listed by publication year, separated by a semi-colon. If you have two sources by the same author in one parenthetical citation, they should be listed chronologically (earliest comes first). The author's last name is mentioned once followed by the different years of publication. If you have two sources by the same author in the same year of publication in one parenthetical citation, they should be listed according to the first word of the title (except from 'a(n)' or 'the'). In addition, a letter suffix (a, b, c) is added to the year of publication of each source in accordance with their alphabetical ranking. If you are referring to a source included in another work, both the secondary and the original source should be enclosed in the citation: (Author 2, publication year in Author 1, publication year, page number or range). Direct quotations If you copy an extract from any source, be sure to use quotation marks and to acknowledge the source. Generally speaking, there are two types of quotations: Quotations included in the text: mainly short quotations (i.e. less than three lines). Quotations within the text are marked by quotation marks at the beginning and at the end of the quotation. Block quotations: long quotations (i.e. three or more lines). The whole citation is indented on the left (e.g. 0,5 cm) without quotation marks. Pay attention If it is necessary to omit parts of the quotation, mark the missing part by three dots (an ellipsis) between brackets. If it is necessary to add a phrase to a quotation to clarify meaning (an interpolation), mark the extra words between square brackets. Every quotation is followed by a reference to the author(s)' last name(s), the year of publication and the page number between brackets. 25

26 Only use direct quotations when it is relevant and proves to have added value. Referencing a table, figure or graph If you copy a table, figure or graph from a source, you need to make reference to the source by mentioning the author(s)' family name(s), publication year and the page number (preceded by "p."). Example: Source: Author, publication year, p. (page number). Reference list The reference list describes all references cited within the text in detail. References are listed in alphabetical order by the first author's last name. To cite the following types of sources, a specific format is provided for referencing in the reference list: Book Scientific journal Paper Master's thesis or dissertation Congress paper Website Citation Author(s) (publication year). Title of the book. Place of publication: Publisher. Author(s) (publication year). Title of the article. Name of the journal, volume number(issue), page range. Author(s) (exact date of publication). Title of the article. Name of the paper, page range. Author(s) (academic year). Title of the dissertation [Filetype]. Place: Institution. Author(s) (publication year). Title of the paper. Paper presented on Congress of date in Place. Author(s) (date of last update). Title of the file. [Date of access, publisher: URL]. In the reference list: Two or more sources by the same author are listed by year (earliest comes first). Two or more sources by the same author in the same year of publication are listed alphabetically by title. Letter suffixes (a, b, c) are added to the publication year according to their alphabetical ranking. The letter suffixes are then used to order the sources in the reference list. If you are referring to a source included in another work within the text, you should make reference to the secondary source in your reference list (i.e. the one you have read). Keep in mind that you should always strive to use primary sources (i.e. the original document or source). 26

27 Example method 2 In the text, cite references in consecutive numerical order between square brackets starting with [1]. Every reference is assigned a unique number that is used in all subsequent notations in the text and that corresponds to a numbered reference in the reference list. If you want to cite multiple references in one in-text citation, it is common to mention each number between the same set of square brackets as in [2,3]. In the reference list, references are listed in order of appearance (numerical order) in the text. Each reference is preceded by its serial number between square brackets. Pay attention Be sure all references cited in the text are part of the numbered reference list. Do not include references in the reference list that are not cited within the text. Be consistent in using a particular style of citation. If you are using the numeric style, do not list the reference list in alphabetical order. Be careful using unsourced information. Information must always be verifiable and attributable to a reliable source. 27

28 2 Oral communication Strong oral communication skills are an important success factor in engineering practice. Research has shown that engineers are spending at least one third of their overall work time on oral discussions or presentations. Contents Subject Page Preparing an oral presentation 29 Structure and organization 30 Verbal communication 31 Non-verbal communication 32 28

29 2.1 Preparing an oral presentation Steps There are five steps in constructing an effective oral presentation: Step Action Guideline 1 Plan your presentation Gather your thoughts. What is the content of my presentation (what?), what is the purpose of the presentation (why?) and who is my audience (for whom?). Take into account constraints of time 2 Formulate your core message (when? and how long?) and space (where?). Determine the structure and content of your presentation. The content should be limited to what serves the purpose and be organized in a way that suits the audience. Formulate the core message and its headlines. Define the main message you want your audience to remember and substantiate your arguments. 3 Create your slides Compose your presentation and create slides. Keep in mind that each slide should convey only one message. Limit the amount of information on each slide and use visual aids to keep the attention of the audience. 4 Deliver the presentation Master all channels and master your content. Control your verbal and nonverbal actions. 5 Answer questions Listen to and make sure you understand each question. Take your time to think about your answer and construct an answer that is brief and to the point. 29

30 2.2 Structure and organization Structure of the presentation Below we formulate some basic guidelines for structuring an oral presentation: 1. Open the presentation and capture the audience s attention. 2. Introduce and situate the topic of the presentation. 3. Ensure the overall structure and purpose of the presentation are clear to the audience. Devote one slide to the presentation outline. 4. Develop a clear, coherent and compelling core message. 5. Make sure the presentation is logically organized and easily followed by the audience. 6. Enhance the presentation with tables, figures, graphs and other visual aids. 7. Restate the main points and provide adequate closure. Questions and answers The main considerations answering questions are the following: 1. Try to adequately handle and respond to tough questions. 2. Effectively respond when asked for clarification. 30

31 2.3 Verbal communication Voice During your presentation, pay attention to your pace, volume, articulation and intonation: 1. Speak in a relaxed manner with a varied pace. 2. Speak in a clear, audible voice with appropriate volume. 3. Speak with proper articulation and pronunciation. 4. Speak in a lively, natural manner with proper intonation. Language As regards language, consider the following points: 1. Take care of your language and ensure it is appropriate to the topic and the audience. 2. Use rather formal language with few verbal fillers. 3. Adapt the presentation anticipating the audience s background knowledge of the topic. 31

32 2.4 Non-verbal communication Delivery 1. Try to make effective use of the space. 2. Physical gestures, stance and facial expressions must support the message. 3. Deliver a dynamic presentation and show enthusiasm. 4. Speak directly to, involve and interact with the audience. 5. Make frequent eye contact with members of the audience. Media, slides and visuals 1. As a presenter, you should be able to easily handle media equipment and respond to unexpected events. 2. Ensure that slides are readable and the amount of text on the slides is limited. Choose a readable typeface and an appropriate font size, make sure there is enough contrast between the colours chosen for the background and the text or graphics. Follow the 7x7 rule: use no more than seven lines per slide and seven words per line to avoid information overload. Maintain parallel structure and constructions in a slide. Limit the amount of colours and animation effects used in the presentation. 3. Slides should be functional and enhance the presentation. Images and visuals should be relevant to your presentation. Timing Check and practice the timing of your presentation: 1. Rehearse your presentation in order to make sure it fits within the given time frame. 2. Ensure that all team members are participating equally or as assigned by the instructor. 32

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