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Technical Report Writing
 
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The intention of this resource is to provide you with enough information to produce a high quality reports and literature reviews. ...

The intention of this resource is to provide you with enough information to produce a high quality reports and literature reviews.

You may need to produce several small reports during the course of your undergraduate study as part of group coursework assignments. This guide along with other provide support.

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    Technical Report Writing Technical Report Writing Document Transcript

    • Technical Report Writing Handout Dr. Glynis Perkin, G.Perkin@lboro.ac.uk Engineering Centre for Excellence in Teaching and Learning (engCETL) Contents Technical Report Writing Handout.....................................................................1 1.Introduction.....................................................................................................2 1.1What is a Report?.....................................................................................................2 1.2Different Types of Reports........................................................................................3 1.2.1 Technical–background report...................................................................3 1.2.2 Instruction Leaflets and Manuals..............................................................3 1.2.3 Feasibility Report......................................................................................3 1.2.4 Primary Research Report.........................................................................4 1.2.5 Technical Specifications...........................................................................4 1.2.6 Proposals..................................................................................................4 1.2.7 Business Prospectus................................................................................4 2 Structure of the Report....................................................................................5 2.1 Draft Plan.....................................................................................................5 2.2 Headings......................................................................................................5 3 Layout, Presentation and Style of Writing......................................................9 3.1 Layout..........................................................................................................9 3.2 Presentation...............................................................................................10 3.3 Style of Writing...........................................................................................11 4. Plagiarism and Referencing.........................................................................13 4.1 Plagiarism..................................................................................................13 4.2 References.................................................................................................13 5. Spelling, Grammar and Punctuation............................................................15 5.1 Spelling......................................................................................................15 5.2 Grammar and Punctuation.........................................................................16 6. Writing Your Report.....................................................................................19 6.1 From Start to Finish...................................................................................19 6.2 What Is Expected.......................................................................................19 6.3 Possible Shortcomings..............................................................................20 6.4 Checking your Report................................................................................20 Exercises for the Technical Report Writing Workshop....................................22 References and Bibliography...........................................................................23 References.......................................................................................................23 Bibliography.....................................................................................................23 Credits 24 List of Illustrations Figures Figure 1: Example layout............................................................................................-11- Figure 2: Checklist for your technical report...............................................................-23- Please note that this resource is accompanied by a PowerPoint presentation and is part of five workshops on Key Skills for Engineering Undergraduates. © Loughborough University 2009. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 License.
    • The workshops are:  Working in Groups – 90 - 120 minutes  Oral Presentations – 90 - 120 minutes  Sourcing Material and Writing a Literature Review – 90 - 120 minutes  Preparing for Placement – 120 - 150 minutes. Please note there is also an introductory document providing general instructions on the workshops. 1. Introduction The intention of this handout is to provide you with enough information to produce a high quality technical report. A technical report is not something that is only written by engineers and computer scientists. It is a report that may be written about any field of specialised knowledge. You may need to produce several small reports during the course of your undergraduate study as part of group coursework assignments. A larger report will be required to describe your final year project. As engineers, many of you will have entered university with science based A Levels such as mathematics and physics or through a science foundation programme. With your science backgrounds you may not have been exposed, since GCSE, to any significant form of written assessment. However, you will be writing about a topic or subject that is based on areas that you have studied and about which you are knowledgeable. This is less daunting than being asked to write an essay where you may be required to write about any subject or topic that is decided upon by your lecturer. Your technical report, especially if it is submitted as your final year dissertation, will probably be the largest and hopefully most professional single piece of assessed work that you have undertaken whilst at university. A report is a form of communication and without the knowledge to produce a good report you will be hampered in your endeavours to succeed in your future careers. When you enter the world of work, whether you are self-employed or an employee it will be necessary for you to communicate with colleagues and others in a clear, concise, and professional manner. This is an important skill regardless of the means of communication. For example, in addition to the inevitable report writing that will be required, it will also be expected that you are professional in your telephone conversations and face-to-face meetings with others. 1.1 What is a Report? A report is a means of communication that has been written for a specific purpose and is aimed at a specific audience. It is more structured than an essay and is presented in a way that enables it to be read quickly. Structure and styles of writing will be discussed in detail in sections 2 and 3 respectively. In a novel, characters and places are described in detail to enable the reader to imagine the setting. Then events that involve the characters are described. Gradually the scenes are set and at the end we have the grand finale. For instance, in a crime novel it is © Loughborough University 2009. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 License.
