Technical Report Writing For Engineers To Nail Your First Report
Let’s say you are an engineer who has now been entrusted with writing a technical report. But you are writing a technical report for the first time and feel intimidated by it. Several questions are running over your head ranging from what a technical report is to how you are going to present it. This article aims to put you at ease on the concept of technical report writing for engineers and help you break the shackles of intimidation.
What is a Technical Report?
Any document that contains details regarding the research performed on a particular issue or a group of issues is a report. The whole process details like the issue, the research, and the inferences obtained are recorded in detail in a report. A report also does not include the opinions of people in it.
When the issue that is dealt with, the research, and the inferences obtained are all technical, then the report is termed a technical report. Based on the inferences, possible solutions may also be recommended in the report.
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General Structure of a Technical Report
The structure of a technical report varies across different organizations and domains. The organization might provide a report structure to follow. The author of the report should strictly adhere to this structure. For the sake of explanation, we have listed down and elaborated on the usual elements of a technical report below :
- Title Page
- Executive Summary
- Table of Contents
- Body of the Report
- Formulae, Equations, Tables, and Figures.
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Technical Report Writing for Engineers – Element 1: Title Page
The title page as the name suggests usually contains the title of the report apart from the name and designation of the author and date of submission. The title page might also contain subtitles, the name, and the designation of the reader in some cases. The title page should contain the correct font sizes and other aspects as per the norms provided by your institution.
Technical Report Writing for Engineers – Element 2: Executive Summary
This part of the report is something like a separate document in itself. Most of the time, managers to whom the report is submitted may be extremely busy with their work. In such cases, they won’t have time to go through the entire report. This is where the executive summary steps in.
The executive summary should be short, precise, and up to the point. It should include all and only the critical information from the report such that a decision can be made by the decision-maker without having to read the entire report.
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Technical Report Writing for Engineers – Element 3: Table of Contents
The table of contents is that part of the technical report that acts as the navigation aid to the reader. It contains all the sections and subsections mentioned in the report with proper numbering on the left side along with the corresponding page numbers mentioned on the right side. A reader should be quickly able to navigate to any part of the report using the table of contents.
Technical Report Writing for Engineers – Element 4: Introduction
The introduction of the report introduces the reader to aspects like the context of the report, its goals, and possible comparisons with existing research on the problem. This part lays the foundation for the reader to comprehend all the upcoming parts of the report. The introduction also needs to provide brief information on the experiments carried out in the current report and their relevance to the problem being assessed.
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Technical Report Writing for Engineers – Element 5: Body of the Report
The body of the report is the core part of it. This is the main explanation portion where all the content of the report is explained in full detail. The author can decide how to structure the body of the report based on its nature and how it would best suit the needs of its readers.
Technical Report Writing for Engineers – Element 6: Formulae, Equations, Tables, and Figures
Information can be presented through words and other means like formulae, equations, tables, and figures. These modes of information describe a concept shortly and straightforwardly which otherwise when presented through words would be overwhelming and confusing to the reader.
For figures and tables, they must have proper numbering attached to them. They should also be referred to in words like “Table 1”. Both figures and tables need to have a simple description that is above in the case of a table and below a figure.
In the case of equations and formulae, similar to tables and figures, they should be numbered and referred to in words like “Eq 1”. An equation or a formulae needs to be on a separate line at the center of the page.
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Technical Report Writing for Engineers – Element 7: Conclusion
The conclusion part is used to re-iterate the aims of the report and then present the significant findings derived from the research. You also need to stress the major inferences and explain their significance in this section. The conclusion would need to have all the necessary findings that are required to provide the reader a clear understanding of what the report has been able to achieve from the experiments.
Technical Report Writing for Engineers – Element 8: Recommendations
Recommendations are nothing but possible solutions devised by the author based on the research and findings obtained in the report. It is up to the decision-makers whether to accept the recommendations or not.
A technical report may or may not have recommendations based on the type of technical report being framed. If your report does have recommendations, list out all of them in the form of pointers. It is important to also mention any limitations that may be present in your inferences. This is important since the readers need to plan for the limitations if they decide to implement the recommendation.
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Technical Report Writing for Engineers – Element 9: References
Whenever you prepare a report you would likely have taken the help of many resources by others. As a mark of respect and courtesy, you need to mention the sources that helped you compile your report. The style of reference to these sources needs to be consistent throughout. References need to be mentioned for elements like tables and figures as well.
Technical Report Writing for Engineers – Element 10: Appendices
There might be certain pieces of information that might be very long or need not be fully included in the report. But still, that information might be useful to the readers. Such types of information can be included in the appendices section.
You need to name your appendix using a number or an alphabet and a title such as “Appendix B”. Apart from the title, refer to it using words of the concept you are trying to direct the reader to which would look something like this: “For a complete list of motor terminologies, please refer to Appendix D”.
