Author Topic: Report Writing  (Read 6256 times)

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Offline Tris20

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Report Writing
« on: January 09, 2014, 08:06:35 pm »
Ok, so this isn't quite beginner but none the less I figured it would be the best place to put this. Basically, I'm 2nd year undergrad and as part of the team project this year we need to have a 6000 word report ready by this time next month. There's plenty of writing guides out there including one from Berkeley( http://www.ocf.berkeley.edu/~anandk/math191/Technical%20Writing.pdf ), however I'm finding it hard to find good examples. Would anyone be kind enough to submit an example up on the forum showing some of the layout etc of a report they've done. If it was done within an academic institute that would be even better.

Also, how common is it to write reports in the workplace? How often do you need to do them and how big do they tend to be?

Thanks in advance.
 

Offline GreyWoolfe

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Re: Report Writing
« Reply #1 on: January 09, 2014, 08:29:12 pm »
I am a field service tech on this particular job for the last 9.5 years.  All of us technicians, through the years, have had to write some sort of technical documentation.  Sometimes it is for the end users, after going through an approval process. Sometimes it is for our knowledge database.  For us, not so common, as in once a year or so.  What we do a lot of are "learnings" emails between each other and including the Technical Manager in the distribution list.  This is fairly common.  The other thing that is fairly common is changes to process/procedures.  In fact, this is encouraged by the company overall, especially if it saves money or time.  The length of the documentation in all cases is not as important as accuracy and comprehensiveness.  This is especially important if the documentation is for the end user.  Now we also have to translate technical jargon into something mere humans can understand.  Typically that is the hardest part. 

When I went back to school and got my ASEET from ITT Technical Institute, we never really had page limits. even in the non technical core classes.  Our quarterly projects had to be presented to the teachers in front of the class and we used overheads and computer projections to describe the project while demonstrating a working project.  The project paper was almost secondary, but as I mentioned above, accuracy and comprehensiveness with sources was the most important, not length/  I would say: be accurate, cover all the details, have sources to back up your work and validate your conclusions and don't worry about the length.  If your professor wanted a page limit, you would have been told that already.
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Offline Po6ept

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Re: Report Writing
« Reply #2 on: January 09, 2014, 08:40:28 pm »
That is a pretty good and succinct guide to report writing.  6000 words isn't that hard to put out once you get started. 

You can do what they suggest and simply place the headings at the top of a series of blank pages:
1. Title
2. Summary or Abstract (Executive Summary)
3. Introduction
4. Theory and Analysis
5. Experimental Procedures
6. Results and Discussion
7. Conclusions and Recommendations
8. Acknowledgments
9. Literature Cited
10. Appendix

Once you do that, you might try using a free form "just get it all on paper" approach do a serious brain dump of seemingly unrelated facts.  Just let it go and ignore grammar, punctuation, and formatting until you have bled yourself dry of everything you can think of about the project.  Once you do that, you can cut and paste snippets onto the proper page under each heading.  Then sort the snippets and apply your writing skills to each section.  Do follow the guidelines of using passive voice, third person, past tense unless you know for certain that your professor appreciates first person, active voice, past tense. 

That process helps me get past the inevitable writer's block and it may work for you as well.

On the job, you would modify the name of each section if it doesn't exactly apply, but the layout process really helps with flow.

One more thought:  Never leave these out! 
8. Acknowledgments
9. Literature Cited
10. Appendix
While we like to believe that the conclusions/recommendations section is the most important one, you absolutely have to acknowledge the participants, cite the prior work or literature, and provide an appendix.  It means the world to your credibility.

Reports in my industry tend to be required more of senior engineers and project leads.  Another skill is the ability to provide a concise summary for executive review.  Executives are way too busy to read a novel and they really appreciate a good summary.  Hit them with the facts they need to know and follow the header with the details.

