Before submitting any report, ask yourself the questions listed below and follow the suggestions to improve your report if the answer to any of these questions is NO. Even though not all the questions pertain to every report, it is still a good practice as it will likely help you produce the best report possible in the time available to you.
Does every section of the report focus on providing information to support meeting the objectives of the work?
When you sit down to outline or write each section, you need to think about how that section can be used to provide information that supports the objectives. For example, if there is an objective to understand filters and their characteristics then (1) the background theory section must explain what filters are and derive or present their characteristics, (2) the procedure section must explain what tests are performed to observe and record the filters’ characteristics, (3) the result section may present information on the recorded filter characteristics, and (4) the conclusion section must comment on filter characteristics. This reasoning must hold for EVERY objective.
Did I present all the results obtained?
Make sure to look back at your work to see if you have included all results. If you took measurements of something, there should have been a good reason and therefore the results of those measurements should be included somehow. Display results in either tabular or graphical form making it as easy as possible for the reader to understand them. Use Insert … Table in MSWord or create table in MSExcel. Do NOT use tabs and the space bar to create a table.
When presenting results, did I include percent difference?
In most cases, plan on including percent differences. Percent difference facilitates data comparison. It provides a standard for how large or small differences are. The only time NOT to include percent difference is when you are making a qualitative comparison or a comparison of items that you did not necessarily expect to be similar. In those cases, explain difference in an appropriate context such as “measured current did not exceed the manufacturer’s specifications”.
Are all results accompanied by a meaningful discussion?
Whenever discussing results, make sure that the actual results being discussed are contained within the discussion or are clearly presented (perhaps in a table or graph) within less than a page of the discussion. A discussion loses its meaning quickly if the reader is struggling to find the supporting data. ALL results presented MUST be accompanied by meaningful discussion. Meaningful discussion includes (1) commenting on percent difference making sure it is clear to the reader which values are being compared and establishing comparative size of the difference in relation to expectations (negligible, small, large), (2) cause for the difference (error sources), and (3) how the results inform the reader as framed by the work’s objectives. Note, even if percent difference is very small, you are still expected to include a meaningful discussion. For example, when comparing theory with simulation you may have a very small or even 0% difference. In this case you may conclude that theory used on paper does an equally good job of predicting the results as the simulation software which may use a more complex theoretical approach. Typically, meaningful discussion of results includes a statement of theoretical assumptions made to predict results and what measured results indicate about the applicability of those theoretical assumptions to the experimental setting. As your work becomes more complex, it is more likely that simple theoretical assumptions will not accurately predict results.
Did I explain percent differences?
When it is appropriate to include percent differences, those percent differences must ALWAYS be explained. Experimental data derived from a qualitative study rather than an accurate quantitative study or experimental data being compared to a manufacturer’s typical value, might not require a percent difference analysis. Otherwise, explanation of percent differences must be included and provide the required content for meaningful discussion. To inform this discussion, establish relative significance of the difference based on limitations of the experiment and/or theory. Specifically, establish the percent difference considered inconsequential or negligibly small as opposed to consequential but within reasonable tolerance based on components, experiment, and equipment used or limitations of theory applied. You MUST include in your explanation the expected tolerances of each component used in the experiment. Error beyond the accepted range based on experimental tolerances or theoretical limitations is unacceptable, indicating a gross error by the experimenter. Never leave lab with errors that large unless you have confirmed with a knowledgeable third party that no gross errors have been committed. Also, never leave lab without a valid explanation of any percent differences larger than component tolerances. Never include data in a report for which you do not have a valid explanation (gross error by experimenter is not valid). Further details and formulas for percent difference are provided in Appendix C.
Did I introduce every report section, subsection, figure, or table with an introductory sentence or paragraph?
Check throughout the report to make sure that you are leading the reader rather than providing context at a later point. It is always easier on the reader if the context is supplied first which is why you lead with an introduction for EVERY report section, sub-section, and figure or table.
Did I check to make sure there are no personal pronouns?
Rewrite any sentences that include personal pronouns. Remember to maintain an active voice.
Did I use a font color other than black?
Carefully consider when using font colors other than black. Many font colors do not provide enough contrast against white for easy viewing on an electronic device. Yellow, green, and orange may cause some eye strain on the part of your reader. Bolding the text may alleviate the color problem but look critically before finalizing a report with these font colors. Red is a bad choice for font color as it implies a problem and is most often the color used for editing text.
Did I perform a spell check and grammar check?
MS Word highlights possible spelling errors with a red underline and possible grammar errors with a green underline. Right click on word or phrase being underlined for suggested corrections.
Did I remember to spell out any acronyms when they are first used in the report?
Never assume the reader is familiar with all the same acronyms you are such as KVL for Kirchoff’s Voltage Law or EDM for Electronic Distance Meter. Read through the report and make sure that anywhere an acronym is used, it was spelled out prior to that use.
Are there page numbers?
Page numbers should be inserted in the header or footer of each page. The header can be accessed by double clicking on the top margin, and double clicking on the bottom margin opens the footer. Another way to access the header and footer and to insert page numbers is by accessing the Header & Footer under the “Insert” menu. Also, if you end up with page numbers on the Title page and Table of Contents page, you need to remove them. This is done by inserting a section break before the desired Page 1. It is then possible to have different headers and footers for different sections of the document by making sure that “Link to Previous” is not highlighted within the navigation section of the Header & Footer toolbar. Further details are provided in Appendix B.
Did I number and title all the figures?
EVERY figure must include a caption that provides a figure number and a title. Microsoft Word makes it easy to insert captions. If you right click on the figure, one of the options given is “Insert Caption”. Using this feature, Microsoft Word will automatically increase the figure numbers. Alternatively, if you click on the References menu, there is a button for “Insert Caption”.
Am I sure that I don’t need a Table of Contents?
Reports longer than ten pages generally should have a Table of Contents (TOC). If you wrote the report using Heading Formatting supplied by MS Word or wrote the report outline in outlining mode, then it is as simple as a couple of clicks to insert a TOC that can automatically be updated as you make changes in the report. See Appendix B for directions on automatically creating a TOC.
Did I remember to provide a citation for ANYTHING that was directly quoted, copied, or paraphrased from a source?
Remember that this doesn’t only include statements but also figures that were copied. The requirement is that in every place in the report where material was either quoted, copied, or paraphrased, you need to provide a parenthetical citation which provides the author’s name, the publication year, and the page number from which the information was taken. Then, in the References section, provide the full bibliographical information and annotation when required. The reader should be able to tell which work is cited by information provided in the parenthetical citation. Refer to Appendix A for further details on references and parenthetical citations.