    • almost on the last page that the culprit is revealed. A book obviously contains a structure, not only is it divided into chapters but the actions that are described build upon earlier events. What is significant is that the structure becomes apparent as the reader progresses through the book. On the other hand in technical report the results are given at the beginning followed by the explanation. This enables others to view the report and decide if it is relevant to their own work or not. This will ultimately determine whether or not others decide to read it. 1.2 Different Types of Reports There are many different types of report each of which has a different format and emphasis. For instance, there are laboratory reports, which generally describe an experiment that has been undertaken. Under the umbrella term of Technical Reports there are, for example, primary research reports, technical-background reports, feasibility reports, proposals, and business plans. Regardless of the type of report common sense should prevail and you need to adapt your writing to suit your potential audience and the specified requirements. The following descriptions of various forms of technical reports have been adapted from an Online Technical Writing Course Guide (the online textbook for online technical communication courses at Austin Community College and other institutions worldwide). 1.2.1 Technical–background report This is the most frequently written type of technical report. It provides detail about a particular topic, for example: the spread of Japanese Knotwood, mobile phone technology or coastal erosion. A technical background report on coastal erosion would not contain references to every mathematical paper that has been written on water waves. What it would contain is enough information to enable a particular audience to use the information for their own needs. For instance, if a group of engineers were looking to build a sea defence they would need details of the time scale involved and the force of the waves but not detailed pages of wave theory. 1.2.2 Instruction Leaflets and Manuals These may take the form of a user manual for an appliance or a procedure to be followed in particular circumstances, such as fire alarm procedures. They may be short (in the form of a small insert included with a product) to large volumes with detailed instructions for setting up production lines. 1.2.3 Feasibility Report This report is the result of an investigation into a particular project or idea to determine its feasibility. The report will detail findings such as whether the project is technically possible and feasible (i.e., practical). © Loughborough University 2009. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 License.
    • 1.2.4 Primary Research Report Primary research is the term used to describe experiments and surveys. In this type of report you extend the laboratory report by explaining the background to the experiment, your methodology and the facilities. 1.2.5 Technical Specifications This report details a new product design and gives information appertaining to the product construction, the materials used and the product itself including its functions, features, operation, and potential market. A specification is not a flowing piece of writing; it tends to be fragmented with lists and tables replacing sentences. 1.2.6 Proposals Some proposals, such as a bid in the real world i.e., for the Millennium Dome or the National Lottery are extremely lengthy. Nevertheless, as a student you may be asked to write a short proposal as an assessed piece of coursework. 1.2.7 Business Prospectus This form of report is a proposal that may detail plans for starting a business venture or extending an already established business. It will contain information about the proposed business and provide details about the market place, anticipated share of the market, other established businesses who you may be competing with for a market share, financial issues etc. © Loughborough University 2009. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 License.
    • 2 Structure of the Report This section will look at the importance of producing a draft plan, and the most commonly occurring headings used in a technical report. In addition to the headings that are detailed here, you may wish to include a glossary of terms and a bibliography. A bibliography lists work that you have not directly referred to in your report but have consulted. 2.1 Draft Plan Before you rush to put pen to paper or switch on your computer and start typing it will be advantageous to spend some time writing a draft plan, with a provisional timetable, to ensure that a realistic amount of time is scheduled for all the stages of your work. This draft will also contain the main sections. It is by making brief notes of the content that will be included in each section that you will develop your structure and your sub- headings will then evolve. It is important to apportion adequate time for writing your report. It is impossible to write a good report quickly. A report that has been written the evening before it is due to be submitted will inevitably lack structure and contain many typing errors. It is not possible to obtain a good mark without spending considerable time on the report. You need to be aware that to write in a formal yet clear and coherent manner is not only difficult but also time consuming. This is the part of your work that will be marked – it needs to be grammatically correct and professional. You may find it helpful to have a large folder available before you start. Any ideas you may have, any papers you read or references you may wish to follow up should all be kept together for possible future use. There are also some areas that are often overlooked such as identifying your audience, checking your terms of reference and investigating any departmental guidelines or requirements that detail the format that your report is to take. It is important that you determine your audience, for example, are you writing for your peer group, the general public or an academic in your department. Once you have determined your audience you will be able to write your report at a level that is suitable for your audience. Ensure that you read and re-read your terms of reference; you need to be certain that you are doing exactly what it is you have been asked to do. The next section will detail the headings that need to be included in a technical report but these must be taken as a guideline only. 2.2 Headings The following is a guideline and details a recommended structure for a technical report. However, as mentioned earlier, it is imperative that you check within your department for specific requirements or recommendations. Each main section/ chapter should contain an introduction or paragraph explaining © Loughborough University 2009. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 License.
