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Written Report Guidelines

Introduction

This appendix is intended to provide guidelines for preparing the written MQP report which is submitted at the conclusion of the project. Most of these guidelines are based on common sense. They are offered to help improve the overall quality of the MQP report and should be used in conjunction with other campus resources to prepare a quality project report.

As with everyone else, an engineer's primary means of communication is through spoken and written English (in this country). Do not subscribe to the stereotype that engineers have a poorer command of English than other professionals.

A high-quality report is an essential element in the evaluation of the project by your advisor. In addition, the project report is the vehicle by which the results of your work are disseminated. It must be structured correctly and written precisely if it is going to be of any use to the intended audience. There is no excuse for misspelled words, incomplete sentences, or poor punctuation in a report.

Writing should not be left until all of the work has been completed. The ``write as you go'' method of report generation often saves time and headaches in the end. By writing the report in installments, you will avoid omitting an important measurement before the equipment has been taken down. The process of report writing often results in the need for more technical work in order to make the project complete. In addition, it is a lot easier to write about things when the work is still fresh in your memory.

Remember the ideas, the findings, and the conclusions put forth are the primary purpose for the report. Following these guidelines will help ensure that the reader is presented with a report that follows an orderly presentation, is well documented, and is free of mechanical flaws. The content is up to you.

Format and Style Issues

The format and style of the report are the first things the reader will see. Attention paid to details of the report format and structure will complement the written content. These issues are dealt with by Turabian[1]. Your report must be typed.

Report Format

Any technical report can be broken down into three main components:

  • Front matter
  • Body
  • Reference material

The physical formatting of each page should be according to the specifications published by the archival body, generally in a library. In the absence of these, a good rule of thumb is to allow one inch on the top, the bottom, and the unbound side. A margin of at least one and one quarter inches should be allowed on the side of the page that goes into the binding.

The front matter consists of the following:

  • Title page.
  • Abstract. This is a short, stand-alone description of the project that conveys the problem, the approach, the solution, the results, and the conclusion(s). An abstract is often the first thing to be read and will determine whether the reader decides to go further. The abstract should contain the maximum amount of specific information. For an MQP, the abstract should be limited to about 80 words.
  • Acknowledgments (optional).
  • Table of contents. This list of page numbers indicates where to find each section in the report. Major and minor section divisions should be listed in the table of contents.
  • List of figures, captions, and page numbers.
  • List of tables (patterned after the list of figures).
  • Executive summary. This can be thought of as an extended abstract. It should contain a terse discussion of all significant goals, work, and results of the project. Limit it to no more than five pages.

The body of the report is where you put the substance. Generally speaking, it should contain an introduction to the problem, your objectives, a review of pertinent literature, and the details of your approach to the problem. It should end with a summary of what you have done and your conclusions. It should be constructed of well defined divisions such as chapters, sections, and subsections. Each division should be numbered, with each section numbered to reflect the chapter. Each subsection should reflect the section.

The reference material consists of the material you referred to in the body of the report. If you point the reader to any books, technical papers, reports, or manufacturer's information for more details regarding something you discuss, your reference material would include a list of technical references. The style of these references is discussed in Section C.2.2.4 below. Other appropriate reference material would be included through the use of appendices. Material appropriate for inclusion in appendices include experimental data, computer programs, detailed schematics, device data sheets, and anything else that adds to the report's completeness but is not appropriate for inclusion in the report body. Copies of readily available material should not be included in the appendices; reference to the material is sufficient.

For many engineering design projects, the report should contain a maintenance and/or user manual. This manual should be a stand-alone section and included as an appendix that is referred to in the body of the report.

Report Style

Virtually every technical report uses figures, tables, equations, and references to aid with clarity, succinctness, and completeness. This section addresses how these items should be included in the report.

Figures and Tables

A figure or table is used to better illustrate a point.

A well-designed figure or table can save you a lot of writing while doing a better job of getting your message across. An important example would be the use of timing diagrams to describe the operation of a microprocessor system.

