EXCERPTS FROM: Guidelines for Writing Technical Reports


Even the shortest report must have an introduction, a main body, and conclusions--or some epilogue if conclusions cannot be drawn.

It is good practice to end the introduction with a paragraph that describes the structure (organization) of the report.

The main body of the text must have a structure (organization). The text should be organized logically and it should be partitioned in sections. All sections of the report must be enumerated (successively). An example follows.

short introduction of the investigation and the structure of the presentation should follow)

2.1 Work Trips

2.2 Household Maintenance Trips

2.3 Discretionary Trips

2.3.1 Social and Recreational Trips

2.3.2 Leisure Trips and Touring

2.4 Trip Patterns of Non-Working People

2.5 Summary
necessary if the next section is not the Conclusion)

Figures and Tables must be clear and with descriptive titles, legends, and explanations. They must be enumerated consecutively. Put them immediately after the point where they are referred to in the text (i.e., on page 4 we refer to Figure 2; then Figure 2 should be on page 5).

You may quote whole parts of the literature (i.e., a definition or a statement) but make sure that you either enclose it in quotation marks or type it in italics. After the quotation, list the reference or put a footnote listing the reference. You may build on the work of others but you cannot claim the work of others as original work of yours; plagiarism is an academic felony.

References must follow an approved manual of style. Examples from the internationally approved Chicago Manual of Style are listed at the end of these guidelines. Stick to it, unless another format is requested.

There are several ways of referring to the work of others in the text. Three common formats are the following: i... (Prevedouros, 1988); ii.... [PREV, 88] ...; iii.... [1]. The first format is more common and more useful. When the article you are referring to is authored by two authors, then both of them should show in the reference, e.g., ... (Prevedouros and Schofer, 1988). When there are more than two authors, then the in-text reference is noted as follows:
(Prevedouros et al., 1988).

In formats (i) and (ii) the list of references--which is typically located immediately after the conclusions--is arranged alphabetically. When format (iii) is followed, then the first article referred to in the text is the first item in the list of references, and so forth.

The hardest part of writing text to be read by others is the translation of writer's writing into reader's writing. Most of the writing people do is to be read by someone. However, few writers put themselves into the reader's position. There are two ways to achieve the transition from writer's to reader's writing:

  1. have others critically review your manuscript. Peers are preferred for judging the substance of the report. Other people (i.e. grandmother!) are preferred for judging the writing style, clarity, and logical flow of ideas in the text.
  2. Read it aloud to yourself. Does it sound right? Does it really say what you want to say? Are the sentences simple and to the point? Do you detect logical gaps between successive sentences or successive paragraphs? If so, add appropriate text to close the gaps.


  • Use third person only. Avoid I, you, me, mine, your, yours. If you need to refer to the first person, do so in plural: we, our, ours.
  • Avoid non-standard English expressions such as thru, lite, nite, etc.
  • Data is plural; datum is singular; i.e., the data available are not sufficient to . . .
  • Do not use apostrophes in the following situations: don't, can't, won't, it's, etc. Always write the full spelling: do not, cannot, will not, it is (or it has), etc.
  • You may use standard or convenience acronyms but the first time the acronym appears in the text, it must be fully spelled out: e.g., ... central business district (CBD) ... [this is standard] . . . the population in the inundation zone (IZ) . . . [this is convenience]. Convenience acronyms are those devised in specific reports where repetitive expressions exist. Over-repetition of expressions does not indicate good writing to begin with. In addition, convenience acronyms make reading harder (less natural flow of words), thus, they should be kept to a minimum. I never use convenience acronyms.
  • Avoid veryand quite; they tend to be subjective.
  • Save yourselves a humiliation: spell-check your documents before submission. Make sure you read the final product before submission. Computers are not smart: a 'where' spelled as 'whore' will pass the spell-checker with flying colors. Your report probably will not.
  • It is good practice to put two spaces after a period before starting the next sentence. Notice that this happens all along this text.
  • For example (exempligratia) (e.g.) is usually used in the middle of a sentence, often after a semicolon.
  • That is or as in (id est) (i.e.) is usually put within parentheses.

". . . .large US carriers, e.g., United Airlines, tend to . . .">

". . . .the inverse of this is also true (i.e., the higher the income, the higher the auto ownership)."

  • Follow the exact format illustrated: 'eg' is not as good as 'e.g.'

Go (back) to Professor Prevedouros's Civil Engineering class.