Many civil engineers spend over 40% of their work time writing, a percentage that typically increases as they climb the corporate ladder. The ability to communicate your ideas in writing may therefore prove even more important than your technical expertise in determining your success both at university and in your subsequent career.
Reports are perhaps the most common documents that you will write both as an engineering student and as a professional engineer. Your success at university and in the workplace will therefore depend in significant part on your ability to produce effective reports.
The Structure of an Engineering Report
The typical format of an engineering report is as follows:
The letter of transmittal is a formal business letter addressed to the recipient of the report, announcing the delivery of the final report and briefly explaining its purpose. It may also briefly address any matters not included in the report itself.
The abstract or executive summary comprises a clear, succinct overview of the report, including a clear statement of the project's scope, the results achieved, and the recommendations drawn therefrom. Emphasis should be placed on keywords, methodology, tools and software, findings and conclusions.
The introduction provides the background of the project and the reasons for undertaking it. As well as clearly identifying the purpose and scope of the document, it should also provide a brief outline of the structure of the report.
The theory and analysis section states relevant principles, laws and equations, defines unfamiliar terms, and clearly explains the supporting theory. Analytical diagrams may also be included here.
The experimental procedures describes the methodology, apparatus and materials employed in laboratory tests or experiments. Sufficient detail should be included so that others can replicate the results. Special precautions for ensuring accuracy and controlling conditions should be stated, and any divergence from standard procedures or test codes clearly detailed.
The results section documents experimental outcomes using exact data, calculations and equations. The most important findings should be summarised, where appropriate, with supporting tables, graphs, and figures.
The discussion section assesses the accuracy and significance of the results. It should identify possible sources of measurement error and critically compare the results with the theory. Theory limitations, tolerances in engineering values, and any differences greater than the experimental errors should be discusses and explained.
The conclusions section restates the major findings of your investigation and summarises the conclusions drawn therefrom. Conclusions should be supported by specific references to data and results, quoting numerical values, and guiding the reader from facts to conclusions.
Recommendations on improving laboratory experiments, equipment or procedures can be as important as any conclusions, if not more so, and may be especially welcomed in student reports.
Anything too large to be included in the main body of the report without distraction but that cannot be left out altogether (e.g. large tables of data, chunks of sample code, illustrations, or fold-out maps) should appear in the appendices.
Finally, the list of references provides professionally formatted citations of all textual and other sources to which reference was made in the text.
For further details of how to write an engineering essay, please consult this page.
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