A figure is located as close as practical to, and preferably after, the first place it is referenced, but it should not split up paragraphs. The figure is accompanied by a number and caption, both of which go below the figure. Use the number when you refer to a specific figure.

An example of a correct figure reference: "The basic algorithm for performing integrity monitoring is illustrated in Figure 1." Proper figure format is shown in Figure 1. Figures should be numbered consecutively within each major division of the report, that is, if your report is broken down into chapters, number each figure consecutively within that chapter. Each figure number should reflect the major division. For example, the first figure in Chapter 2 would be referred to as "Figure 2.1."

         Figure 1: Generic RAIM Algorithm

The caption associated with the figure should be able to convey some understanding of the figure to the reader without reference to the report text. Proper sentence structure and punctuation should be used in the caption, complete with a final period.

Figures should be in black and white only. This makes mass reproduction possible because not all photocopiers reproduce all colors. In addition, color figures may become ambiguous when photocopied into black and white. Figures should not be drawn freehand.

Drawing packages such as Corel-Draw are available on the department PCs and tools such as Xfig are available on workstations that you may use to create proper figures. Similarly, a variety of tools are available for creating graphs.

Also, a figure does not substitute for clearly written text. Every figure should be both referenced and explained in the supporting text.

A table is just like a figure with two exceptions:

The number and caption go above the table. When referring to a specific table, the word table is capitalized and never abbreviated. Figures and tables should be numbered separately but with the same numbering convention. A sample table is given in Table 1.

Table 1: The design summary for the 8/14 VRM

8

14

0.169 rad

0.195 rad

outer diameter:     146 mm

rotor slot diameter: 133 mm

stator diameter: 112 mm

air gap: 0.127 mm

stator trunk diameter: 52 mm

shaft diameter: 40 mm

N: 276 turns

Equations

Equations are a natural component of technical reports. Each significant equation should be displayed. That is, it should not be buried in the text. If the equation is ever referred to in the text, the equation should be numbered to facilitate the reference. The number should be in parenthesis at the right margin of the equation.

This format is shown with the definition of the total harmonic distortion (THD):

(1)  A sample equation reference would be "As noted in Equation 1, the THD ..." Notice that references to equations take the same form as references to figures. Also note that equations should include proper punctuation. Punctuate an equation just as you would a sentence.

If any calculations are presented in the report, the SI system of units should be employed. The only exception to this would be when the use of SI units deviates from the accepted set of units for that field. For example, the semiconductor devices field usually uses centimeters, not meters, as its fundamental length. In any case, the units being used should be stated explicitly.

Abbreviations and Acronyms

Define abbreviations and acronyms the first time they are used. Acronyms that will be recognized by any practicing electrical engineer do not have to be defined. Acronyms that do not need to be defined include IEEE, SI, MKS, CGS, ac, dc and rms. Redefine acronyms when first used in the text even if they have been defined in the abstract. Avoid using acronyms in titles. Accepted unit abbreviations may be found in most introductory texts for your subject area.

References and Bibliography

References are used to direct the reader to more explicit information about a topic. You need not include a direct quote from the source in order to justify your reference. The following text is an example of how you might use a reference.

Thus, the basic requirement of a GPS integrity monitoring system is to alert the user if their reported position is outside of the accuracy requirements for the current phase of flight. Furthermore, the user must be alerted in a timely fashion so an alternate source of navigation information can be used. Table 1 lists the typical integrity monitoring requirements for various phases of flight[3].

The reference number is enclosed in square brackets.

Example:

[3] "Minimum Operational Performance Specification for Airborne Supplemental Navigation Using Global Positioning System (GPS)," RTCA Document RTCA/DO-208, July 1991.

It is important that references be complete.

A typical reference should provide the following:

  • Names of authors
  • Title of paper
  • Full title of journal
  • Year of publication and volume number
  • First and last page numbers

For a book, the author, book title, publisher, and year of publication should be stated, along with the chapters to which you refer. For other types of documents check a style guide for the appropriate reference format.

