Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Writing Guide


1. Writing Guide
The information on this page is intended to provide some tips and advice on how to write a good report. Select one of the topics at right for more information.

Purpose of the report
Length of the report
Writing the report
Language of the report
Use of illustrations
Proof reading
Test of a well-written report

Purpose of the Report

The purpose of a report is to inform others and, in this respect, the writing of a report can be improved immensely if the writer keeps in mind that the
whole idea of the report is the imparting of information. It is essential that the author identify the audience to which the report is aimed.

Before writing a report, one should consider carefully:

• Why am I writing this report?
• Who is the reader?
• What do I assume the reader knows?
• What do I want the reader to know?
• How can this information best be imparted?

Length of the Report

The length of a report should be determined entirely by its ability to impart useful information, and therefore must only be long enough to cover clearly
all essential points. When this has been achieved, it is time to stop.

Writing the Report

Careful planning before commencing to write is essential. For a long document, planning the Table of Contents is the first step and sufficient time should
be given to this. Consider first the main chapter or section headings. Then consider subsection headings. These should make sense of themselves. It may
be necessary to refine this structure many times before a logical progression of ideas is achieved.

Once the structure of the report has been semi-finalised, work can proceed on the writing. It is useful to begin by expanding chapter and section headings
using phrases for paragraphs and words for sentences. You should not proceed further with the report until you are satisfied with this brief outline.

Unless one is a very experienced writer, it is often necessary in the interests of clarity to refine the structure of the report during the writing phase.
Many word processors include an Outlining Facility that can be very useful for this.

Language of the Report

The language of a report is normally “third person, passive voice.” However this restriction should be relaxed if its application would lead to clumsy writing.
Try to write as you talk - naturally. Short, terse sentences make for clear, easily understood prose. Only experienced writers can write successfully using
long sentences!

Use of Illustrations

The use of illustrations (drawings, graphs, and photographs) is very important in any technical report, and full use of these should be made. These illustrations
should supplement the text, but not lead or mould the report. In all cases they should be referred to and explained in the text. The reader should be left
in no doubt of the essential information contained in the illustration that the author wishes to impart.

All information necessary to reproduce any graph should be included in the report. If a graph has been generated from equations, then the relevant equation
numbers should be stated as well in the caption.

Proof Reading

No one, even the most experienced, can write a word-perfect document at the first attempt. The first draft must be read carefully to ensure that what is
meant is what is written, and that there are no grammatical and spelling errors, nor any ambiguities. If using a word processor, good use should be made
of such tools as spelling checkers, etc. Everyone should own and use a dictionary.

Test of a Well-written Report

If a report has been written effectively, readers should need to study only the title, abstract, introduction and conclusions to gain a general understanding
of the investigation and to gauge its relevance to them. This should be used as a test before submitting a report.


2. Report Help!                             

How to write a good report.

1. Know the purpose and your audience.  Are you writing to inform, entertain or persuade?
2. Research and take notes. 

Make sure your report has the following:

Introduction:  Make your first statement exciting or thought provoking.  You want to catch the readers attention.

Body:  Provide the detail and important facts you want to present. 

Make some personal connections to your topic if you can.
Relate your topic to other readings or books on the topic
Quote sources. (See how to write a bibliography below).

Conclusion: This is a summary of your important facts, try to be concise.

Write your final copy.    Make sure you check your spelling and grammar.


Bibliography:  If you used information written by someone else, you need to give credit to your source.

Here is the proper form:


Author (last name first).  Title .(underlined)  City where book is published:

        Publisher, copyright date.


Author (last name first).  "Title of the article."  Title of the magazine (underlined)

         Date (day, month, year): Page number of the article.


"Article title"(in quotes). Title of Reference Book (underlined) . Edition. Date published.

Films and Videotapes:

Title (underlined) Film (or Videotape).  Production Co., date.  Time length.


3. On Writing Reports

W. W. Peterson

Some suggestions are made for writing better formal technical or scientific reports, based on the author's experience reading reports submitted by students.

I have often heard or read that our students are totally incompetent in English. That is not what I observe. I think that the reports that I have read
are generally quite good. There is room for improvment, however, and since reports can play a very important part in your profession, it is worth the effort.
Here are some suggestions.

The Organization of a Formal Report.
There should be an introduction section, named Introduction, a main body consisting of one or more appropriately named sections (not named "Main Body"),
and a conclusion, named Conclusion. The report should be accompanied by an abstract. The main body should be well organized itself and contain all of the
essential information. It should say everything that you intend to say in your report. Then the introduction should be an introduction to the main body.
It can give a preview of what the main body is about, and it might try to motivate the reader to read the main body, or at least let the reader know who
might be interested in the main body and/or why. The conclusion should be a conclusion for the main body. It might very briefly summarize the main points.
It might restate conclusions. It is common to state in the conclusion section what further work along these lines could or ought to be done. Finally, the
abstract either summarizes what is in the entire report or at least describes what is in the whole report. The abstract is typically objective and factual,
as contrasted with the introduction and conclusion, which may state the author's opinions and try to sell the report. It should make sense by itself--often
abstracts are printed elsewhere to inform potential readers about something that may interest them.

What I am Observing
Here is one area where improvment is possible. In students' reports that I read, I frequently find things in the introduction and conclusion, and even
in the abstract, that belong in the main body of the report. There are often important things stated in the abstract, introduction, or conclusion, that
are not stated in the main body. This gives the impression that the report is not well organized.

How to Write a Good Report
First, your report ought to have a objective (besides meeting the WI requirement) and you should state the objective in a sentence or so. The purpose might
be to describe something or to explain something, or it might be to express one or more opinions or to make a point. I like to see reports that express
your ideas aind opinions rather than just rehashing something you have read.

