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General Remarks on Report Writing

The list of remarks below is mainly based on frequently made mistakes.

  1. Make a structure of your report before starting to write. The structure contains the hierarchical partitioning of your text in chapters, sections, etc. with keywords for each partition. Discuss this structure with your supervisor.
  2. Do not try to achieve perfection directly. It will take you too much time if you try to carefully choose the words of every sentence. You should rather write a ``quick and dirty'' version of the text based on the structure that you have designed, and refine the text iteratively.
  3. Describe explicitly in your text why you have chosen for a specific structure of your report and help the reader in relating the topics discussed in different chapters with each other. This should be done in the introductory chapter and also at the beginning and end of each chapter.
  4. Do not make your sentences too long. A long sentence often can be split into separate sentences.
  5. Use a well-chosen terminology. As far as the non-technical words are concerned, you should avoid to use the same words too often. For technical terms, however, always use the same words when you mean the same thing. Do not invent your own terminology if the literature you have read already provides you with the terms you need (it can happen that two different authors use different terms for the same thing; this often does not justify that you introduce yet a third term).
  6. Avoid colloquial language and humor. Spoken language is different from written language. Therefore, do not use e.g. the language of popular TV programs in your report. Humor is justified in exceptional cases, but does not help the reader to understand your text when used too often. :-)
  7. Check your spelling. Most text processors have spelling checking possibilities; use them! You should also check for grammatically correct spelling (e.g. a singular subject requires the verb to be in singular).

  8. Start all chapters, appendices and unnumbered chapters on a new page.
  9. Many word processors have a multitude of fonts available. A controlled use of them can be recommended. The main text uses the roman version of some font with proportional spacing (e.g. Times, Helvetica or Computer Modern). Bold text should normally not be used outside headings of chapters and sections. Italic text is used to emphasize words: for a notion that is introduced for the first time, for cited text, etc. A typewriter font, such us Courier, can be used for text written in a programming language or text related in some other way to interactions with a computer.
  10. Never use an abbreviation before defining it. If you use many abbreviations, include a list of abbreviations in your report (as an appendix). Although most abbreviations consist of capital letters, you should not use initial capitals in the words that compose the abbreviation (unless any of the words is a proper noun). You can, of course, use the italics font for emphasis. Example: This report investigates the applicability of digital signal processing (DSP) to the problem just formulated.
  11. Punctuation marks as the dot, comma, semicolon, etc. should be placed immediately after the preceding word and should be followed by a space. An open parenthesis has only space at its left and a close parenthesis has only space at its right (and no space around it when followed by a dot, comma, etc.).
  12. A dash (`-') is used to group words in nouns consisting of multiple words to indicate that a word belongs to its predecessor(s) rather its successors. One e.g. writes data-path synthesis with a dash because one refers to the synthesis of ``data paths'', while one writes digital signal processing without a dash because one refers to a special case of ``signal processing''. (Consider the wrongly written version: ``data path synthesis'' would be interpreted as some special case of ``path synthesis'', which is an unknown notion.)
  13. Always refer to a figure or table from the main text (using the figure or table number). Otherwise the reader neither knows how to relate the figure to the text nor when the moment has come to look at the figure. It is a good habit that the first reference to a figure is on the same page as the figure itself or on a preceding page. Use a meaningful caption (Dutch: onderschrift) for every figure or table. Example: Figure n: the data-flow graph of a second-order filter section.
  14. In the main text, the words ``figure'', ``table'', ``section'', etc. followed by a specific number should be treated as proper nouns and should start with a capital. Example: The data obtained for the graph displayed in Figure 3 of Section 2.1, are summarized in Table 7. But: The tables in the previous section lead to a clear conclusion.
  15. Be always fair when making use of somebody else's work. Never copy a text, idea or figure without referring to the source. Even when you mention the source, try to limit the length of literal citations to at most one or two sentences. Longer citations will give the impression that you are unable to formulate an idea in your own words.
  16. Avoid the use of the word ``we'', if you are the only author of the report. Use ``I'' instead, or the passive voice. You can also use the third person and refer to yourself as ``the author''. However, try as much as possible to minimize references to yourself.
  17. Often you can arrange with your supervisor that he or she reads intermediate versions of the text. Pay some attention to the presentation of the text already at this stage. The fact that the version is intermediate does not justify that page numbers are missing or that spelling mistakes have not been corrected.
  18. Always use your common sense and, if you have good reason, deviate from the rules given here.

next up previous
Next: Frequent Mistakes in Up: Hints on Report Previous: Building Blocks of

Sabih Gerez
Thu Sep 10 17:20:12 METDST 1998