    • what will follow. A technical report should contain the headings described in subsections 2.2.1 - 2.2.9. 2.2.1 Title Page The title should be as long as is required to accurately describe your work and inform a potential reader of the content. Your name and ID number should be included and it is likely that you will also need to include your module code, course and the date; this is in addition to completing a departmental cover sheet that will accompany your report. 2.2.2 Summary or Abstract This summarises the contents of your report. It should include the purpose of the report, details of what you have done, how you did it, the main findings, the conclusions that were reached and any recommendations that you make. The abstract must be concise yet informative, its purpose is to enable a potential reader to decide if they want to read the whole of your report i.e., is your work relevant and of interest to them. It should not exceed one page or a given word count in length. You will write this after you have completed the rest of your report. To write this summary/ abstract, it may be helpful if you first summarise the main points you have made in each section before combining them into as brief as possible piece of writing. 2.2.3 Contents List This shows the structure of the report; it lists each section and sub-section in numerical order. A list of illustrations (broken down into two sections, namely Tables and Figures) must also be included. A figure is a graph or an illustration whereas a table is exactly what its title says. The references are considered to be part of your report and the item heading 'References' is listed in the contents. The last item in the contents list is the appendices. Page numbers for each section, table etc., must be included. 2.2.4 Introduction This section provides an introduction to your work; it should also include your terms of reference (or brief) and a general background to the subject area of the report with references made to others who have worked in the area. This enables you to show that you have read about your subject and are aware of current work in your particular field. The introduction should detail not only the background to your research but also put into context why your work is useful and the particular problem that is to be addressed. The introduction is also the place for you to signpost your work, i.e., explain what you intend to do, how you will do it and how your report will be structured. © Loughborough University 2009. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 License.
    • 2.2.5 Main Body of the Report The main body of your report is likely to contain a methodology, results or findings and a discussion. Methodology This section explains how you carried out your work. For example it will detail the particular research methods you used, why you used a particular method (justification) and how you analysed your findings. Results or Findings This section is where findings are presented, as concisely and clearly as possible, with little discussion or analysis. Graphs, charts or diagrams may help your audience to focus on the results you are presenting. These illustrations may be interspersed throughout the text at convenient points or placed at the end of the main body of the report. It is important that this section is well structured to enable your readers to follow through your work. One word of warning - avoid complicated statistics unless you are competent in this area. It is possible to produce an excellent report without recourse to statistical analysis. Your results and findings may well be split into several sections each of which may contain subsections. Guidance on layouts is given in section 3.1. Discussion This section discusses the results you have obtained and reported. For example, were the results as anticipated or were they unexpected? You can now analyse your data and interpret your results. For instance, was the technology you used of a high enough specification to enable your results to be of a particular accuracy? If there are any unexpected results or discrepancies you should suggest reasons why these have occurred. Were there any time or funding constraints? If so you should mention this in your discussion – this ensures that those who read your report are aware of any shortcomings there may be. It will also remind you not to make any exaggerated claims about your findings. It is important that you present a realistic interpretation of your results, link them to what you were aiming to discover and if appropriate compare these findings to those of others. This is an opportunity to refer back to what you said in your introduction. Remember to refer back to your original brief, it is important that you either show that you have done what was required or explain the reasons for inconclusive or unusual results. 2.2.6 Conclusion and Recommendations In your conclusion you will need to explain how your findings address the task or objective that you were posed. Your conclusion should not contain mention of any results that have not already been presented; the aim is to draw out possible implications from your findings and to present them clearly and succinctly. Point out what you have achieved. You may also make recommendations for future work; this is particularly useful if your own results were inconclusive. For example, you could suggest that your work is repeated with more sensitive equipment, over a longer time scale or with more funding. 2.2.7 References The References section is the final part of your report that is included in the word or page count if one has been given. In the introduction a particular experiment or result © Loughborough University 2009. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 License.
