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Technical Report Writing


A technical report is a formal report designed to convey technical information in a clear and
easily accessible format. It is divided into sections which allow different readers to access
different levels of information. This guide explains the commonly accepted format for a technical
report; explains the purposes of the individual sections; and gives hints on how to go about
drafting and refining a report in order to produce an accurate, professional document.
1 Key features of reports
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.
2 Structure
A report usually has these components:

Title page

Summary

Table of Contents

Introduction

Middle sections with numbered headings (i.e., the body of the report)

Conclusions

References

Appendices
3 Presentation
For technical reports required as part of an assessment, the following presentation guidelines are
recommended;
Script

The report must be printed single sided on white A4 paper. Hand written or dot-matrix
printed reports are not acceptable.

Margins

All four margins must be at least 2.54 cm

Page
numbers

Do not number the title, summary or contents pages. Number all other pages
consecutively starting at 1

Binding

A single staple in the top left corner or 3 staples spaced down the left hand margin. For
longer reports (e.g. year 3 project report) binders may be used.

4 Planning the report


There are some excellent textbooks contain advice about the writing process and how to
begin.Here is a checklist of the main stages;

Collect your information. Sources include laboratory handouts and lecture notes, the
University Library, the reference books and journals in the Department office. Keep an
accurate record of all the published references which you intend to use in your report, by
noting down the following information;

Journal article:
author(s)
title of article
name of journal (italic or underlined)
year of publication
volume number (bold)
issue number, if provided (in brackets)
page numbers

Book:
author(s)
title of book (italic or underlined)
edition, if appropriate
publisher
year of publication

Creative phase of planning. Write down topics and ideas from your researched material in
random order. Next arrange them into logical groups. Keep note of topics that do not fit
into groups in case they come in useful later. Put the groups into a logical sequence which
covers the topic of your report.

Structuring the report. Using your logical sequence of grouped ideas, write out a rough
outline of the report with headings and subheadings.

5 Writing the first draft


Who is going to read the report? For coursework assignments, the readers might be fellow
students and/or faculty markers. In professional contexts, the readers might be managers,
clients, project team members. The answer will affect the content and technical level, and is a
major consideration in the level of detail required in the introduction.
Begin writing with the main text, not the introduction. Follow your outline in terms of headings
and subheadings. Let the ideas flow; do not worry at this stage about style, spelling or word
processing. If you get stuck, go back to your outline plan and make more detailed preparatory
notes to get the writing flowing again.
Make rough sketches of diagrams or graphs. Keep a numbered list of references as they are
included in your writing and put any quoted material inside quotation marks
Write the Conclusion next, followed by the Introduction. Do not write the Summary at this stage.
6 Revising the first draft
This is the stage at which your report will start to take shape as a professional, technical
document. In revising what you have drafted you must bear in mind the following, important
principle;
the essence of a successful technical report lies in how accurately and concisely it conveys
the intended information to the intended readership.
Does that sentence/paragraph/section say what I want and mean it to say?
If not, write it in a different way.
Are there any words/sentences/paragraphs which could be removed without affecting the
information which I am trying to convey?
If so, remove them.

7 Diagrams, graphs, tables and mathematics


It is often the case that technical information is most concisely and clearly conveyed by means
other than words. Here are some simple guidelines;
Diagrams

Keep them simple. Draw them specifically for the report. Put small diagrams after the
text reference and as close as possible to it. Think about where to place large
diagrams.

Graphs

Choose the orientation of the graph paper - portrait or landscape format - to make the
best use of the available area. Leave enough room for margins and captions.

Tables

Is a table the best way to present your information? Consider graphs, bar charts or pie
charts.
Dependent tables (small) can be placed within the text, even as part of a sentence.
Independent tables (larger) are separated from the text with table numbers and
captions. Position them as close as possible to the text reference. Complicated tables
should go in an appendix.

Only use mathematics where it is the most efficient way to convey the information.
Mathemati Longer mathematical arguments, if they are really necessary, should go into an
cs
appendix. You will be provided with lecture handouts on the correct layout for
mathematics.
8 The report layout
The appearance of a report is no less important than its content. An attractive, clearly organised
report stands a better chance of being read. Use a standard, 12pt, font, such as Times New
Roman, for the main text. Use different font sizes, bold, italic and underline where appropriate
but not to excess. Too many changes of type style can look very fussy.
9 Originality and plagiarism
Whenever you make use of other people's facts or ideas, you must indicate this in the text with a
number which refers to an item in the list of references. Any phrases, sentences or paragraphs
which are copied unaltered must be enclosed in quotation marks and referenced by a number.
Material which is not reproduced unaltered should not be in quotation marks but must still be
referenced. It is not sufficient to list the sources of information at the end of the report; you must
indicate the sources of information individually within the report using the reference numbering
system.
Information that is not referenced is assumed to be either common knowledge or your own work
or ideas; if it is not, then it is assumed to be plagiarised i.e. you have knowingly copied someone
else's words, facts or ideas without reference, passing them off as your own. This is a serious
offence. If the person copied from is a fellow student, then this offence is known as collusion and
is equally serious. Examination boards can, and do, impose penalties for these offences ranging
from loss of marks to disqualification from the award of a degree

