Key stages of conducting a site visit outside the university and reporting your observations and findings.
When you visit a site, company, institution, plant or other location outside the university to observe how your field of study operates in practice, you are often required to write about what you saw. Whether you have to write a standalone report or record your observations for a larger piece of assessment, following the stages below will help you get the most out of your site visit.
Before your visit
Your visit might be the only chance you have to collect information about the site that is not available from other sources.
To prepare for your site visit:
- Review your subject material in the LMS and your notes, and brainstorm what you already know about the site.
- Do some preliminary research about the site in relevant library databases and online, so you know what information is already available in published sources.
- Make a list of the information you think you need to collect at the site.
- Prepare questions to ask staff at the site, if they will be available.
Collate the materials you will need to refer to at the site, e.g. your task brief, list of information to collect and questions, in a format you can access easily while on the move. Ensure that you have a reliable way to take notes, and that your phone has plenty of charge for taking photos.
A notebook or document with prepared headings makes it easy to record the information you need. You should also make sure you:
- Complete any forms or health and safety requirements for your subject.
- Know how to get to the site, and who to contact if you are delayed.
- Wear clothing that is appropriate to the site conditions and the weather.
During your visit
To maximise the information you gather:
- Take notes of any impressions or observations you have, of all aspects of the visit, under subheadings. Extra notes can help you recall important details you may not have realised were relevant at the time.
- Record voice messages or memos of insights as they happen to avoid having to rely on your memory.
- Take photos from different perspectives. If you need to include images in your assessment, you will be glad you have a range to choose from. You may not have a chance to return to the site to take more photos if you missed something important on the day.
- Ask questions when you have the opportunity. If you meet any staff at the site, they are likely to expect you to ask questions and are usually happy to answer.
Gathering as much information as possible during the site visit will give you a wider range of material to draw from when you are preparing your report or assessment, and you will be able to produce a more accurate and polished piece of work.
Sections of a site visit report
Site visit reports may vary from subject to subject, so you should always check the information you’ve been given in your assessment brief or in other subject material. If your site visit report contains the following features, these explanations may help you gain a sense of the purpose of various sections:
Include the title of the visit or project, name of the site, the date of the site visit, and your name and student number. You may also need to include your tutor’s name, your tutorial group, or your team members for group assignments.
An executive summary is a condensed version of the whole report. It typically contains a few sentences on the background and location of the site, the purpose of the report, a statement about what was observed, and a few sentences that offer a conclusion or recommendations.
The introduction of the report should set the context for the level of observation conducted on the site visit. Include the importance of what is being observed and what you can learn from those observations. This might be, for example, to address a problem or provide a solution in another location.
Main body of report
This section is highly dependent on your context. It may involve explaining procedures and processes, such as chemical processes, construction, or commercial operations of a plant, or how certain features of the site are arranged.
Conclusion / Recommendations / Reflections
In the final section, you should sum up the key findings from the site visit and comment on the implications of these findings, and you may also give recommendations if that is appropriate to the task. If you are required to reflect on your experience, try and make connections between what you have observed at the site and what you have learned in your subject.
Provide references to literature and published sources if you are required to integrate these into your site visit report.
Write up your findings as soon as possible after your site visit. The sooner you write your report, the more you’ll remember.
Reflection / Observation
If you are asked to write a reflection of your visit, try to:
- Make links between theory and practice, i.e. what you’ve been doing in your subject, what you’ve read, any previous professional experience you have in the field and the practices you observed at the site.
- Demonstrate in your reflection that you understood the most important features of the site.
- Evaluate and discuss the relative strengths and weaknesses of the processes and procedures you observed (e.g. technology, efficiency).
A site visit is far more than an excursion or trip. It is an excellent opportunity to gain insights into how your area of study operates in practice, and if you adequately prepare to collect extensive information during your visit, you will be able to produce a higher quality report or assessment as well.
- Quick read
Learn how to write clear, concise and effective executive summaries.
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- Online learning module
Reflective writing is a specific genre. This module explores the requirements of reflective writing and provides a model which you can use to write reflectively.
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