    • may have been referred to with the name of the author, date of publication and page number included. In the references section information (in a prescribed format) must be listed. This will ensure that anyone who reads your report and wants to see the material you have cited will have enough information to be able to find it. Included in the references are all the sources of information that you have referred to in your report. There are different referencing conventions and these are discussed in section 4.2. To avoid being accused of plagiarism it is imperative that work of others is accurately cited. 2.2.8 Acknowledgements This is where you acknowledge any help and support you have received whether from your supervisor, colleagues or external bodies. For instance, you may have been loaned a piece of equipment, you may have received technical support or financial help. There are two schools of thought on where the acknowledgements should be placed. They may be included after the title page or after the references. 2.2.9 Appendices The appendices appear at the end of your report and are where you place supporting information such as memos and questionnaires. This ensures that your actual report contains the most relevant material but the opportunity to view all the material is available for those who want to avail themselves of it (this is likely to be your lecturer). You may have more than one appendix and these may be labelled in an alphabetic or numeric system (but not a combination of both), for example Appendix 1, Appendix 2 or Appendix A, Appendix B. A title describing the contents of each appendix must also be included. It must be possible to understand the report without recourse to the appendices. The appendices should not contain any material that has not been previously mentioned in your report. Example 1: in your methodology you could discuss the questions that are to be posed then mention that the questionnaire may be viewed in Appendix A. Example 2: you could mention, for instance, that the manager of SupaSlik was contacted and permission was sought to view the manufacturing process and then continue by writing that a copy of the memo may be viewed in Appendix B. The appendices are not included in the allowed word or page count. However, they must be listed on the contents page and be of the same high standard as your report. © Loughborough University 2009. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 License.
    • 3 Layout, Presentation and Style of Writing To facilitate ease of reading it is imperative that your report is well laid out in a structured and well-organised manner. There are many different recommendations and suggestions for the layout of a report, including that of a personalised approach, see, for example, van Emden and Easteal, 1997. The most important issue is that you check with your department, supervisor or lecturer for any specific requirements regarding margin width, line spacing and choice of font. It is important that you are consistent with your layout throughout the whole of your report. 3.1 Layout It is usual to break down your contents into sections and subsections of up to three levels. This enables someone reading your report to go directly to a section or sub- section that is of particular interest to them. Figure 1 shows an example layout. 1. Inventory of Electrical Equipment First level headings are used for your main sections i.e., the introduction, the results, the conclusion. Each of these headings (it may help to think of them as chapters) should be on a new page, centred and presented in bold font of a larger size than the font you are using for your report. If you are using 12pt font for your report then this heading could be in 16pt. There should be a double line space before the first line of text is typed and the text should not be indented. 1.1 Computer Equipment Second level headings are used for your first subsection and should be left aligned and presented in bold italic font. If you are using 12pt font for your report then this heading could be in 14pt. There should be a single line space before the first line of text is typed and the text should not be indented. 1.1.1 Computers in Laboratories Third level headings are used for your second sub-section and should be left aligned and presented in bold font. If you are using 12pt font for your report then this heading could be1: Example layout Figure in 13pt.The text should be typed immediately below this heading and not indented. Tables may be numbered consecutively throughout the report or within each main section, where, in this case, Table 3.3 would refer to the third table in section 3. It is customary to centre the table number and its description and place this above the table. All tables must be given an appropriate and meaningful title. Figures may be numbered consecutively throughout the report or within each main section. For instance, Figure 7 would refer to the seventh figure in the report. It is now customary to centre the figure number and its description and place this below the figure. All figures must be given an appropriate and meaningful title. In the case of © Loughborough University 2009. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 License.
    • graphs it is important to label your axes, state the units you are using and apply a sensible scale to ensure that intermediate values can easily be determined. Each table and figure should have at least one cross-reference to it in the text. For instance, an example showing the organisation of headings may be viewed in Figure 1. It is customary to refer to the table or figure by its given number rather than ‘the table below/ overleaf shows …’ The tables may be presented in the text at a convenient position for both layout and viewing in relationship to the text that they relate to or they may be placed at the end of the report. It is more convenient for your readers if they are placed close to the relevant text. Equations should be consecutively numbered or numbered within each section and referred to in the text. For example, when numbering within sections, the third equation in section 4 would be referred to as equation 4.3. Lengthy mathematical derivation or mathematical proof should be placed in the appendices. However, it is appropriate to include an equation that has been used to determine your results. For example, the vorticity of the fluid was determined using equation 4.3. Bullet points (if not over used) are useful as they clearly convey important points to those reading your report. Another aspect that must not be overlooked is the size of the margins. If your report is to be bound then it is imperative that the left hand margin is large enough to allow for binding. 3.2 Presentation Sans-serif font such as Arial is generally used for text in memos, emails, lecture notes and examination papers, however, equations and Greek characters are presented in Times Roman. It may be a departmental requirement that your report should use a particular font. It is for you, as an individual (or a group), to establish the font that may be used. If in doubt use a sans–serif font. It is also important to determine the size of font that is to be used and the line spacing that is required. If there are not any specifications it is suggested that you use 12pt font with single line spacing. Text should also © Loughborough University 2009. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 License.
