ENGINEERING REPORT

images (5)

Writing Guidelines for Engineering and Science Students

What distinguishes a formal report from an informal reporting of information? The answer lies not in the topics of formal reports, but in the expectations of the audiences for formal reports. In a formal report, the audience expects a methodical presentation of the subject that includes summaries of important points as well as appendices on tangential and secondary points. Note that the readers for a formal report are often two or more distinct audiences. These distinct audiences include professionals specializing in the report’s subject matter, professionals not specializing in the report’s subject matter, and managers overseeing the report’s subject matter.

Format distinguishes formal reports from an informal reporting of information. A well-crafted formal report is formatted such that the report’s information is readily accessible to all the audiences. For that reason, formal reports are split into different sections. One way to group these sections is in terms of the front matter, main text, and back matter. The front matter, which presents preliminary information for the report, serves to orient all intended audiences to what the report contains. The text portion of the formal report is the report’s “story” and contains the introduction, discussion, and conclusion of the report. The text delivers a methodical explanation of the report’s work to the report’s primary audience. The report’s back matter portion, which contains the appendices, glossary, and references, serves to provide secondary information to all readers as well as primary information to secondary readers.

Front Cover. The front cover of a formal report is important. The front cover is what people see first. When the report sits flat on a desk, the front cover is in view. Therefore, the front cover should contain the report’s title and the author’s name. Because reports are often revised and republished, the front cover should also contain the date of publication. The front cover has no page number. Space the title, name, and date to achieve a nice balance on the page. If possible, type the title in a larger font size than the name and date. Use initial capitals for the title.

Title Page. The title page for a formal report often contains the same information as is on the cover. In some formats, there is a summary included. Most often, because of space restrictions, that summary is descriptive (more like a table of contents in paragraph form). Sometimes, though, this initial summary is informative and geared toward the technical audience of the report. In such situations, that summary is often named an “Abstract.” Consult with your instructor to find out what kind of summary, if any, should be on this page. Note that the title page is numbered “i” (the actual presence of a page number on the first page is optional).

Contents Page. The table of contents includes the names of all the headings and subheadings for the main text. In addition, the table of contents includes names of all headings (but not subheadings) in the front matter and back matter. For instance, the contents page includes listings for the the appendices (including appendix titles), the glossary, and the references.

Summary. Perhaps no term in engineering writing is as confusing as the term “summary.” In general there are two types of summaries: descriptive summaries and informative summaries. A descriptive summary describes what kind of information is in the report; it is a table of contents in paragraph form. An informative summary is a synopsis of the text portion of the report; it is analogous to a baseball boxscore. Unfortunately, few people use these terms to name the summaries in reports. The names you’re likely to run into are “abstract,” “executive summary,” and plain old “summary.”

An “abstract” usually, but not always, refers to a summary written to a technical audience, and depending on its length can be either descriptive, informative, or a combination of both. As you might imagine, short abstracts are typically descriptive and longer abstracts are typically informative. Abstracts generally do not include illustrations. Sometimes the word “abstract” is proceeded by the word “descriptive,” which is usually a clue that you should write a descriptive summary written to a technical audience. Other times the word “abstract” is proceeded by the word “technical,” which is usually a clue that an informative summary written to a technical audience is called for.

An “executive summary”is the most consistently defined term-it refers to an informative summary written to a management audience. Because it is informative, it includes the most important results and conclusions of the document. Because it is written to a management audience, it includes enough background for the manager to understand those results and conclusions. Stylistically, it is tailored so that a manager can read it quickly and garner what happened in the report. Whether it contains illustrations or not depends on the format.

An “executive summary”is the most consistently defined term-it refers to an informative summary written to a management audience. Because it is informative, it includes the most important results and conclusions of the document. Because it is written to a management audience, it includes enough background for the manager to understand those results and conclusions. Stylistically, it is tailored so that a manager can read it quickly and garner what happened in the report. Whether it contains illustrations or not depends on the format.