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Generally following headings are mostly represented in this report and are generally required for a clear presentation. Those marked with an * are not always required, particularly in a shorter report. A. Preliminary Pages: B. Main Body C. Appendices Brief regarding above mentioned items: A - Preliminary Pages of a Report Introduction Methods Sections or Chapters of report Conclusions Recommendations* References/Bibliography Title page Acknowledgements page* Table of Content List of Figures and Tables* Abbreviations* & Acronyms Summary/Abstract
1 - Title page The title page is the prime catch point of reader's eye & attention. Hence it is important and it should be neat, not overcrowded and contain the relevant information. The title page should include the title of the report, who wrote it, what course and establishment they are from and the date (requirement being fulfilled, the name and location of the institution, date of submission of report) are always
required. Additional items may include to whom the report is for, corporate logo if required, report reference number and a security classification, if appropriate. 2 - Acknowledgements If particular help has been received on the work contained within the report, it is polite to thank the persons involved. This is a suitable place to do that. The language used in the acknowledgements is often less formal than in the rest of the report. Do not follow the blanket approach of salutation and acknowledgement. Acknowledge them with precise indication of their help and support you have got. 3 - Table of Contents The contents list is one of the first parts of the report to be sketched out and one of the last to be finalised. It will refer to all sections, divisions and subdivisions of the report and is the reader's guide to navigation within the report. It is not difficult for the report writer to produce a contents list after the report has been written and it provides a useful overview to the report. The contents list should be drawn up early in the production of the report and provides guidance to the author with regard to what has yet to be written, what sections are misplaced and which are too lengthy or too short. 4 - List of Figures and Tables This section lists the titles of the figures and tables, their reference numbers and their locations (page numbers). It is not always required, especially in a smaller report. In a large report however there may be reference to figures that are not in the immediate vicinity of the text and in this case, a reference to where they may be found is useful. 5 - Abbreviations & Acronyms If a lot of specialist abbreviations/acronyms have been used, it may be worth making a special table of them and putting it here. The table should be in
alphabetical order. It is normally only required if the abbreviations are novel or would otherwise not be familiar to the reader. 6 - Summary/Abstract The summary is normally on a separate page. It is a brief (maximum half or one third of a page) overview of the contents of the report, its aims and main conclusions. It is normally prepare only after the report writing virtually finished, but placed just before the content list. When writing the summary, attempt to give a view of the report in miniature. Be concise and accurate in the use of language in order to keep the length down to one third of a page or less. Remember that it is primarily the busy reader who reads the summary instead of the whole report.
B - Main Body of a Report 1 - Introduction The introduction should outline the aim of the report and the way it is laid out. It often repeats parts of the summary - don't worry about this. It should also introduce the reader to the subject matter in hand, at a level suitable for the intended reader. If there are a range of readers with different backgrounds in mind then there should be sufficient information for the least well informed reader to be able to understand the basics of what is to be explained. This is probably best done by references to books, articles etc. and perhaps to the appendices. The introduction is a companion to the conclusions and is the second entry level to the report, after the summary. Some readers will read the summary, decide that they are interested in knowing more and then read the introduction and conclusions. They may not have the time or inclination to read the rest. It can be seen therefore that the introduction should mention the areas of work covered, the types of results presented and the type of conclusions and recommendations reached. It should not however pre-empt those sections.
2 - Sections and Chapters This, at last, is where the work will go. Chapters are used to break down the work, if it covers many separate topics. The chapter may be subdivided into logical sections, each of which may be further reduced into subsections. Some common sense must be used here as subsections should not be too long or too short. - Numbering system Chapters should be numbered sequentially using normal numbers. Divisions of a chapter are indicated 2.1, 5.6 etc. and subdivisions 2.1.3, 5.6.4 and so on. It is not normally necessary to further sub-divide sections. Graphs and figures in a chapter should bear labels such as 'Figure 2.1' to illustrate the first figure of the second chapter. This makes it easier for the reader to find them. 3 - Conclusions The conclusion section is normally reasonably short. It gathers together the results of the work in the form of what has been learnt that may be useful to the reader. No new work should be introduced in the conclusions; it is not a repository for afterthoughts. 4 - Recommendations Not every report will have recommendations to make. This is more applicable to a company report or a feasibility study. If there are recommendations to be made, they should be clearly ordered and justified by reference to previous sections of the report and/or reference material. It may be helpful to think of them as 'Active Recommendations' in the sense that if the report is approved, these are the activities that would be implemented.