    • be left aligned. Avoid overuse of bold, underlining, italics and variations in font. Following these recommendations will ensure that your report is easy to read. It is also important that numbers less than 11 are presented in words; where sentences commence with a number this should be presented as a word or words (see sample sentences below). a) Twelve different results were obtained from 36 tests undertaken on three machines. b) Using three machines there were 36 tests undertaken, which produced 12 different results. However, there are exceptions to this, for example, when referring to figures and tables, i.e., "… this information may be viewed in Figure 3". It is important that you are consistent with your representation of information. For example, fractions may be shown as: 2 3/5, , or ½ 5 but do not use all three representations in your writing. It is advisable to use 3/5 or ½ in your writing to prevent uneven line spacing. 2 Whereas is more likely to be used in equations. 5 The Système International (SI) units should be used, with large and small numbers given in standard index form, i.e., 5 x 103 N. Ensure that the first time you use an abbreviation or acronym the full description is give. For example, within Higher Education (HE) it is expected that undergraduates become highly autonomous learners. If many abbreviations or technical terms are used it will be helpful to future readers of your report if you include a Glossary. The use of capitalisation should also be consistent, for example, Engineering or engineering. Another area that needs attention is the variations that exist between American and English spelling i.e., color and colour. 3.3 Style of Writing Current practice in scientific literature is to use the third person. This means that you would not write, ‘I/ we have verified that all the results are included in the report’. Instead you would write, ‘It has been verified that all the results are included in the report’. ‘We will show that the experiment has produced some interesting results’ should be written, 'It will be shown that the experiment has © Loughborough University 2009. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 License.
    • produced some interesting results’. This can sound contrived and pompous; nevertheless, it is the accepted style of writing for reports. It is important that you determine what rules or guidelines (if any) have been made regarding any reports that you undertake. In addition to using the third person you may write in the active or passive voice. This provides opportunity for you to place emphasis on the appropriate part of the sentence as demonstrated in the following sentences. Passive: The first steam locomotive was designed by George Stephenson. Here the emphasis is on the first steam locomotive (the result or a fact). Active: George Stephenson designed the first steam locomotive. Here the emphasis is on George Stephenson (the person or thing who did it). Passive: The accuracy of measurements has been improved by new laboratory equipment. Active: New laboratory equipment has improved the accuracy of measurements. © Loughborough University 2009. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 License.
    • 4. Plagiarism and Referencing It is important to reference the work of others accurately in your writing to avoid being accused of plagiarism. If you are found to have plagiarised the work of others you may be subjected to disciplinary procedures by your University. At the end of your report it is essential to include a list referencing the work of others that you have cited in your report and/ or work that you have consulted in order to produce your report. 4.1 Plagiarism Plagiarism is using the work of others and, by failing to reference it, passing it off as your own work. This is unacceptable behaviour and may be subject to disciplinary procedures. For more details see Plagiarism at Loughborough University. To avoid plagiarism you must comply with the following: 1. If you copy material exactly, enclose it in quotation marks or indent it and reference it in your text. 2. If you summarise or paraphrase material you must still reference the source in your text. The names and details of the author(s) work you have used MUST be included in your writing AND in your references section. Your supervisor or lecturer will be familiar with publications relating to specific areas of engineering and will be likely to recognise any plagiarised writing. Furthermore, there are some extremely good plagiarism checkers available on the internet, which are able to check, in seconds, if your work is original or not. Copying the work of other students is also plagiarism although this is often referred to as collusion. 4.2 References This section will concentrate on the importance of referencing, and the mistakes that are most frequently made rather than specific details of referencing. There exist several different referencing systems; the most common are the Harvard system and the numerical system. Citation at Loughborough University provides detailed information and examples. It is important to note that not only will different departments have different preferences but within departments individual lecturers may also have © Loughborough University 2009. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 License.