Some Common Mistakes

The word data is plural, not singular. The subscript for the permeability of free space is zero, not a lower case o. In American English, periods and commas are within quotation marks, like the period at the end of "this sentence." A parenthetical statement at the end of a sentence is punctuated outside of the closing parenthesis (like this). (A parenthetical sentence is punctuated within the parentheses.) A graph within a graph is an inset, not an insert.

The word alternatively is preferred to the word alternately (unless you really mean something that alternates). There is no period after the et in the Latin abbreviation et al. The abbreviation i.e., means that is and the abbreviation e.g., means for example (note comma with each). These and other foreign language phrases should be set in italics.

When expressing volumes, use either of these forms: "" or ";" do not use "." In the text, tables and figures, use a zero before decimal points: "0.25," not ".25."

Do not mix complete spellings and abbreviations of units. Use "" or "Webers per square meter," not "." Spell units when they appear in text: ". . . a few centimeters," instead of ". . . a few cm."

Report Content

The report is intended to be complete documentation for your project and it should reflect that. It should be detailed, complete, concise, and precise. Don't waste your time and the readers' time with extra words. Completeness and precision do not imply a lot of words. Technical papers are a good example of this.

The precision of your words is very important. Just as in the legal profession, many technical words have precise concepts associated with them. Loose usage of these words may seem like a way of avoiding the usage of the same words over and over again. The more likely result is a confused reader; be consistent with your choice of words. For example, electric motors and electric machines are not necessarily the same. While every electric motor is an electric machine, not every electric machine is an electric motor.

Also, do not use an imprecise word (such as several) when a precise word (such as three) is possible. It is usually apparent when vague language is being used as a substitute for the technical work that would enable precision. This is damaging to the quality of the report and the overall quality of the project.

You should view the project report as a document that reflects your learning experience. Dead ends should not necessarily be omitted from the report. If they were significant, put them in. Having said this, it is also important to realize that the report is not a diary. The organization of the report deserves careful thought over and beyond how the project was executed.

The level of the report should match the intended audience. An MQP report should be written so that any junior electrical engineering student can understand it. This is particularly true of any user's or maintenance manuals that are included with the report.

If the project report has multiple authors, you have a little more work ahead of you. Care must be taken to be sure that notation is consistent between authors. In addition, it is very easy for multiple authors to repeat each other. Outlining the report before the writing begins will help eliminate redundancy.

Strunk and White[2] do an excellent job of illustrating and then describing ways around common writing problems. It is a short book and the time invested in reading it before you begin writing in earnest will be repaid in reduced revision time and improved readability of your report.

Your advisor's job is to make sure your report is technically correct. Everything else is your responsibility. You should not expect your advisor to spend his or her time correcting your English. If the writing is poor, don't be surprised if your advisor refuses to read it. If your advisor must help you with your English, don't be surprised if your grade reflects this fact. By this point in your career, you should be competent in written communication. If you are not, take advantage of the writing resources offered on campus. The Writing Resource Center may be able to help you understand the types of writing mistakes you are making so that you may become a better writer. Don't hesitate to use its services. The Projects Office also has handouts on how to write a project report.

It is vital to allow for multiple drafts, with time to critically read each draft and make all necessary changes in content an organization. It is unreasonable for you to expect your advisor to be able to turn your drafts around in 24 hours. Plan your time accordingly.

Summary

This appendix has provided a brief overview of what is expected in an MQP report. Most of these guidelines have dealt with the mechanical features of the document. While these are easier to take care of than the actual report content, their importance cannot be overstressed. Following these guidelines will result in a report that has the essential components of a professional-quality report.

References

  1. L. Turabian, A Manual for Writers of Term Papers, Theses, and Dissertations, The University of Chicago Press, 1973.
  2. Strunk and White, The Elements of Style, 3rd ed., Macmillan Publishing Company, 1979.