5 - References/Bibliography Most people use some books, Internet sites or other reference material when preparing a report. These sources must always be referenced. When quoting a formula or text or whatever that was obtained from a book, put in the text a reference to the source. This means that the reader could reproduce the research if necessary and it covers you in case it is wrong. It also protects you from the accusation of claiming others work as your own (plagiarism). Bibliographies are those books or materials helpful, useful and relevant with your study topic but not directly quoted or cited in your report can be mentioned. In some cases reference and bibliography used as same. C - Appendices Appendices should be used liberally for anything relevant to the report which would otherwise clutter up the body of the text. This may include tables of data, computer programs used to calculate something, the document requesting the report originally, tedious mathematical analysis, costing and so on. Appendices should be labelled with capital letters, in order to distinguish them from chapters. All appendices should be referred to or they may never be found by the reader. For example '...during a PL, drinks cost on average £5.35 per person (see appendix A for breakdown) whilst food averages £3.95 per person (see appendix B for menu)...' - Layout, typography and so on In order to make the report easy on the eye, it is important to pay attention to page layout, typing styles and so on. The following points are worth remembering. Paper size - always use A4 size paper as it can be copied easily. Margins - sufficient margin should be left so that the binding does not interfere with the text, graphs etc.. It is normal to use a 30 -
40 mm margin at the left hand edge of the page and 25 mm on the other edges. Only use one side of the paper. Pagination - it is normal to put page numbers centrally in the footers. Page numbers should be continuous throughout the text, including any graphs or diagrams. Occasionally, appendices are numbered individually, using their letter as a prefix. Headers - these may be used to repeat the document title on each page and also the section number and title if desired. Font size - it is normal to use 12 points for the main text and a slightly smaller size for subscripts and superscripts. Always use one and a half or double spacing to make the text much more readable (this document is 1.5 lines spaced). Punctuation - do not precede commas and full stops by spaces or they may get split across line breaks. Use one space after commas, semi-colons and colons and two spaces after a full stop. This makes the text more readable. General layout - when compiling a report, it is often easier for style reasons to edit an existing report. This document may be used for this purpose, if you wish, by replacing the text but leaving the styles and layout the same. You should then not have problems such as section titles at the end of a page and the text on the following page, chapters not starting on a new page and so on. Binding - this is important as it is the first thing that the reader sees and feels as they pick up the report. It should be appropriate to the style of the report. In the case of a final year project, a special binding is required but for most purposes a plastic loose-leaf binder with a clear front is appropriate. Reports should be, in the words of one expert, 'Bound to Impress'.
- Proof Reading An important part of the production of any report is proof reading. You should try and get at least one and preferably two or three people to do this for any report. Give each a clean copy of the report to mark up. Your proof readers may be people who can fully understand the material or may be completely ignorant of it. Each will have a different and valuable point of view. Allow and encourage them to clearly mark errors, unclear passages, grammatical and punctuation errors and so on. Don't argue too much with them or they may not do you the favour next time. When you have all the proofs back, go through them all at the same time and do the corrections you agree with and don't do the ones that you don't agree with - it's your report after all! A final stage of proof reading, before printing the finished document, is to check that the page breaks have not fallen in silly places. This occasionally happens so that you get a single word on a page before a new chapter. There are various 'fiddles' that can be used to get over these problems but I leave you to find your own solutions.
