This unit identifies and briefly describes each component of a technical report. It is important that you understand and learn to use all or some of the components as you write technical reports for varying categories of readers. Depending on the type of technical report you write, it is always necessary for you to understand why some components will always he included and why some may be excluded. At the outset of learning how to write technical reports, however, you arc advised to include rather than exclude, if you are in any doubt whatsoever. As you build up experience and confidence, such decision-making will become progressively easier. Unit 2 is divided into three parts – Preliminary Matter, Main Report, and End Matter. There is no absolute agreement on this. Therefore, you may be exposed to certain situations or experiences which require that you handle the components rather differently. If you have to present a technical report using a prescribed order of components you will, of course, do so. But if you are in a position to decide for yourself or even advise on the matter, you will find it helpful to learn to justify the choice of a particular order for any technical report you write. This is what this Unit will help you to do. A number of self-assessment questions are incorporated in the text to help you assimilate the new information being presented to you. Do your best to cover all the exercises and to repeat them as many times as you consider it necessary to do so.
At the end of this unit, you should be able to:
- list the components of a technical report
- classify the components as ‘preliminary matter’, ‘main report’, or ‘end matter’
- defend the use or non use of any component in a technical report.
3.0 MAIN CONTENT
3.1 Preliminary Matter
In a sense, the word “preliminary” is somewhat misleading especially as it is used in this unit to describe a number of entries in a technical report which the reader must consider before the “main report.” The preliminary entries are no less important than those in the main report: they are simply different. You should, therefore, pay as much attention to identifying, listing, and describing the components of the preliminary part of your report as the main part. The same goes for the “end matter.” Any demonstration of shoddiness or carelessness in the handling of either part will, undoubtedly, impact negatively on the quality of your report, no matter how well organised your “main report” might have been.
3.1.1 The Cover
You should take seriously the appearance of the cover of your technical report since it symbolises your image and/or your organisation’s. The cover of a commissioned technical report should be done in colour and carry the logo of the pertinent organisation. The quality of paper varies from glossy bond paper to treated cardboard, depending on the funds available and the importance attached to the role of the report in shaping the image of the
organisation. You should bear in mind, however, that a glossy, coloured cover cannot compensate for a shoddily written report.
3.1.2 The Title Page
3.1.3 The Table of Contents
You should make this as detailed as possible, especially for reports that have many sub-sections and sub-subsections. The full range of fonts and symbols in a computer memory should be deployed to make the layout of your table of contents as clear and pleasing to the eye as possible.
3.1.4 The Transmittal Letter
A short, formal letter normally accompanies a commissioned report. In essence, it says, “here’s the report you asked me/us to write. 1/We hope you find it useful.”
3.1.5 Terms of Reference
A commissioned report should contain the agreed terms of reference for the report. While the primary value of this part of the report is to enable the clients evaluate the product they had contracted to pay for, it may also serve to adjudicate in any dispute between the clients and the writer(s) of the report.
3.1.6 Scope and Limitations
You should make your scope notes clear and precise. Any known limitations of the report should be similarly stated and hence the reservations and precautions that have to be exercised in reading and/or using it. If such limitations are due to specific problems encountered in the course of data collection or analysis, you should state them explicitly.
3.1.7 Technical Terms and Symbols
Technical report writing in science and technology will normally use a large number of technical terms and symbols. You should list and explain only those that have been used in your report, not some general list of terms and symbols in a particular branch of science. You may also wish to assemble them as a ‘Glossary of Technical Terms and Symbols’, either as part of ‘preliminary’ or as ‘end matter.’
3.2 Main Report
The ‘main body’ of your technical report should contain all that is new in your study which you want to share with your readers as clearly and completely as you can. No extraneous material, that is, material that should properly belong to the ‘preliminary’ or ‘end’ aspects of your report, must be found here.
3.2.1 Executive Summary
This is much more than an ‘abstract’ or ‘summary’ in a scientific paper. It is a rather comprehensive overview of what the reader is going to find in the body of the report. You should write it keeping in mind the busy executive who will have neither the inclination nor the time to read the whole of your report. It is a mistake, however, to make it so snappy that the reader is forced to refer constantly to the body of your work in order to get the “Comprehensive overview” that you are trying to convey. It requires considerable practice before you get the required balance right.
Collect four scientific documents of about 50, 100, 150, and 200 pages respectively. Beginning with the shortest document, prepare an executive summary (comprehensive overview) of each document until you are confident of doing the longest document with considerable ease.
3.2.2 Methods of Data Collection
3.2.3 Analysis and Interpretation of Data
Remember that you are analysing and interpreting your data for the study, not someone else’s. Occasionally, of course, you will have to compare your analysis and interpretation with those of previous or contemporary writers on the subject. But you must do so with care so that the reader’s attention is not unduly diverted away from your analysis and interpretation.
Some writers prefer ‘results’ to ‘findings’ as the outcome of their scientific work. Generally, ‘results’ are the outcome of experimental research, while ‘findings’ normally relate to field observations. The important point here is that you list your results/findings in a logical manner most suitable for the kind of study you are reporting.
3.2.5 Discussion and Conclusions
Here, you give discussion full reign by citing as many relevant references as possible – published and unpublished. Your discussion should lead logically to your conclusions for the study, and you will be wise to number all your conclusions for easy grasp.
3.3 End Matter
This is where to place statistics, photographs,questionnaires, interview schedules, and such other information necessary to your report but too cumbersome to include in the main body without disturbing your trend of thought.
3.3.2 Biodata of Author(s)
You should ensure that a brief biodata of each author of a technical report is given to facilitate the reader’s evaluation of authors’ qualifications and experience in writing the report.
3.3.3 References and Bibliography
Unless your report is essentially academic, a list of references in the report will do without a bibliography. The important point for you to note is that the references must be listed in accordance with the rules of a specified house-style or published text. A bibliography includes all documentary sources consulted but not necessarily mentioned in the main body of your report.
You should acknowledge any significant help that you received from any individual. Specifically, you should acknowledge the source of special equipment, cultures or other materials. Further, you should acknowledge the help of anyone who contributed significantly to your study or to the interpretation of your data. The important element in acknowledgements is simple courtesy.
3.3.5 Distribution List
Where relevant, you may include a distribution list at the end to ensure that your report reaches all those entitled to receive it.
You have been introduced to the components of a technical report that you are likely to encounter. Although these components have been arranged into three parts, you may find examples of good technical report writing where certain components are not always where they have been placed in this unit. For example, the ‘Acknowledgements’ part of a report may be placed in the ‘preliminary’ rather than the ‘end’ section. Similarly, ‘References’ may be spread over the relevant parts of the ‘main report’ rather than being collated in the ‘end’. Such changes should not bother you. What is important is that you understand what the components are, no matter where they are placed. Unit 2 of this course has helped you to gain such understanding and to feel sufficiently confident to go ahead with the subsequent study units of CIT 802:Technical Report Writing.
In this unit, you have learned to:
- list 18 specific components of a technical report
- describe, briefly, the function of each of the 18 components • understand the reasoning behind their classification in a technical report; and
- justify the inclusion (or non inclusion) of each of the components and any technical report that you may choose to write.
Having been able to answer the question, what is a technical report in Unit 1, and learned the Components of a technical report in Unit 2, you are now in a good position to learn about the significance of Report writing in science and technology in Unit 3.
6.0 TUTOR- MARKED ASSIGNMENT
- List and explain the components of a technical report.