Then you should make an outline that is a plan for accomplishing your objective in a clear and convincing way.

Then write the main body of the report, following your outline. If your outline included your introduction and conclusion, then you can write them at the
same time as the main body. Otherwise, write the introduction and conclusion after you write the main body. The introduction and/or the conclusion might
include the sentence that you wrote to describe your objective, possibly somewhat modified.

Finally, the last thing you should write is the abstract. The abstract also might include the sentence describing the purpose of the report--at least it
should contain that idea. It should be short and objective, but should tell what the whole report is about.

I have emphasized organization in this report. You should outline what you want to say and be sure that it is organized well. The report should include
an introduction to the main part of the report and a conclusion for the main part of the report and should be accompanied by an abstract that is a brief
summary or description of the entire report.

Of course, in addition to this, you should always make an effort to improve you English usage--spelling, grammar, and the way you express your ideas.


4. Report Writing Guide
SEE-U Program
James Danoff-Burg (5/01) The primary goal of a scientific report is to present a record of research work and to communicate ecological ideas inherent in
that work.  The author should describe the procedures followed, the results obtained, and then place these results in perspective by relating them to existing
knowledge and by interpreting their significance for future study.  The following is a set of notes to help you produce well-structured, well-written lab
reports (and hence, good grades!), and to help train you in the process of scientific writing.
Format |
Style |
Abstract |
Intro |
Methods |
Results |
Discussion |
References |
General Comments
· Use the following framework for your reports:  Title, Abstract, Introduction, Materials and Methods, Results, Discussion and Conclusions, Reference Cited
· Use double spacing and 12 or 14 point font · Left justify all text
Style & Content
· Avoid footnotes · Write in the past tense · Use a heading for each section · Use subheadings for clarity · Underscore Latin genus and species names ·
Avoid long, complex sentences · Check for excessive use of commas and conjunctions (“and”, “but”, “or”) - you can often split these sentences · Avoid excessive
use of nouns as adjectives · Use positive statements and avoid non-committal statements (e.g. use “the data show...” rather than “the data could possibly
suggest...”) · Avoid non-informative abbreviations such as “etc.”, or “and so on” · Reduce jargon to a minimum · Avoid repeating facts and thoughts · Be
concise and succinct - don’t pad out your report with irrelevant data or discussion · Above all, produce accurate, clear, and concise writing
· This is the most difficult section to write well, so take your time · The abstract should be a concise and exact statement of the problem addressed, the
aims and objectives of the study, the procedure followed, the basic findings, and the conclusions drawn · The abstract should not be an amplified table
of contents or a shortened version of the report · Give specific information to the reader
· In this section state the nature of the problem, the aims and objectives of the study, and brief background information · Include the justification and
relevance of the study · State the hypotheses you tested · Try to answer the following questions:  why do the study?  what is the existing state of knowledge
of this topic? (restrict background information to that which is pertinent to the research problem) what are the specific objectives?
Materials and Methods
· Include a description of the procedure you used that would enable a reader to duplicate the study (i.e. repeatability) · This will include data collection
techniques, the equipment used, the experimental design, and the methods used to record, summarize, and analyze data · Minimize descriptions of well known
procedures and use references where appropriate · Use figures to explain experimental set-up where appropriate
· Summarize the data generated with tables, figures and descriptive text · Do not include raw data · Explain and describe your data and the patterns, trends,
and relationships observed · The written text should deal fully with results, not merely refer to tables and figures · Proceed from most general features
of the data to more specific results · Reference all tables and figures in the text and number them in the order in which they appear in the text · Write
so that the figures and tables are not the subject of your sentences (e.g. write “Growth rate was higher in the control (Fig. 1)” rather than “Fig. 1 shows
higher growth rate in the control”) · Use graphics to display data in preference to tables whenever feasible · Use legends and clear, concise, descriptive
titles for tables and figures · Ensure all axes of graphs are labeled and that units are identified in all tables and figures · The results section should
be free of interpretation of data
Discussion and Conclusions
· This section should include an interpretation and evaluation of the results · Compare with other studies and draw conclusions based on your findings ·
Refer back to the original hypotheses you were testing · Draw positive conclusions wherever possible · Identify sources of error and any inadequacies of
your techniques · Speculate on the broader meanings of the conclusions drawn · Address any future study that your research suggests
References Cited
· List all the references cited in the text · Cite references in text by author(s) and date · If there are three or more authors of a reference abbreviate
by first author surname followed by “et al.”  (e.g. “Smith et al. (1995) state that...”) · All references should be listed in full, alphabetically by first
author in the Reference Cited section · Be consistent with format · Only use references pertinent to your study and your data
General Comments
· Use and evaluate all the data you report and do not be discouraged if your results differ from published studies or from what you expected · Justify all
tables and figures by discussing their content and labeling them clearly · Be creative in your presentation of data, your analysis, and your interpretation
of data - play around with different variations before completing your report · Do not force conclusions from your data or fudge data by omitting that
which does not support pre-conceived conclusions · Make sure all calculations and analyses are relevant to the hypotheses you are testing and the overall
objectives of the study · Justify your ideas and conclusions with data, facts, and background literature and with sound reasoning · Ensure to keep the
different sections of the report discrete, i.e. methods in the methods section, results in the results section, and leave discussion and interpretation
of those results for the discussion section · Plan your writing:  organize your thoughts and data, and sketch the report before actually writing.  This
will help maximize your time efficiency and lead to a concise, well structured report.


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