Presentation of Data
1 - General comments on data presentation The presentation of the data that has been gathered is vitally important. It is often what the reader is looking for and if it is presented in a garbled manner, it will only serve to confuse. Similarly, if the data is presented in a manner which disguises the true nature of the results, the reader may be initially happy but will eventually find out that they have been misled. Then you will be in trouble. Here then are some tips on the presentation of data, firstly in graphical formats and then, if all else fails, in tabular forms. 2 - Graphs It is often said that a picture is worth a thousand words. In the case of technical reports, a well annotated graphical display of the results may save that thousand words of description, and leave the reader with a better impression of what has been achieved. An example of a reasonable graph is shown in Appendix F. Graphs may be in a 'portrait' (vertical) format, in which case they just go in like a normal page, or they may be in a 'landscape' (horizontal) format. In this case they should go in the report so that it must be turned clockwise to read the graph. Take care, as with the rest of the report, that titles etc. do not disappear into the binding when the report is finally put together. A margin of at least 30mm would be wise at that edge. If possible, graphs should be generated by software compatible with the word processor ('Excel' and 'Designer' in the case of 'Word for Windows') and then 'cut and pasted' into the report. This ensures that they are scaled correctly on the page and avoids physical cutting and sticking and subsequent destruction by a photocopier. In general, graphs should have the following clearly visible. Title Axes 8
Scales Key Various lines showing the data Every graph should have a title. This indicates what the data represents and where it was obtained from. Titles should not be too cryptic. For example 'Beer sales (product 1) in 'The Ship' (location 44) as a function of time of night' is much better than 'A Graph showing sales of product 1 in location 44'. Axes are the horizontal and vertical (or occasionally radial and circumferential) lines representing the quantities being displayed. They must be labelled clearly and correctly with the quantity and the units being used. Note that the horizontal axis is normally used for the 'independent variable', that is the variable which is being changed or is changing. The vertical axis is then used for the 'dependant variable', the quantity being measured. For example, if plotting a graph of beer sales against time of night, time is the independent variable and therefore would go on the horizontal axis. The words 'against' and 'as a function of' indicate the independent variable. Axes may be non-linear, such as logarithmic, probability etc.. In this case special graph paper must be obtained. Make sure it is the correct way up! Scales are the lines vertically and horizontally where the numerical information is read off. They must be sensibly ranged such that subdivision is easy. Do not use, for example, 0,7,14 etc. along the major divisions of normal graph paper as the minor divisions then work out in steps of 0.7. It is much better to use 0,8,16 etc. making the minor divisions 0.8 long, or better still 0,10,20 etc. so that subdivision is easier. A key on a graph is used when there are several different lines on the graph in different colours or styles. A sample of the line style is given along with what parameter has been varied to give a different curve. For example there may be a dotted line for one pub, a dashed line for another and a solid line for the average. The various lines or curves showing the data should be clear and unambiguous. Use different line styles or colours for each line. Beware that if a report is to
be photocopied then colours will not come out. If the actual data points that were used to plot the graph are important, rather than just the shape of the curve, then these should be marked clearly with a small 'x', a circle etc., different for each curve. If however the shape of the curve is the important thing then actual data points do not have to be marked. They should however be in a table in an appendix. Sometimes a series of values have been measured for the same value of the independent variable and then the average plotted. In this case it is normal to use 'Error Bars' (short vertical lines with an horizontal tick at either end) to show the range of measured values. 3 - Photographs Photographs of experimental arrangements, equipment layouts and so on can be very impressive and useful in a report but be careful not to over do it. There are dangers associated with photographs; not least processing cost and securing them effectively to the page so don't get too carried away. If you present photographs of, for example, oscilloscope screens make sure that the graduations are clearly visible and that the axes are clearly annotated. Beware that photocopies will probably be a lot worse than the originals. 4 - Tables Within the main text of a report, tables of data should only be resorted to if absolutely necessary. They are generally difficult to read and so most readers will skip over them. If the data is presented graphically, put a table of results in an appendix and refer to it. An example table is presented in Appendix D. Tables should be labelled in the form 'Table 2.1' to indicate the first table of the second chapter. They should also have a title, column headings and row headings if applicable. Lines should be ruled to separate columns.
4 - Conclusions This report has covered various aspects of the production of a formal report. The technical content of the report has barely been mentioned as this will vary widely, but the general form of data presentation has been covered. From this report it is hoped that the reader will have gained an insight into producing a report which, even if the technical content is poor, will impress the reader with its clarity and ease of use.
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