In Summary: Technical Report Writing

In Summary: Technical Report Writing

Technical report is a document that describes the progress, process, or results of technical research. It also can include some recommendations and conclusions, and may be considered as grey literature because they rarely undergo comprehensive independent peer review before publication.
Technical reports are a great source of technical information. They can be written both for wider or internal distribution.
Technical reports are a central part of your professional success and are usually designed to:
• Convince the reader of your position
• Persuade them to act, or
• Inform them of your findings.
They are an opportunity for you to:
• Clearly communicate a solution to a problem
• Recommend action, and
• Aid decision making.

Technical reports are designed for quick and easy communication of information, and use:
• Sections with numbered headings and subheadings, and
• Figures and diagrams to convey data.
In this article, We will tell you what a technical report is, and how to write it.


What makes a good technical report?

A good report is easy to recognize. Its title is precise and informative and its format logical to the reader, with headings to indicate the content of each section. Diagrams are well-presented and clearly labeled. There are no absolute rules on report production because every report must be adapted to the needs of its reader. This guide, however, suggests that there are laws of good report writing which should be generally applied (but broken if necessary).

10 laws of good report writing

1. Produce the report for your reader(s)
2. Keep the report as short as possible
3. Organize information for the convenience of the reader
4. Include accurate references
5. Ensure your writing is accurate, concise and straightforward
6. Include diagrams with the right labels in the right place for your reader
7. make sure your summary gives the whole picture in brief
8. Check the report for technical errors, typing errors and inconsistency
9. Consider design as well as content
10. Produce the report for your readers

Objectives

Set the objectives for your report before you start writing. Note them down and check that you are keeping to them, even during the last stages of production. Your objectives should identify:
- Who you’re producing the report for
- Why you’re producing the report
- What information you’re covering

If you want your report to make an impact, you need to consider your reader. Knowing your reader should determine your approach, the technical content and style of your writing.
Ask yourself:
- What does the reader already know about the subject?
- What do you need to tell the reader?
- Why does a particular reader need this particular report?
- What is the desired response from the reader?
- How can you bridge the gap between what the reader knows already and what they need to know, in order to produce the desired response?
- What level of formality is appropriate? (e.g. a short emailed report to a colleague will be less formal than a report for a managing director of another company)


Reports are often written for multiple readers, for example, technical and financial managers. Writing two separate reports would be time-consuming and risk offending people who are not party to all of the information. One solution to this problem is strategic use of appendices.

Structure

A technical report should contain the following sections;

1- Title page

As the title page is the first page that the reader will see, make sure it includes the relevant details:
- Title
- Author’s name
- Report reference number
- Date
- Classification (confidential, etc) if appropriate


2- Summary

A technical report summary (or abstract) should include a brief overview of your investigation, outcomes and recommendations. It must include all the key information your reader needs to make a decision, without them having to read your full report. Don’t treat your summary as an introduction; it should act as a stand-alone document.

3- Table of contents

Help your reader quickly and easily find what they are looking for by using informative headings and careful numbering of your sections and sub-sections

4- Introduction

States the objectives of the report and comments on the way the topic of the report is to be treated.
• Leads straight into the report itself.
• provides context for the problem being addressed,
• discusses relevant previous research, and
• states your aim or hypothesis.


5- Report Body

Divided into numbered and headed sections. These sections separate the different main ideas in a logical order.
To help, ask yourself:
• What does the reader need to know first?
• What is the most logical way to develop the story of the project?

Report body includes a mixture of text, tables, figures and formulae. Consider how you can present the information best for your reader. Would a table or figure help to convey your ideas more effectively than a paragraph describing the same data?
Tip: look at other technical reports in your discipline to see what they’ve included and in what order.

6- Conclusions

A short, logical summing up of the theme(s) developed in the main text,
Be sure to:
• Refer to your aims
• Summarize your key findings, and
• State your major outcomes and highlight their significance.

7- Recommendations

If your technical report includes recommendations for action. You could choose to report these as a bullet point list. When giving an answer to your problem, be sure to include any limitations to your findings.


8- References

Details of published sources of material referred to or quoted in the text (including any lecture notes and URL addresses of any websites used.

9- Bibliography

Other published sources of material, including websites, not referred to in the text but useful for background or further reading.

