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Format of a report

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:

 Title page
 Acknowledgements page*
 Table of Content
 List of Figures and Tables*
 Abbreviations* & Acronyms
 Summary/Abstract
B. Main Body
 Introduction
 Methods
 Sections or Chapters of report
 Conclusions
 Recommendations*
 References/Bibliography
C. Appendices

Brief regarding above mentioned items:

A - Preliminary Pages of a Report

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

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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

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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.

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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.

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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 -

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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'.

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- 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.

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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

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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

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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.

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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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