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10 Finalizing the report and proofreading
Your report should now be nearly complete with an introduction, main text in sections,
conclusions, properly formatted references and bibliography and any appendices. Now you must
add the page numbers, contents and title pages and write the summary.

11 The Summary
The summary, with the title, should indicate the scope of the report and give the main results
and conclusions. It must be intelligible without the rest of the report. Many people may read, and
refer to, a report summary but only a few may read the full report, as often happens in a
professional organisation.
Purpose - a short version of the report and a guide to the report.

Length - short, typically not more than 100-300 words

Content - provide information, not just a description of the report.

12 Proofreading
This refers to the checking of every aspect of a piece of written work from the content to the
layout and is an absolutely necessary part of the writing process. You should acquire the habit of
never sending or submitting any piece of written work, from email to course work, without at
least one and preferably several processes of proofreading. In addition, it is not possible for you,
as the author of a long piece of writing, to proofread accurately yourself; you are too familiar
with what you have written and will not spot all the mistakes.
When you have finished your report, and before you staple it, you must check it very carefully
yourself. You should then give it to someone else, e.g. one of your fellow students, to read
carefully and check for any errors in content, style, structure and layout. You should record the
name of this person in your acknowledgements.
Two useful tips;

Do not bother with style and formatting of a document until the penultimate or final draft.

Do not try to get graphics finalised until the text content is complete.

Title page
This page gives:

the title of the report

the authors' names and ID numbers

the course name and number, the department, and university

the date of submission.

The title of the report should indicate exactly what the report is about. The reader should know not only the general topic,
but also the aspect of the topic contained in the report.
Summary
The summary (sometimes referred to as the executive summary) provides a brief overview of the substance of the
report; usually no more than half a page. It is not an introduction to the topic. The summary should outline all the key
features of your report, including the topic, what you did and how you did it, and the main outcomes of your work. A busy
manager who might not have time to read the full report should be able to get the gist of the whole report by reading the
summary.

The summary:

states the topic of the report

outlines your approach to the task if applicable

gives the most important findings of your research or investigation, or the key aspects of your design

states the main outcomes or conclusions.

The summary does NOT:


provide general background information
explain why you are doing the research, investigation or design

refer to later diagrams or references.

Table of contents
The contents page sets out the sections and subsections of the report and their corresponding page numbers. It should
clearly show the structural relationship between the sections and subsections. A reader looking for specific information
should be able to locate the appropriate section easily from the table of contents. The conventions for section and page
numbering are as follows:

Number the sections by the decimal point numbering system:


1.0

Title of first main section (usually Introduction)

1.1
First subheading
1.2
Second subheading
2.0
Title of second main section
2.1
First subheading
2.2
Second subheading
2.2.1
First division in the second subheading
2.2.2
Second division in the second subheading
3.0
Title of third main section
Number all the preliminary pages in lower-case Roman numerals (i, ii, iii, iv, ...). You don't have to place the
number i on the title page. Just count it and put ii on the second page of your report. Preliminary pages are any
which come before the introduction, including the summary and, where applicable, acknowledgements.

Number all the remaining pages of your report with Arabic numerals (1, 2, 3, 4, ...). Thus the report proper begins
on page 1 with your introduction, which is usually Section 1.

Provide a title in your table of contents to describe the contents of each appendix (Note: one appendix, two or
more appendices). Don't just call them Appendix 1 or Appendix 2.

Introduction
The introduction provides the background information needed for the rest of your report to be understood. It is usually half
to three-quarters of a page in length. The purpose of the introduction is to set the context for your report, provide sufficient
background information for the reader to be able to follow the information presented, and inform the reader about how that
information will be presented.
The introduction includes:
the background to the topic of your report to set your work in its broad context
a clear statement of the purpose of the report, usually to present the results of your research, investigation, or
design

a clear statement of the aims of the project

technical background necessary to understand the report; e.g. theory or assumptions

a brief outline of the structure of the report if appropriate (this would not be necessary in a short report)

