Jenni finished her Bachelor of Environments (majoring in Geomatics) not long ago, and is currently a first year Masters of Engineering (Spatial) student. As the title of the post suggests, this is a guide to report writing. Everyone has a different opinion on how to write up reports, and it is recommended that you check with your lecturers to see what they want in your report. Academic Skills also have great resources on report writing you should check out.
It is coming to the end of the semester and soon major reports for subjects will be due.
During my time as an undergraduate I had quite a bit of experience in scientific report writing and now in my first semester of my Masters course I have written about 18 different reports (and did pretty well on all of them). So I thought I’d share my knowledge about how to write up and format a high quality report so you can get some awesome marks.
Scientific reports have a very particular structure, which I think makes it easier to read and write as the whole thing is broken up into smaller segments. These are as follows:
- Cover page
*May not be necessary.
The first step is having a cover page. This page provides your name and student number, name of the assessment and the name and code of your subject.
Cover pages can be pretty bland if these five things are the only things shown on the page, so make it more interesting! You can use cover page templates found in Microsoft Word or make your own. Adding an image of something that relates to your report is always good.
Abstract and introduction
Depending on the assignment, the abstract and introduction may not be needed. These sections are usually used for large projects. The abstract should introduce and summarise the subject area and include the problems to be solved in the report and objectives. It should contain a brief description of the methodology and describe the implications of your report. It should be no longer than a page, and the introduction elaborates on the actual project.
Aims/Objectives and Materials
The easiest parts of a report are the Aim/Objectives and Materials/Equipment. The Aim/Objectives define what you hope to achieve. For example “to determine if X is correlated to X by analysing X”, it depends on the project. The aim is usually no longer than a couple of sentences. If need be a hypothesis may be included stating what you expect to find.
Under the Materials/Equipment section you list in dot points everything you used for the project, this includes software. One time I went a bit over board with this section, however, this was for a project that I had been working on for the whole semester and I do like to make my reports look professional.
The next part of the report is the methodology. If the assignment sheet you have been given has steps about how to do some of the things needed for your report DO NOT just copy and paste the instructions!
You do not have to include every tiny little step of the process. Keep it simple! I have found out that my tutors/markers do not like it if you write your methodology in steps (use a numbered list), usually just write a couple of paragraphs. Sometimes the tutor will want the methodology in dot points, but keep them as full sentences that end in a full stop.
The methodology should be written in PAST TENSE in THRID PERSON so no I, we, us, our. This type of writing should also be replicated throughout the rest of your report.
The results section is where you present what you have found. This includes photographs, maps and excel spreadsheets. These all need to be titled and labelled. An example of a label for a table is “Table 1: Calibration Parameters”. Everything that is not a table should be labelled as a figure and everything should be labelled in order. Maps should take up an entire A4 page unless otherwise specified. If detailed calculations have been done put them into the appendix at the end of the report.
The discussion should be the longest section of the report. This is where you explain what your results mean. This section also includes possible sources of error, the accuracy and precision of the results and how the project could be improved for future iterations.
Finally near the end! The conclusion! Restate your main results and if you have satisfied the Aim/Objectives. Explain the significance of your findings and you may also want to add how the method for the project could be used for future applications.
A reference page is needed if you have used ideas or information from a source, just like any other university paper. Make sure you used the reference style indicated by your tutors!
A couple of concluding tips for reports
- Adding page numbers, headers and footers can make your report look more professional.
- Adobe Indesign is my favourite software to use to format reports, as it does not mess up the format when images are placed in the document.
- Other software such as LaTeX can also be used to format reports, this is written in TeX macro language, kinda like HTML.
- Export/Save your report as a PDF, this way fonts and formatting will stay intact.
- Avoid use contractions don’t, won’t etc.