Technical reports (including handbooks and guides) have various designs depending on the industry, profession, or organization. This chapter shows you one traditional design. If you are taking a technical writing course, ask your instructor for any design specifications she has for your documents. The same is true if you are writing a technical report in a science, business, or government context. Organizations very often have their own “stylesheets” on which all organizational document designs are based, so make sure the design presented in this chapter is acceptable.
Technical reports have specifications as do any other kind of project. Specifications for reports involve layout, organization and content, format of headings and lists, the design of the graphics, and so on. The advantage of a required structure and format for reports is that you or anyone else can expect them to be designed in a familiar way—you know what to look for and where to look for it. Reports are usually read in a hurry—people are in a hurry to get to the information they need, the key facts, the conclusions, and other essentials. A standard report format is like a familiar neighborhood.
When you analyze the design of a technical report, notice how repetitive some sections are. This duplication has to do with how people read reports. They don’t read reports straight through: they may start with the executive summary, skip around, and probably not read every page. Your challenge is to design reports so that these readers encounter your key facts and conclusions, no matter how much of the report they read or in what order they read it.
Be sure and see the example reports.
The standard components of the typical technical report are discussed in this chapter. The following sections guide you through each of these components, pointing out the key features. As you read and use these guidelines, remember that these are guidelines, not commandments. Different companies, professions, and organizations have their own varied guidelines for reports—you’ll need to adapt your practice to those as well the ones presented here.