Letter of Transmittal
Apart from the above-mentioned components, a transmittal letter is attached when submitting technical reports. A transmittal letter is sent along with a report giving a brief on what the report is about and what is included in it. This is generally used when sending the report to readers who might not have prior context on the report.
Types of Technical Reports
Before we dive into writing technical reports, it is important to know that there are different types of it. Based on your issue and area of expertise, the type of technical report you need to write varies. Let us look at some of the types of technical reports to help you zero in on the type that you need to write.
- Feasibility Reports
- Background Reports
- Business Plan Reports
- Recommendation Reports
- Committee Reports
- Institutional Reports
- Project Proposal Reports
- Project Reports
- Status Reports
- Trend Reports
Feasibility reports are generally made to decide whether a particular plan should be implemented or not. It involves a situation where a plan or a set of plans are available but not enough data is present for the decision-makers to be confident of implementation.
Thorough research is performed on the plans taking into consideration various factors affecting implementation to decide whether the plans fit well.
Background reports are meant to be very specific in every sense. It is intended to provide a specific set of information to a specific set of audiences for a specific purpose. Let’s say you are hiring a freelance software developer to build an app for a specific product of yours. You would need to provide only the information that the developer needs to build the app and not in-depth details about your company or product. A background report does not provide any recommendations to its target audience.
Business Plan Reports
A business plan report is one of the most crucial aspects of any business. This report outlines the activities and objectives of a business and how they are going to adopt them. Any business needs to know its target audience, what it is going to offer, the milestones they are planning to achieve, and keep track of its finances.
Without a business plan report, there would be no proper records of the aspects related to the functioning of the business and thus would make the business go haphazard. A business plan report is important to attract investors.
Recommendation reports come into play when there is a need for a decision to be made regarding a situation. A recommendation report aims at providing research-based insights into how a plan regarding the situation can be implemented with the available resources in hand.
In this type of report, the situation and the audience are generally pre-determined. Then, the available options are looked into and a detailed analysis is done on each of them. Finally, based on the findings, recommendations are made.
The government appoints committees to look into various issues and the committees, in turn, analyze the issue and submit their reports to the government. Such reports are considered to be committee reports. In such a case, the different members of the committee would have expertise in their different areas. They put in their expertise to use and this results in a report containing valuable information that can be used to tackle the issues at hand. An example of an issue and its solution may be the prevention of losses during natural disasters.
An institute needs to keep track of its activities and resources to maintain its position. The activities of an institute may deal with the manpower available or research regarding its ongoing projects. Institutional reports are crucial for an institute to monitor its progress, identify and work on issues affecting normalcy, and devise plans and milestones for the institute. Annual reports of an institute are a good example of an institutional report.
Project Proposal Reports
Project proposals are unique in the sense that it is prepared based on an upcoming event rather than what has already been done. Project proposals are generally prepared to acquire a contract for a project. The report would contain how the organization coming up with the proposal would be able to efficiently complete the project. There would be information elaborating on the infrastructure, records of successful projects completed, and various other such details justifying its capability to take up the current project.
A project report comes into the picture after a project contract has been acquired by an organization. It is meant to track the progress of the project at a specified frequency of time. The project report is important to identify blocker issues during the project and churning out solutions to keep the project on track. A project report is also submitted after the completion of the project analyzing the whole project process to look out for improvements using the outcomes obtained.
A status report is slightly similar to a project report but differs in the section addressed. A status report is also generated at frequent intervals of time but it focuses on a specific set of topics meant for a specific set of readers. A status report serves the purpose of keeping track of the progress of a specifically focussed section and aims to resolve any issues popping up.
Trend reports generally evaluate the research process. Assessment is performed on the present status of the report and the future course of the research might be predicted. One important aspect of this type of report is that the evaluation can be done only by subject matter experts.
Planning a Technical Report
To work on a technical report, there are certain factors to be taken into consideration to avoid wastage of effort and resources in preparing the report. Listed below are some of the crucial aspects to be ensured to work on a technical report :
- Clearly understand the concept on which the report is to be drafted.
- Make sure you know and understand who the target audience is.
- Based on the understanding, finalize which type of technical writing is to be prepared.
- Collect genuine information from trustworthy sources.
- Strictly follow the deliverable timelines.
- Stringently follow the structure of the report.
- Thoroughly go through the report and make sure everything is fine before submission.
Now it is time for you to get your hands dirty to draft a clean technical report. This article is a basic overview aimed at introducing the concept of a technical report lucidly to help you not to get overwhelmed by it. Added to this generic coverage of technical reports, you can scroll and download these example technical reports for reference. Wishing the very best to all you engineers to engineer the perfect engineering technical report.