How to write a technical report
This article gives some general guidelines on writing a technical or scientific report. It describes
the standard model' of report writing and some alternatives. The article is intended for students
who are currently undertaking undergraduate or master's degree projects, or expect to do so in
the near future.
3 The standard model
4 Alternatives to the standard model
5 Language, style, and presentation
6 Graphic material
7 Things to avoid
8 General guidelines
The ability to write clear, concise reports is an asset to almost any professional. In this article I
offer some general guidelines on report writing, focusing particularly on something I call the
'standard model'. This standard model is a formalization of the way that scientific reports have
usually been written over the last fifty years or so. While the standard model has its detractors,
and is often used inappropriately, it still has a lot to recommend it. I normally suggest to
students who don't have much writing experience that they follow this model unless they have
good reasons not to. In this article, I will also try to explain why we recommend that reports are
written in a particular way.
The main purpose of a technical report is to convey information. The report should place as few
hindrances as possible between the mind of the writer and the mind of the reader. A secondary
a function is to stimulate and entertain. There are people — a tiny minority — who can inform
and entertain at the same time. If, like most people, you have to make a choice between the two,
you should try to inform rather than entertain. Of course, if you were writing a novel the
priorities would be reversed, but in report writing, it is the information that is paramount.
A good report needs careful planning. As part of the planning stage, you should try to answer
the following questions.