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Writing Technical Reports


Using Microsoft Word to create front matter. Avoiding common pitfalls in reports ... Units generally appear in the column or row, not in the table itself ... – PowerPoint PPT presentation

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Title: Writing Technical Reports

Writing Technical Reports
January 22, 2008
Chad Wilson, Ph.D. Director of Technical
Communications Across the Curriculum
What does the assignment require?
  • Your paper is limited to 10 pages (double-spaced,
    12-font, Times New Roman), exclusive of figures,
    tables and attachments. The paper format as a
    minimum should include the following sections

Front Matter
This presentation is designed to aid you in
writing this technical report
  • Writing the separate parts of the report
  • Creating and citing usable tables and figures
  • Using Microsoft Word to create front matter
  • Avoiding common pitfalls in reports
  • Revising for content, grammar, and style
  • Seeking further resources for technical writing

What is a Technical or Engineering Report?
  • In science and engineering literature, the term
    report describes a document that tells what
  • --The MIT Guide to Science and
  • Engineering Communication
  • by James Paradis
  • and Muriel Zimmerman

Theses, Dissertations, and Technical Reports
generally follow a standard format
  • Letter of Transmittal (no page number, not
    considered a part of the documentmay use a
    separate file)
  • Title Page (considered page i, but does not
    include a page number)
  • Table of Contents (page ii)
  • List of Tables and Figures (page iii)
  • Acknowledgements (page iv)
  • Glossary (page v)

Abstractsometimes before the Table of Contents
(page vi) Body of the Report (begins page 1, but
without a page number on first page) References
(continues Arabic numerals) Appendices (continues
Arabic numerals)
  • Open an MS Word document and type in this text as
    a list

  • Place your cursor after Title Page

Go to InsertBreak
  • Choose Page Break

  • Now insert page breaks after every heading. You
    should see the cursor move to the next page.

To see your page breaks, go to ViewNormal
  • Your document should now look like this.

The Letter of Transmittal is considered a
separate document, so we will add a section break
after it
Place the cursor after Letter of Transmittal
and go to Insert--Break
This time, choose Next Page under Section
Break Types
Now insert a section break after Abstract
because all of those pages will be formatted
similarly. Delete the Page Break after Abstract
Now your document should look like this
Now go to the line after Title Page
Go to InsertPage Numbers
We want the page numbers centered at the bottom,
so choose Center under Alignment
Uncheck the Show number on first page box
because we do NOT want a page number on our title
Now go to Format
We want little Roman numerals, so choose those
from the Number format dropdown box
We want to start at page i, so choose Start at
and make sure i is shown. Then click OK.
Choose OK again.
  • The document should switch to Print view and
    you should not see a page number on the Letter of
  • The title page should also not include a page
  • The Table of Contents should begin with page ii
    and continue with page vi with the abstract.

Now click on the Body page and then insert page
numbers with regular Arabic numerals. Make sure
you do not include a page number on the first
page. Start at page 1.
  • You have correctly paginated your document!
  • If you want to include Chapter headings, you can
    do that, too!
  • Now lets use styles to help us make a Table of

Now highlight Introduction and find the styles
Now choose Heading 1 from the Styles menu. The
menu should transfer to the main toolbar.
Now highlight Background and Purpose and make
them Heading 2
Now highlight Table of Contents through
Abstract and make them Heading 1.
Now highlight References and Appendices and
make them Heading 1.
  • Now were ready to make a Table of Contents!
  • Place the cursor after Table of Contents

Go to InsertReference, and choose Index and
Click the Table of Contents tab
Uncheck the Use hyperlinks instead of page
numbers box
Now you have a great table of contents!
If you move any of your sections, just right
click and update your table of contents!
You can format your table of contents however you
want to!
  • Highlight the objective and the conclusions that
    are in the paper's introduction and the
  • Bracket information in the methods section of the
    paper that contain keyword information.
  • Highlight the results from the discussion or
    results section of the paper.
  • Compile the above highlighted and bracketed
    information into a single paragraph.
  • Condense the bracketed information into the key
    words and phrases that identify but do not
    explain the methods used.
  • Delete extra words and phrases.
  • Delete any background information.
  • Rephrase the first sentence so that it starts off
    with the new information contained in the paper,
    rather than with the general topic. One way of
    doing this is to begin the first sentence with
    the phrase "this paper" or "this study."
  • Revise the paragraph so that the abstract conveys
    the essential information.