    • preferences relating to, for example: punctuation and capitalisation. Irrespective of the system adopted it is important that you are consistent and follow the layout exactly. This means taking care where every full stop or comma is required and where italics should be used. When referencing journal articles, the title of the journal is in italics whereas when referencing a book, it is the title of the book that is presented in italics. Your references should provide adequate information to enable someone reading your report to obtain copies of your referenced material if they wish to do so. It is therefore imperative that your referencing is accurate, for example, surnames need to be spelled correctly, authors need to be listed in the correct order and page numbers must be given when applicable. All the work of others whether referred to, paraphrased from or quoted from must be included in your references; this applies to both published and unpublished work, for example, PhD theses or private communications. Never include 'second hand' references as if you had read them yourself. This means that if you are reading a journal paper or textbook and the author, say Bloggs, includes a quotation or paraphrases a conclusion or opinion from another author, say Smith, you must not use this secondary source as if you had read the original. You must either obtain Smith's original material to ensure that the work has been correctly interpreted, quoted from and referenced or, in your own report, write Bloggs, citing the work of Smith, explains... Try to keep referencing from websites, other than legitimate and high quality ones such as Government reports, to a minimum. Material on websites does not undergo peer review or any form of quality control to ensure that it is accurate. Anyone can publish anything; material may subsequently be changed or removed. © Loughborough University 2009. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 License.
    • 5. Spelling, Grammar and Punctuation In order for your report to be deemed a professional piece of writing it must be grammatically correct, free from spelling mistakes and well punctuated. Inevitably, there will be typing mistakes that remain undetected; however, it is not realistic for your report to be littered with mistakes. If this is the case it suggests that you did not bother to proofread your report, which is unacceptable. 5.1 Spelling Spell checkers on computers are extremely helpful but not infallible, especially with typing errors. Consider the words now and not in the following two sentences: The results are now presented in detail. The results are not presented in detail. These two sentences have very different meanings and a spell checker would not find anything wrong with either of them. Some frequently misspelt words are listed below: accessible personnel benefited possession gauge receive liaison recommend necessary relevant occasion sincerely In addition to misspelt words there are words with similar spellings but different meanings that are frequently confused. For example: compliment and complement lose and loose personnel and personal principal and principle stationary and stationery where and were And words that sound the same but have different meanings such as: band and banned for and four sight, site and cite their and there © Loughborough University 2009. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 License.
    • to, too and two whether, weather and wether (a castrated ram). A sensible idea is to have a dictionary nearby. It is also advisable not to use the auto correct feature as unrecognised technical words and proper names may be altered to words that are known to 'Word'. 5.2 Grammar and Punctuation There are many grammatical pitfalls for the uninitiated or unwary. Here we will look at errors that occur frequently. It is pertinent to mention that, like the spell checker, the grammatical checks in word processing packages are not infallible. Common errors involve changing tense part way through a sentence when there has not been a change in the time frame for the actions that are taking place Incorrect - The machine contains many components that worked in unison. Correct - The machine contains many components that work in unison. However, the following sentence is correct as the students are currently enjoying a facility, which they have already built. Correct - The students are enjoying their new union bar which they built themselves. Care also needs to be taken with pronouns (words such as he/she/it, they, them, this) to ensure that it is clear as to what or whom the pronoun is referring to. Consider the following sentences: After modifications the machine was more difficult to set up but fewer bottlenecks occurred, productivity increased and material wastage became negligible. This played an important role in the current financial status of the company. It is not clear what the word this refers to – is it the reduction in waste material or the productivity increase? The sentences should be revised to remove this ambiguity. After modifications the machine was more difficult to set up but fewer bottlenecks occurred, productivity increased and material wastage became negligible. These modifications played an important role in the current financial status of the company. Another trap that the unwary may fall into is that of splitting infinitives. The following are examples of the infinitive form of verbs: To go To run To talk © Loughborough University 2009. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 License.