10- Acknowledgements

List of people who helped you research or prepare the report, including your proofreaders


11- Appendices

Any further material which is essential for full understanding of your report (e.g. large scale diagrams, computer code, raw data, specifications) but not required by a casual reader

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.

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.


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.
when you read through what you have written, you must ask yourself these questions;
• 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.

How best to present your report?

A presentation is important part of the final outlook of your work. So, what do you need to do:
• Write a script. Your report should be printed on an A4 paper on one side. It should not be hand-written because it’s not accepted.
• You should number those pages that contain the content, so, a title page and a summary are exceptions.
• Staple your report at the top left; if a report is too long, you should bind it.
• Formatting: usually the font size is 12, style is Times New Roman, and the spacing is 1.5 or 2.

Writing

A well-written report is easier to read, makes your meaning clear and builds the reader’s confidence in what you are saying.


Spelling:

When you’ve completed a section of the report, check it for spelling errors. If you’re relying on spellchecker software, watch out for the following errors which may not be picked up
- Using the wrong word
If you use a word which was not intended, a spellchecker will often accept it. ‘Not’ and ‘now’, for instance, are easily confused.
- Technical words
These words need to be checked carefully as a spellchecker program often has no advice on them.
- New technical words
New technical words or semi-technical words often start out as two words, and then become hyphenated, before finally becoming accepted as one word. For example, cyber-security/cybersecurity, e-mail/email. Look to the technical press, such as IET journals, for guidance on these words. Where both variants are still used, go for one word, as hyphens tend to clutter up the text.

Punctuation

Check your use of punctuation, such as commas, as it can transform the meaning of sentences.
Do use hyphens if not using them will lead to ambiguous meaning, e.g. ‘a cross-section of staff’ vs ‘a cross section of staff’. They should also be used to form short compound adjectives. e.g. three-year plan, two-tonne vessel.

Sentences

Good style involves varying sentence length. A long technical explanation, which mentions somewhere in the middle that maintenance costs can be reduced, risks the important point being lost. Short sentences provide a clear, easy-to-read style for factual information. Where information needs to be compared with other information, longer sentences can work better.


Paragraphs

Paragraphs should unify content, but also be used to make the document more readable. Several paragraphs on a page with resulting spaces encourage reading, while a long block of text is off-putting.

Formality

Reports are formal documents, but that doesn’t mean you have to use overly complex words or grammar. Use simple words that you’d use in everyday conversation to get your meaning across, e.g. ‘send’ rather than ‘dispatch’ and ‘finish’ rather than ‘draw to a conclusion’. If you choose more complex language, readers could be unnecessarily distracted by it. Writing in an impersonal style can also make sentences difficult to read, e.g. ‘It was immediately apparent to the writers...’ If your company or university policy permits, use the more straightforward active voice: ‘I recommend’ or ‘We recommend’.

Diagrams

Diagrams - which include tables, graphs, photographs and line drawings - are an essential part of many technical reports. They can summarize a lot of information or clarify a situation or complex details in a way that continuous text can’t.
-Positioning
Most readers do not like to have their reading interrupted to search for a related diagram. They are unlikely to stop reading, turn the page or pages to look at a diagram and then return to their place in the text. Instead, they will mentally register the reference, continue reading and will study the diagram, if at all, only when the information in the diagram becomes essential. If you want readers to pay attention to your diagrams, you need to position them in the right place - where they are needed. That means positioning a diagram close to the text that refers to it, or if it is supplementary information only, in an appendix.
-Tables
Tables can bring together a great deal of information for the reader when presented effectively. The use of space, in particular, can make the table easier to read.
* Put units and powers of ten in column headings
* Group together similar items, e.g. in annual financial breakdown, you could group together months in quarters (January-March)
* Think about how much detail your reader needs. Do they need the exact figures or can they be rounded? Do they need all the data or can some be omitted/ put in an appendix?
-Graphs
Graphs are used to show trends or give accurate technical information. If graphs are to be compared, use the same scale for each.
-Diagram references
Diagrams of all types must be clearly referenced in the text. Use the first number of the section in which the diagram appears, and then after the decimal point, the sequential number, e.g. Figure 3.7 is the seventh diagram in section three of the report.
-Checklist for diagrams:
* Does it give the reader the required information?
*Is it easy to use?
*Does it look attractive?


As you see, a technical report is not something difficult. You can write it easily sticking these tips, and also it’s a good idea to read technical reports of other authors. You will get the experience and build your style.




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