From http//www.rpi.edu/dept/llc/ writecenter/web/
This study's objective was to determine the
strangeness measurements for red, green, and blue
quarks. The Britt-Cushman method for quark
analysis exploded a quarkstream in a He gas
cloud. Results indicate that both red and green
quarks had a strangeness that differed by less
than 0.453 x 10-17 Zabes/m2 for all measurements.
Blue quarks remained immeasurable, since their
particle traces bent into 7-tuple space. This
study's conclusions indicate that red and green
quarks can be used interchangeably in all He
stream applications, and further studies must be
done to measure the strangeness of blue quarks.
From http//www.rpi.edu/dept/llc/ writecenter/web/
Approaching Introductions
  • Introductions should describe three things,
    without repeating any information directly from
    the abstract

The purpose of the report The problem addressed
in the report The scope of the report
Approaching Introductions
  • The purpose of the report

The purpose of this report is to provide the
results of a state-of-the-art investigation of
the Quantum Chips Quantum Central Processing Unit
(QCPU), including a theoretical review of the
premises of its operations.
From Finkelsteins Pocket Book of Technical
Writing for Scientists and Engineers
Approaching Introductions
  • The Problem the report addresses

May be described in just one or two sentences. Do
not repeat information from your Background
Approaching Introductions
  • The scope of the report

The QCPU is built using proprietary information
owned and protected by Quantum Chips Corporation.
Consequently, this report will be limited to the
general theoretical approaches underlying the
QCPU architecture it will not investigate the
actual methods used by the QCPU to implement
these theoretical approaches
From Finkelsteins Pocket Book of Technical
Writing for Scientists and Engineers
Supplying the necessary background
  • Here, discuss the theoretical and historical
    aspects of the topic.
  • Keep in mind the following question

What must a reader know to fully understand this
Supplying the necessary background
Located in Texas San Jacinto River Basin and
meandering in three counties, Buffalo Bayou is
approximately 75 miles in length. From the
headwaters, located in the eastern corner of
Waller County, the Bayou flows west to
east... The Texas Commission on Environmental
Quality (TCEQ) has divided the Bayou into
separate numbered segments. The segments relative
to this report are number 1007, 1013...
EBC Properties, an Austin apartment management
company, has been receiving complaints about
transmitted sound through the common wall in
their existing complexes. The high levels of
noise have caused some residents to move out of
EBC Properties complexes in order to find
apartments that provide better sound control.
Meanwhile, EBC Properties is supervising the
design of two new apartment complexes for the
Austin area. To avoid similar sound control
problems in their new complexes, EBC Properties
has requested that Firm Ideas evaluate wall
designs that provide adequate sound control
through the common wall. To meet the needs of EBC
Properties, Firm Ideas has evaluated wall designs
that control airborne sound transmission, and we
have recommended the best wall design. After EBC
Properties reads this report, they plan to use
the recommended wall design as the common wall in
their new apartment complexes. The new apartment
complexes will be two stories high and
constructed with wood framing. Therefore, Firm
Ideas only evaluated wall designs framed
From Harts Introduction to Engineering
Discussing your results
  • Do not include unprocessed or raw data here.
    Leave that for an appendix.
  • If the results are simple, use a prose passage.
  • If the results are complex, use a table, graph,
    or figure.

Discussing your results
  • Dont let the results speak for themselves. You
    must interpret them.
  • Your results should correspond to the material or
    purpose stated in your introduction.
  • Note the most important findings and any
    significant discrepancies.