    • When using the infinitive form of a verb, the two words ‘to’ and the ‘verb’ must not be separated. A classic example of a split infinitive is that used in Star Trek, ‘to boldly go …’ Remember that your report is not an episode of Star Trek and will be marked by your lecturer. Apostrophes demonstrating missing letters are not suitable for use in a report unless you are citing work that contains such words. For instance, haven’t should be written as have not, it’s should be written as it is, which will also help you to avoid incorrect usage of its and it's. It is the use of apostrophes demonstrating possession where care needs to be taken. For example, Professor Blagg has had two years of experience in dealing with his student’s difficulties. In the above sentence, student’s implies that the Professor has only dealt with the difficulties of one student. Whereas students’ would imply that he has dealt with the difficulties of more than one student. The correct usage of it's and its is as follows: It's unfortunate that the laboratory had its computers stolen last night. Punctuation can radically alter the meaning of a sentence so it is essential that commas are placed in the correct position. Consider the following: a) The buffet offered a wide variety of sandwiches. I had ham and mustard, peanut butter, jam and beef. b) The buffet offered a wide variety of sandwiches. I had ham and mustard, peanut butter, jam, and beef. Example a) suggests that there was a sandwich consisting of jam and beef whereas it is clear from the second example that these were different sandwiches. c) On Monday we walked, skied and drank mulled wine. d) On Monday we walked, skied, and drank mulled wine. Example c) implies that we drank mulled wine while we were actually skiing. The semicolon (;) and the colon (:) are different punctuation marks which are not interchangeable. A semicolon may be used to link two closely related sentences whereas a colon may be used to show that a list or example follows. The following sentences demonstrate correct usage of the semicolon and the colon. Technical report writing is an important skill to develop; it will be used during undergraduate studies and undoubtedly be required after graduation. © Loughborough University 2009. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 License.
    • For this workshop you will receive the following materials: Technical Report Writing Handout (Perkin, 2007), Writing Reports study advice sheet (Loughborough University, 2004) and a suggested reading list. Care must be taken not to write fragments, i.e., incomplete sentences that do not tell the reader anything. However, long sentences are not only difficult to comprehend they are also more difficult to write correctly. It is long sentences that most frequently contain incorrect use of pronouns, tense changes and punctuation errors. Too many very short sentences may result in stilted text that does not flow. It is best to aim for medium length sentences interspersed with occasional short sentences to add impact to what you are telling the reader. Avoid using unnecessary words that do not add to the meaning of the sentence and too many long or unusual words. The report must, of course, include the technical words that are associated with your subject and it must read as if it has been written by an educated person. Nevertheless, if your readers need frequent recourse to a dictionary they are likely to cease reading your report. Above all, your report is a serious piece of academic writing and as such should use good English, it is not acceptable to use jargon or introduce humorous anecdotes. The singular and plural forms of Latin words often present difficulties. In particular, the Latin word data which is plural (the singular is datum) often causes controversy as, through popular usage, it is now acknowledged as a singular collective noun. Historically, the correct use of data would have been, The data are... . Nowadays it is often written as, The data is ... . If in doubt it is preferable to use the historically correct form - your lecturer may be a keen Latin scholar. © Loughborough University 2009. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 License.
    • 6. Writing Your Report This section includes a suggested schedule for producing your report and a checklist for you to complete. 6.1 From Start to Finish 1. Carefully read the terms of reference relating to your proposed work. It is vital that you comply with what has been requested. 2. Write a draft plan including provisional times and deadlines. 3. Search for published work that is closely related to your task, make notes and use some form of filing system (manual or electronic) to keep track of references. 4. Write your methodology. After completing your research or experiment write up your results and conclusions. It will be helpful if you build up your contents page and references as you write your report. Next write the introduction and background. Finally write the abstract or summary and remember to include material for the appendices. Once you have completed your report it is suggested that, if possible, you concentrate on other work for a day or two before re-reading your work. This should help you to be constructive in your revisions. You need to check that you have actually done what was required, that your report is well structured, has a logical progression and does not present any unjustified conclusions. After addressing these issues you must proof read it carefully to check for spelling mistakes, grammatical mistakes and typing errors. If possible ask someone else who does not have in-depth knowledge of your work to read it. This person may notice mistakes that you have not spotted, for example, abbreviations that have been used without first giving the full wording. Finally look at it critically and ensure that it is well laid out and written at an appropriate technical level for the intended audience. Make your corrections and then you must proof read it again. The more times you are able to proof read your report the better it will be. 6.2 What Is Expected It is important that you keep in mind that this is a piece of marked work and your lecturer/ supervisor will have a marking scheme in place. The following are some areas, where marks may be lost or gained, that your supervisor is likely to be looking at. • That you have done all that was required • That you understand what you have done • That it is your own work © Loughborough University 2009. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 License.
