How to write a successful technical report

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1 ARC Lunch Seminar, November 3, 2015 How to write a successful technical report Rebecca Hincks KTH Language and Communication 1

2 Engineers need to write well Studies indicate 30% of time spent on writing You must be efficient in the process Your writing should be Clear Correct Concise Coherent 2

3 Overview 1. Reports in general 2. The parts of the research report 3. The writing process 3

4 Reports Are designed for quick and easy communication of information Are designed for selective reading Use sections with numbered headings and subheadings Use figures and diagrams to convey data 4

5 Start by asking yourself What kind of report am I writing? Who will be reading my report? Why am I writing the report? Genre Audience Purpose Let genre, audience and purpose shape the organization of your report 5

6 What kind of report? Book report Lab report Research report Project report Progress report Feasibility report Accident report Financial report Can you find published examples of your type of report and read them to get a feeling for the conventions of the genre? 6

7 Who am I writing for? Keep this always in mind Several different categories People with similar background knowledge People with very different backgrounds What are the needs of your readers? Structure Terminology Time Teachers? Engineers? Production workers? Salespeople? Journalists? Environmentalists? 7

8 How can I get them to read it? Help busy readers Clear structure Good summaries Make it clear what you are writing about Good title Purpose statements Make it attractive to look at Make the language clear and accessible 8

9 Why am I writing the report? To document work or events that are: Planned, or Completed Should stand the test of time Should be summarized in a clear purpose statement University writing vs. real-life writing At work, you really need to inform others! 9

10 Structure your report Like building a house Solid foundation, frame, roof and walls before you start decorating A process that can be endless, but at some point you have to stop 10

11 Task: can you order the parts of the report? Work with a partner 11

12 Parts of report Title Abstract Table of contents Introduction Background Problem statement Purpose statement Method Procedure Equipment Results Discussion Conclusion Recommendations References Bibliography Appendices 12

13 Today: research reports Research reports such as written by bachelor s and master s students For local publication rather than journal publication Form can vary from department to department 1. Title page 2. Abstract 3. Introduction 4. Literature review 5. Methodology 6. Results 7. Discussion 8. Conclusions 9. References 10.Appendix 13

14 1. Title page The title of the report Subject Type of study (experimental? survey? comparison?) Scope (limiting details) The course name and number The department and university The authors and supervisors names The date of submission 14

15 2. The Abstract or Summary States the topic of the report Outlines the most important findings of your investigation States the key conclusions Does NOT Provide general information Explain why you are carrying out an investigation Refer to later diagrams and references 15

16 3. The Introduction Provide enough information to allow your readers to understand the context of the report Includes clear statements of: The problem being investigated The purpose of the investigation Explains the importance of the problem Awakens interest in the reader Lets the reader know what to expect 16

17 4. The Literature Review Summarizes and evaluates the literature that you have used in your study How that literature has contributed to the area of research The strengths and weaknesses of previous studies How that literature informs your own research and understanding of the problem 17

18 5. The Methodology Explains how data was gathered/ generated Explains how data was analyzed Assumes reader understands material Does not explain or refer to other work 18

19 6. The Results section Visually represents research findings Graphs, tables, diagrams, charts Textually represents research findings Points out the most significant portions of research findings Indicates key trends or relationships Highlights expected and/or unexpected findings 19

20 7. The Discussion Assesses and comments on research results Explains results Comments on unexpected results, offering hypothesis for them Compares to literature Do the results confirm previous studies? Deviate from them? Acknowledges any weaknesses of study Explains how the results can be applied in a broader context 20

21 8. The Conclusion What was learned through the research What remains to be learned Strengths of study Possible applications of study Recommendations 21

22 9. The References Follow the system used in your department Can be formatted in many ways, but all include names of authors, titles and dates The quality of the references is an indication of the quality of the report 22

23 10. The Appendices Include data and results of secondary importance Material that could be useful to future researchers in the field 23

24 Start early The writing process You don t need to write complete sections at a time You don t need to start at the beginning Don t worry about linguistic accuracy as you work on the first drafts If you get stuck, move to a different section Leave lots of time for revision Let your work rest between readings 24

25 Use the tools available to you References should be entered into a database Headings and subheadings should be formatted to create the ToC Make full use of spellcheckers and grammar checkers 25

26 Language and vocabulary Don t make your readers work too hard Be straightforward and concise Use simple terms instead of jargon and technical terms Keep sentences short and simple 26

27 Visual design Is very important for communicative success Use lots of white space Use headings and indents to indicate hierarchy of information Use graphics to illustrate specific points Remember that they need citations if taken from other sources 27

28 Finishing touches Usability testing Get feedback from others on clarity, organization, and visual design Re-check your sources for proper citations Proofread carefully the more eyes the better 28

29 For a successful report: Keep reader and purpose in mind through all stages of writing the report Reports have a summary, introduction and conclusion, but what is in the middle varies Structure, visual design and language should all contribute to readability of the report 29

30 Sources Purdue Online Writing Lab: Writing Engineering Reports Engineering Faculty, Monash University: Guidelines for Writing Reports in Engineering 30

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