Always introduce your tables in the text BEFORE
the table appears.
Titles appear ABOVE the tables and can be
centered or left-justified (but be consistent)
As indicated in section 2.3 (Statement of Work),
28 hours of labor will be required for the
successful completion of this project. In
addition, access to the computer and library
facilities on campus requires a payment of fees
as indicated in Table 1. Table 1 Cost breakdown
of bandpass filter research project
The cost of the remote control car, batteries,
and hours spent for this project is provided in
Table 4.1. Table 4.1 Itemized costs of remote
control project
Dont use all of the borders or gridlines. Tables
are generally easier to read with only a few lines
Center columns with numbers
Includes batteries, one time charge Shipping
charges for RC Car, one time charge
Units generally appear in the column or row, not
in the table itself
Left justify columns with text
Quantifying data and analysis using figures and
The reference to the figure comes BEFORE the
figure itself (call it Figure 2, not the figure
Titles for figures appear BELOW the figure
The photograph in Figure 2 shows the Sutton Hoo
burial site in 1939. This particular area of the
14-hectare site is the location of the Sutton Hoo
ship, as evidenced by the elongated oval shape of
the depression and the highly regular imprints of
wooden boards in the soil.
Figure 2. The Sutton Hoo Burial Site 3
Use MS Word
If you dont own the image, include a reference
  • Now lets learn how to label tables and figures!

Place your cursor after Purpose and go to
Click OK to create a standard table
Go to InsertReferenceand choose Caption
Place your cursor inside the table
Tables are labeled above, so put a period and
then type a title (some formats do not use a
If you were creating a figure, you would do the
same thing and choose Figure. And make sure you
place the title BELOW the figure!
Now if you move your tables around or add more,
MS Word automatically re-numbers them!
  • Now lets make an automatic list of tables and

Then go to InsertReference and choose Index and
Tables, just like we did for the Table of
Place your cursor below the List of Tables and
Choose the Table of Figures tab.
Leave everything as it is and click OK.
If you had figures in your document, you would do
the same thing except change the Caption label
to Figure.
The drawback is that you have to have a separate
Table of Tables and Table of Figures.
Wrapping up conclusions
  • What should a conclusion do?
  • Summarize the material included in the report.
  • Focus on the results.
  • Draw generalizations based on the results.
  • Contain suggested applications for research
  • Connect results to other scientific issues.

Wrapping up conclusions
  • A conclusion may include recommendations, or
    recommendations may be a separate section.
  • Suggest further research in the area.
  • May outline a course of action, if the reports
    purpose is to recommend specific action.

Noting references
  • Notational documentation

According to Finkelstein, research reports
describe the discovery, analysis and
documentation of knowledge through some type of
The superscript refers to a corresponding number
in a footnote or in the list of references that
includes a page number where the quote is found.
Noting references
  • Parenthetical documentation

According to Finkelstein, many style guides
exist today for documenting sources 2.
The number refers to a corresponding number in
the list of references that includes a page
number where the quote is found.
Noting references
  • Parenthetical documentation

According to Finkelstein, many style guides
exist today for documenting sources 2, p. 249.
The number refers to a corresponding number in
the list of references. The page number is here,
so it isnt included in the List of References.
Noting references
  • List of references
  • T. Sudkamp, Languages and Machines An
    Introduction to the Theory of Computer Science,
    2nd ed. New York Addison-Wesley, 1996.
  • M.E. Brown and J.J. Gallimore, Visualizing of
    3-D Structures During Computer-Aided Design,
    International Journal of Human-Computer
    Interaction, 7 (1995), pp. 37-56.
  • Tax Stats at a Glance. Internet Internal
    Revenue Service, www.Irs.Ustreas.gov/taxstats
  • /article/0,,id103886,00.html, accessed June 1,

Use MS Words Reference tools
  • Get on a computer and type the following sentence
    in MS Word

Kirby et al. describe how Joseph Aspin
(1779-1855), a bricklayer of Leeds, England, made
the first artificial cement about 1824.
  • Place your cursor after the final quotation
  • Go to Insert, Reference, Footnote.
  • Choose Endnote, and choose the Arabic number
    style (1, 2, 3).
  • Choose Insert and type the following
    information Richard Kirby et al. Engineering in
    History. New York McGraw-Hill, 1956, p. 197.

Summary of tips for technical reports
  • To make your paragraphs easy to read, find the
    subjects of each sentence and make sure they are
    all similar or closely related.
  • Then outline your paragraphs to see that you have
    one topic for the paragraph.
  • Revise for writing style, transitions, and other

Follow a logical format that leads your reader
through your report. Label all tables and figures
appropriately, using MS Words title function to
make creating a list easy. Use MS Words Styles
to make headings and tables of contents easy.
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