One sad fact about doing reports in a major corporation is that if you develop a reputation as someone who is really good at it, you may well be saddled with writing them.  No good deed goes unpunished.  ;)
« Last Edit: January 09, 2014, 08:52:35 pm by Po6ept »
 

Offline Mandelbrot

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Re: Report Writing
« Reply #3 on: January 09, 2014, 08:53:43 pm »
No doubt the best person/people to ask about the preferred layout of a report is whoever is going to grade it. If possible, get to know the grader and try to find out what they are likely to look for in the report. I'm a third year undergraduate and I've always structured my reports in the same way, that is, a short abstract describing what was done and why followed by an introduction that is a bit longer and goes more in depth on the background of your project. Next I split up the project into a few discrete parts and write a paragraph or two on each. Finally I include a conclusion that basically just repeats the abstract in different words and includes a summary of the results in the last couple sentences. I usually include lots of diagrams and graphs/oscilloscope screen captures because they make the report look cool and like a data sheet or something. I have only written reports up to about 4000 words in this format however, but I'm pretty sure it could work for 6000 words.

I structure my reports this way because this is what my professors like. It's easy to grade because the different parts are easy to find. The most important thing is finding what your specific grader is looking for, and then making your report clean and easy to follow and find information. This also makes it easier to delegate parts for people in a group to write.

I've found that looking at example papers others have written doesn't help me because it's unlikely my project fits precisely into the same format. If your grader doesn't have a preferred format, make one up that fits your project and the writing style of you and your group. Just make sure it's easy to grade because professors care about that more than anything else.

Hope I was able to help some. Good luck!
-Ryan

 

Offline Smokey

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Re: Report Writing
« Reply #4 on: January 09, 2014, 09:49:29 pm »
Every real application requires a different format.  If you are writing something for business types, you aren't going to include the same information you would if you were writing it for technical types.  Just remember the real world doesn't care about word count.  Include enough info to clearly make your point and don't artificially puff up the length for it's own sake.  In the real world time costs money, and that includes your time writing the thing and everyone elses time that has to read it.  I hate having to go through 20 pages that could have been consolidated down to one paragraph and one plot.  Even better is when that consolidated paragraph and plot are at the beginning in a "summary" section or something like that so I can get the punchline first and then have more reference for the details to follow.

I remember the required "technical writing" class they made us take in college.  They really should have had a placement quiz for this type of thing before they assign you a class.  That way you weed out all the non-native speakers and people with TERRIBLE writing skills and make them take the beginning technical writing class, and everyone else can either test out of taking it completely or take something at a higher level.  While there was a lot of good stuff people should really know in that class, they really could have consolidated it to a couple weeks instead of a whole quarter. 
 

Online IanB

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Re: Report Writing
« Reply #5 on: January 09, 2014, 10:00:28 pm »
Just remember the real world doesn't care about word count.

Heh :)

Let me turn this around: the real world cares a lot about things being too long or too wordy. Often the guidelines for technical submissions to conferences or journals state a maximum page count, and internal reports will very easily get filed under "too long; didn't read" if you fail to be concise and to the point.

Brevity is your friend.
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Offline Tris20

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Re: Report Writing
« Reply #6 on: January 09, 2014, 10:35:25 pm »
Thanks for all the replies so far. I agree about making a concise report but "Reports should not exceed 10 000 words of text including equivalent space for figures; a reasonable minimum is 6 000 words." It's split between four of us so that's two thousand words each (as someone will no doubt bail).


 Our project this year is to make a photoplethysmogram(PPG). Fortunately in my search for information on a PPG I've actually stumbled across a great example report, just over six thousand words and it's based on a PPG :)

http://www.cs.tau.ac.il/~nin/Courses/Workshop12a/PPG%20Sensor%20System.pdf

 

Online IanB

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Re: Report Writing
« Reply #7 on: January 09, 2014, 11:07:24 pm »
Thanks for all the replies so far. I agree about making a concise report but "Reports should not exceed 10 000 words of text including equivalent space for figures; a reasonable minimum is 6 000 words."

Well, of course :)  Reports should not only be concise, but must also be complete and contain all necessary information. It's something that takes practice to do well.
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Offline Smokey

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Re: Report Writing
« Reply #8 on: January 10, 2014, 01:11:07 am »
Just remember the real world doesn't care about word count.