    • • That it is well structured and well laid out • That it is well written • That it is free from spelling, grammatical and punctuation errors • That tables and figures are signposted in the text • That tables and figures are labelled and of good quality • That you give evidence of background reading • That any appendices are referred to in the text • That it follows any guidelines you were given • That the claims in your conclusion are not exaggerated • That any shortcomings of your experiment/ research are mentioned 6.3 Possible Shortcomings The most common shortcomings arise from hastily written reports that have not been proofread and are consequently of a low standard. Other mistakes include missing out a section such as the abstract, failing to number the pages and drawing conclusions that are not justified from the reported evidence. It is also possible that if your report is not well written it may contain ambiguities, contradictions and/ or unclear sentences, your findings could then be misinterpreted by others who subsequently read it. 6.4 Checking your Report A checklist (see Figure 2) is included to help you to focus on all that is required and assist you in your production of an excellent technical report. It is suggested that you keep this by your side and tick off each point as you complete it. © Loughborough University 2009. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 License.
    • Checklist for your Technical Report □ Detailed plan and timetable completed □ My work addresses the question that was posed □ Draft report written □ Any departmental guidelines have been adhered to □ Required sections have not been omitted □ Numbering of sections is consistent □ Pages are numbered □ The report follows a logical progression □ The report is pleasing to the eye □ Tables, figures and appendices are referred to in the text □ Tables, figures and appendices are meaningfully labelled □ The report is written in the required style □ The report is written at an appropriate technical level □ Spelling, grammar and punctuation is correct □ Any shortcomings are mentioned □ The conclusion is based on the findings □ All cited material has been accurately referenced Would you show your report to a prospective employer? Figure 2: Checklist for your technical report © Loughborough University 2009. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 License.
    • Exercises for the Technical Report Writing Workshop Task 1 Handout a short publication with the abstract removed. Ask the students to write an abstract for the paper. One publication that has been well received by students is the Watson and Crick DNA paper. Watson, J.D. & Crick, F.H.C. (1953) A structure for Deoxyribose Nucleic Acid. Nature 171 pp737-738 Task 2 Ask the students what they understand plagiarism to mean Task 3 Produce a handout of sentences containing spelling and grammatical errors and ask the students to rewrite them correctly. Useful examples may be found in the following textbooks. Van Emden, J (1990) A Handbook of Writing For Engineers. The Macmillan Press Ltd., London, UK. Van Emden, J. & Easteal, J. (1993) Report Writing. McGraw-Hill, Berkshire, UK. © Loughborough University 2009. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 License.
    • References and Bibliography References Citation at Loughborough University. http://learn.lboro.ac.uk/course/view.php?id=3606 [accessed on 16/04/10]. Online Technical Writing Course Guide (the online textbook for online technical communication courses at Austin Community College and other institutions worldwide). The guide may be viewed at http://www.io.com/~hcexres/textbook/ [accessed on 11/01/07] Plagiarism at Loughborough University. http://learn.lboro.ac.uk/course/view.php? id=3606 [accessed on 16/04/10]. Van Emden, J., & Easteal, J. (1997) Technical Report Writing. The Institute of Electrical Engineers, Stevenage, UK. Bibliography Pears, R. & Shields, G. (2005) Cite them right: The essential guide to referencing and plagiarism. Pear Tree Books, Newcastle upon Tyne, UK. Shelton, J.H. (1994) Handbook for Technical Writing. NTC Business Books, Illinois, USA. Van Emden, J. (1990) A Handbook of Writing For Engineers. Palgrave, Hampshire, UK. The Macmillan Press Ltd., Hampshire, UK. Van Emden, J. (2001) Effective Communication for Science and Technology. Palgrave, Hampshire, UK. Van Emden, J., & Easteal, J. (1993) Report Writing. McGraw-Hill, Berkshire, UK. © Loughborough University 2009. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 License.
    • Credits This resource was created by Glynis Perkin, Loughborough University and released as an open educational resource through the Open Engineering Resources project of the HE Academy Engineering Subject Centre. The Open Engineering Resources project was funded by HEFCE and part of the JISC/HE Academy UKOER programme. © Loughborough University 2009 This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 License. The name of Loughborough University and the logo are the name and registered marks of Loughborough University. To the fullest extent permitted by law Loughborough University reserves all its rights in its name and marks which may not be used except with its written permission. The JISC logo is licensed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-Non-Commercial-No Derivative Works 2.0 UK: England & Wales Licence. All reproductions must comply with the terms of that licence. The HEA logo is owned by the Higher Education Academy Limited may be freely distributed and copied for educational purposes only, provided that appropriate acknowledgement is given to the Higher Education Academy as the copyright holder and original publisher. © Loughborough University 2009. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 License.