A technical report (also scientific report) is a document that describes the process, progress, or results of technical or scientific research or the state of a technical or scientific research problem. It might also include recommendations and conclusions of the research. Unlike other scientific literature, such as scientific journals and the proceedings of some academic conferences, technical reports rarely undergo comprehensive independent peer review before publication. They may be considered as grey literature. Where there is a review process, it is often limited to within the originating organization. Similarly, there are no formal publishing procedures for such reports, except where established locally.
A technical report is a formal report designed to convey technical information in a clear and easily accessible format. It is divided into sections which allow different readers to access different levels of information. This guide explains the commonly accepted format for a technical report; explains the purposes of the individual sections; and gives hints on how to go about drafting and refining a report in order to produce an accurate, professional document.
Technical reports are today a major source of scientific and technical information. They are prepared for internal or wider distribution by many organizations, most of which lack the extensive editing and printing facilities of commercial publishers.
Technical reports are often prepared for sponsors of research projects. Another case where a technical report may be produced is when more information is produced for an academic paper than is acceptable or feasible to publish in a peer-reviewed publication; examples of this include in-depth experimental details, additional results, or the architecture of a computer model. Researchers may also publish work in early form as a technical report to establish novelty, without having to wait for the often long production schedules of academic journals. Technical reports are considered “non-archival” publications, and so are free to be published elsewhere in peer-reviewed venues with or without modification.
- International standard ISO 5966 provided guidance on the preparation of technical reports that are published and archived on paper.
- The Grey Literature International Steering Committee (GLISC) established in 2006 published guidelines for the production of scientific and technical reports. These recommendations are adapted from the Uniform Requirements for Manuscripts Submitted to Biomedical Journals, produced by the International Committee of Medical Journal Editors (ICMJE) – better known as “Vancouver Style”, and are available on the GLISC website.
Technical reports are now commonly published electronically, whether on the Internet or on the originating organization’s intranet.
Many organizations collect their technical reports into a formal series. Reports are then assigned an identifier (report number, volume number) and share a common cover-page layout. The entire series might be uniquely identified by an ISSN.
A technical report should contain the following sections;
|Title page||Must include the title of the report. Reports for assessment, where the word length has been specified, will often also require the summary word count and the main text word count|
|Summary||A summary of the whole report including important features, results and conclusions|
|Contents||Numbers and lists all section and subsection headings with page numbers|
|Introduction||States the objectives of the report and comments on the way the topic of the report is to be treated. Leads straight into the report itself. Must not be a copy of the introduction in a lab handout.|
|The sections which make up the body of the report||Divided into numbered and headed sections. These sections separate the different main ideas in a logical order|
|Conclusions||A short, logical summing up of the theme(s) developed in the main text|
|References||Details of published sources of material referred to or quoted in the text (including any lecture notes and URL addresses of any websites used.|
|Bibliography||Other published sources of material, including websites, not referred to in the text but useful for background or further reading.|
|Acknowledgements||List of people who helped you research or prepare the report, including your proofreaders|
|Appendices (if appropriate)||Any further material which is essential for full understanding of your report (e.g. large scale diagrams, computer code, raw data, specifications) but not required by a casual reader|
For technical reports required as part of an assessment, the following presentation guidelines are recommended;
|Script||The report must be printed single sided on white A4 paper. Hand written or dot-matrix printed reports are not acceptable.|
|Margins||All four margins must be at least 2.54 cm|
|Page numbers||Do not number the title, summary or contents pages. Number all other pages consecutively starting at 1|
|Binding||A single staple in the top left corner or 3 staples spaced down the left hand margin. For longer reports (e.g. year 3 project report) binders may be used.|
Diagrams, graphs, tables and mathematics
It is often the case that technical information is most concisely and clearly conveyed by means other than words. Imagine how you would describe an electrical circuit layout using words rather than a circuit diagram. Here are some simple guidelines;
|Diagrams||Keep them simple. Draw them specifically for the report. Put small diagrams after the text reference and as close as possible to it. Think about where to place large diagrams.|
|Graphs||For detailed guidance on graph plotting, see the ‘guide to laboratory report writing’|
|Tables||Is a table the best way to present your information? Consider graphs, bar charts or pie charts.|
Dependent tables (small) can be placed within the text, even as part of a sentence.
Independent tables (larger) are separated from the text with table numbers and captions. Position them as close as possible to the text reference. Complicated tables should go in an appendix.
|Mathematics||Only use mathematics where it is the most efficient way to convey the information. Longer mathematical arguments, if they are really necessary, should go into an appendix. You will be provided with lecture handouts on the correct layout for mathematics.|