Heh :)

Let me turn this around: the real world cares a lot about things being too long or too wordy. Often the guidelines for technical submissions to conferences or journals state a maximum page count, and internal reports will very easily get filed under "too long; didn't read" if you fail to be concise and to the point.

Brevity is your friend.

Wasn't that pretty much my point? 
 

Online IanB

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Re: Report Writing
« Reply #9 on: January 10, 2014, 02:16:25 am »
Wasn't that pretty much my point?

Yes, it was. I was just reemphasizing it because I thought it was important. Sorry for not more directly acknowledging what you said.
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Offline Smokey

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Re: Report Writing
« Reply #10 on: January 10, 2014, 03:07:37 am »
All good.  I may have used too many words.   :) 
 

Offline KJDS

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Re: Report Writing
« Reply #11 on: January 10, 2014, 03:16:02 am »
I suspect I've spent more of my professional life writing reports, customer proposals, procedures and the like than I have pure design work.

I suspect that's usually the case.

Offline Smokey

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Re: Report Writing
« Reply #12 on: January 10, 2014, 03:56:44 am »
I suspect I've spent more of my professional life writing reports, customer proposals, procedures and the like than I have pure design work.

I suspect that's usually the case.

I've been 80% internal documentation 20% design/fun stuff for a while.  Documentation is even less fun than reports.
 

Offline PedroDaGr8

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Re: Report Writing
« Reply #13 on: January 10, 2014, 04:09:27 am »
To paraphrase what others are saying:

A sexist teacher in high school told us this. A report should be like a woman's skirt. Long enough to cover what's needed but short enough to be interesting. Note he wasn't sexist just because of this. Let's just say he was a creepy old man.

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Offline vk6zgo

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Re: Report Writing
« Reply #14 on: January 10, 2014, 04:46:20 am »
To paraphrase what others are saying:

A sexist teacher in high school told us this. A report should be like a woman's skirt. Long enough to cover what's needed but short enough to be interesting. Note he wasn't sexist just because of this. Let's just say he was a creepy old man.

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Lot of us around! ;D

I was told:  "Tell 'em what you are going to tell 'em"(Summary)

                  "Tell 'em"(Body of the Report)

                  "Tell 'em what you  just told 'em"(Conclusions)
 

Offline rsjsouza

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Re: Report Writing
« Reply #15 on: January 10, 2014, 03:08:06 pm »
I was told:  "Tell 'em what you are going to tell 'em"(Summary)

                  "Tell 'em"(Body of the Report)

                  "Tell 'em what you  just told 'em"(Conclusions)
I was taught one way of doing reports that helped me over the years: start writing the Body of the report with the work done in the experiment, then write the conclusion and only then you write the summary to perfectly match the conclusions you obtained. After writing the summary, check if it is within the scope of the work you were tasked to do and adjust as needed.

This helped me keep an overall consistency on my reports.
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Oh, the "whys" of the datasheets... The information is there not to be an axiomatic truth, but instead each speck of data must be slowly inhaled while carefully performing a deep search inside oneself to find the true metaphysical sense...
 

Offline Jon Chandler

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Re: Report Writing
« Reply #16 on: January 10, 2014, 10:01:39 pm »
One general comment: proofread thoroughly, several times.  Make sure the words on the paper match the words in your head – this is not always as simple as it seems.

Spell check does not substitute for proof reading!  Having the wrong words perfectly spelled doesn't help get your point across.
 

Offline KJDS

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Re: Report Writing
« Reply #17 on: January 10, 2014, 11:12:43 pm »
One general comment: proofread thoroughly, several times.  Make sure the words on the paper match the words in your head – this is not always as simple as it seems.

Spell check does not substitute for proof reading!  Having the wrong words perfectly spelled doesn't help get your point across.


^^^This^^^ then get someone else to read it, once you've read something three times you stop being able to see any errors.

Offline Smokey

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Re: Report Writing
« Reply #18 on: January 11, 2014, 01:07:18 am »
Be especially careful if you write something, finish that section, then go back and change it.  You end up with spliced sentences that make absolutely no sense.
 


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