Headings in the body of the report


Provide informative headings
As for the title, section headings should tell the reader exactly what type of information is contained in the section. They
should be specific and content-focused rather than just labels. Devising informative headings as opposed to label
headings right from the planning stage will help you to clarify exactly what you want to achieve in each section and
subsection. Compare these pairs of headings:
Consumption patterns vs. Changes in water consumption patterns 1995-2005
Survey results vs. Results of peak hour turning movement survey
Example: Uninformative headings
The Organization
Management
Example: Informative headings
Overview of the Organization
Communication in the Organization
Groups in the Organization
Management Style and Methods
Make all headings consistent and parallel in structure

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This means that headings should follow a similar grammatical form. In the following example, each heading is structured
differently:
Example: Inconsistent headings

The Company Structure

[ noun phrase]

Do the Communication Channels Work?

[ question]

Participating in Groups

[ gerund phrase]

How to Develop an Effective Management Style

[ instruction heading]

Usually, it is not difficult to convert such headings to a common form. In this example, all have been changed to noun
phrases. This is the most commonly used format for section headings in an informational report.
Example: Consistent headings
Company Structure
Communication Channels
Group Participation
Development of an Effective Management Style
Incorporating figures, tables, and equations
There are conventions for using figures and tables in a report. Usually only these two categories are used; anything other
than tables (maps, charts, diagrams, drawings, graphs) is called a figure. Figures and tables should be placed as close as
possible to the point at which they are referred to in the text.
Give all figures and tables a number and title.
Example
Table 1 Existing communication channels
Refer to each figure and table in the text of the report.
Example
The communication channels in the organization are shown in Table 1.
The title of a table goes above the table, while the title of a figure goes below the figure.
Example
Table 1 Turning volume of pedal cycles
(1) (2) (3) (4) (5) (6)
8:00 - 8:15am 0

8:15 - 8:30am 0

8:30 - 8:45am 0

8:45 - 9:00am 0

Total Volume 0

Figures that are copied from someone else's work, published or unpublished, must be correctly referenced. Give
the source of the diagram or the data if you have taken them from published sources. The citation should be
placed in brackets after the figure or table title, and the source included in the References list.
Example
The relationship of the speed of propagation and the volumetric tissue fraction is given by:

Figure 1 Phase shift keying modulation (source: Mercator GPS Systems, 1998)
Equations
You will often have to include equations in your reports. The conventional style for presenting equations is as follows:

Centre the equation on the page

Place the equation number in round brackets at the right-hand margin

In the text of your report, refer to the equations as either Eq. (1) or equation (1). Use whichever format you choose
consistently throughout your report.

The relationship of the speed of propagation and the volumetric tissue fraction is given by:
(1)
We can see from Eq. (1) that...
Conclusions
The conclusions section provides an effective ending to your report. The content should relate directly to the aims of the
project as stated in the introduction, and sum up the essential features of your work. This section:
states whether you have achieved your aims
gives a brief summary of the key findings or information in your report

highlights the major outcomes of your investigation and their significance.

The conclusions should relate to the aims of the work:


Example 1:
Aim
The aim of this project is to design a mobile phone tower.

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Conclusions
In this report, a design for a mobile phone tower has been presented. The key features of the tower are... It was
found that...
Example 2:
Aim
The aim of this investigation is to analyse the bus delays at the intersection of the bus loop and Wellington Road
at Monash University.
Conclusions
In this report, bus delays were analysed. It was found that... Based on these findings, it is recommended that...
Referencing
The two parts to referencing are:

citations in the text of the report

a list of references in the final section

A citation shows that information comes from another source. The reference list gives the details of these sources. You need
to use in-text citations and provide details in the references section when:

you incorporate information from other sources; e.g.:


o factual material

graphs and tables of data

pictures and diagrams

you quote word-for-word from another work (when you do this the page number must be given in the in-text citation)

In Engineering, the most common referencing style is the author-date (Harvard) system. However, in Electrical Engineering the
IEEE system is used.
Example of in-text citation and reference list entry using the Harvard referencing style:
In-text citation
Corrosion is defined as a 'chemical action which harms the properties of a metal' (Glendinning 1973, p.12). Because corrosion
reduces the life of the material and protection procedures are expensive, special corrosion-resistant metals have been
developed, including Monel metals which are particularly suited to marine applications (Glendinning 1973).
Reference list entry
Glendinning, E.H. 1973 English in mechanical engineering, Oxford, Oxford University Press.

Appendices
These contain material that is too detailed to include in the main report, such as raw data or detailed drawings. The
conventions for appendices are as follows:

each appendix must be given a number (or letter) and title;

each appendix must be referred to by number (or letter) at the relevant point in the text.

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Example:
The data obtained are summarised below. The detailed data are given in Appendix 3.