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Technical Report Writing

May 9, 2009

Course: Civil Engineering Practice

(4th Semester)
Department of Civil Engineering .
Technical writing
• Journal paper
• Thesis
• Dissertation
• Report
Writing technical reports
• In Engineering, one of the major forms of communication is the technical report. This
is the conventional format for reporting the results of one’s job, work, assignment,
research, investigations, and design projects. Reports are also prepared at university
levels in the form of assignments, projects, thesis, dissertation, which are read by
lecturers/professors/external examiner and other students. In the workplace, they will
be read by managers, clients, and the construction engineers responsible for building
from your designs. The ability to produce a clear, concise, and professionally
presented report is therefore a skill you will need to develop in order to succeed both at
university and in your future career.
• While reports vary in the type of information they present (for example, original
research, the results of an investigative study, survey reports or the solution to a design
problem), all share similar features and are based on a similar structure.
• This document contains general engineering report-writing guidelines only. For
specific departmental requirements, see your unit or study guide.
• Key features of reports
• Reports:
• are designed for quick and easy communication of information
• are designed for selective reading
• use sections with numbered headings and subheadings
• use figures and diagrams to convey data.
• Basic structure of a report
• A report usually has these components:
Elements of a Technical Report
• Title?/?
• Abstract (Executive Summary)
• Introduction
• Literature review
• Methodology
• Experimental Procedures
• Analysis
• Results and Discussion
• Conclusion (s) and Recommendation
• Acknowledgments
• References
• Appendix
Writing Style
• Depends on the audience
• More Lively Writing (usually preferred)
– First Person, Active Voice, Past/Present Tense
• More Formal Writing
– Third Person, Passive Voice, Past/Present Tense
• Never use slang
Document Structure
• One major task of achieving good structure from the start is compounded by the
myriad of thoughts which one juggles, in an attempt to sort out the logical
progression of the document. Failure in this endeavour will surely result in
structural changes at a later stage, which are the most costly of revisions. The key
to achieving both good structure (from the start) and decomposing the initially
large problem into bite-sized chunks lies in the contents list.
• The contents list
• Contents list is the one place in the document where overall structure can be
examined. Early organisation of the contents list is certainly not a trivial task. The
level of detail should go down to (probably) subsubsections, where the final level
contains one key idea and takes up, at most, two to three paragraphs of text. It
may even be useful to title each paragraph, though this may not appear in the final
contents list as a formal heading. Again, it is important to stress that laying out the
contents list is not easy. A badly structured document inherits its own inertia and
will be very difficult (and laborious) to correct at a later stage.
• Logical structure
Writing Mechanics
• Check Spelling
• Check Grammar
• Minimize the use of Acronyms
• If Acronyms are necessary, always define them at
the first use
• Number all equations, tables, and figures
• All tables and figures must have captions.
• All figures must have labeled axes
• All quantities must have units
Writing the Report: An Approach
• Decide on a title
• Create a brief outline with only main
section headings
• Create a more detailed outline with
• Create an executive summary
• Create the main body of text
• Insert tables, figures, references, and
Abstract or Executive Summary
• Think of it as a substitute for the report for
a busy reader
• Length never less than three sentences or
longer than a full page. Often 200 words.
• Sentence One: expand on the title
• Sentence Two: why the work was done
• Remainder: key results, with numbers as
appropriate, conclusions, recommendations
– Always comes first
– Microcosm of entire paper – contains key info
from each section
• Contains essential information only – it is brief!
• Covers research highlights
• Gives the research problem and/or main objective of
the research
• Indicates the methodology used
• Presents the main findings and conclusions
Abstract Example:
A nonlinear finite element procedure for the pre- and postbuckling analysis of thin-
walled box-section beam-columns is presented. The influence of local plate
buckling upon the overall ultimate buckling behavior of the member is incorporated
in the analysis by adopting a set of modified-stress – versus – strain curves for
axially loaded plates. Factors such as residual stresses, associated with hot-rolled
and cold-formed sections, and initial geometrical imperfections are Accounted for in
the analysis. A number of examples are presented to demonstrate the accuracy and
efficiency of the method. From “Elasto-Plastic Analysis of Box-Beam-Columns
Including Local Buckling Effects” in Journal of Structural Engineering.
• This is not a substitute for the report, and so
does not echo the abstract
• Here is the place for context, relation to
prior work, general objective, and approach
• Sometimes, introduction is combined with
literature review.
– Explains the research problem and its context
• Explains importance of the problem (Why does it
matter? Why is more information needed?)
• Explains reason and goals for study
• Explains the limitations of the research performed
Literature Review/Theoretical background
• Briefly describe the theory relevant to the work
• Summarizes and evaluates the literature that you
have used in your study by considering:
• How that literature has contributed to your
area of research
• The strengths and weaknesses of previous
studies How that literature informs your
own research and understanding of the
research problem
Report Format and Organization
• Methodology
• Experimental Procedures
- Describe Apparatus and Materials
- Show test setups (pics, photographs)
• Analysis
– Explains how data was gathered/generated
– Explains how data was analyzed
– Assumes reader understands material

• Provide design equations

• Include calculations and computer
simulation results
• Provide values for all key parameters
Results and Discussion
• Use tables and graphs
• Consider moving large quantities of raw data,
detailed derivations, or code to an appendix
• Methods of plotting which produce well
delineated lines should be considered
• Results should be critically compared to theory
• Consider limitations in the theory and engineering
• Similar to executive summary
• Must be concise
• Reinforces key ideas formed in discussion
• Includes recommendations for future work,
such as implementation of a design
Figures and Tables
• Every figure must have a caption
• All tables must have a title
• Figure/tables are placed after they are mentioned
in the text (all must be mentioned/discussed)
• Make figures/tables first, and then insert into the
• Put the figure/table number beside its title, and put
this in a standard location
• Don’t start a sentence with an abbreviation:
Figure vs. Fig.
• Keep track of those to be acknowledged-
keep a diary so that you don’t forget anyone
• Include: your sponsor, outside sources
(companies or agencies), other departments
on campus, individuals outside of your team
who have helped
• Be brief
• Various formats have been developed. Pick
one you like such as the IEEE Transactions
• Decide on a sequence, such as the order
they appear in the text
• Always give full references such that others
may find the item
References (examples)
• [1] A. Student and B. Professor, “Project of
Mangla Dam” Journal of Scientific
Research, vol. 13, no. 9, pp. 25-31, Nov.
• [2] C. Dean, The Book of Civil Engineering
Research, Oxford University Press, Storrs,
CT, 2005.
• Never take the work of others without giving
proper credit
• Never take verbatim sentences/paragraphs from the
• If you feel that you must use verbatim material, use
quotation marks and a reference.
• There are search engines that can find if verbatim
material has been stolen. Professors fail students
who do this. Additional disciplinary action may
– Sajjad Mubin and E. B. Mark, The Elements of Style
(New York: Macmillian, 2000).
– H. R. Fowler, Civil Engineering Handbook (Boston:
Little, Brown and Company, 1980).
– G. L. Tuve and L. C. Domholdt, Engineering
Experimentation (New York: McGraw-Hill Book Co.,
– Craig Waddell, Basic Prose Style and Mechanics
(Troy, NY: Rensselaer Press, 1990).
– Joseph Williams, Style: Ten Lessons in Clarity and
Grace (Glenview, IL: Scott, Foresman, 1981).
– ECE Dept, “Engineering Report Writing,” September