Technical report writing
A quick guide to writing technical reports in Engineering.
The main purpose of an Engineering technical report is to present a solution to a problem in order to prompt action. Technical reports provide a record of your developing expertise and are a legal record of your work and decision making.
What is a technical report?
Technical reports are a central part of your professional success and are usually designed to:
- Convince the reader of your position
- Persuade them to act, or
- Inform them of your findings.
They are an opportunity for you to:
- Clearly communicate a solution to a problem
- Recommend action, and
- Aid decision making.
Technical reports are designed for quick and easy communication of information, and use:
- Sections with numbered headings and subheadings, and
- Figures and diagrams to convey data.
How do I structure a technical report?
Regardless of the specific purpose of your technical report, the structure and conventions rarely differ. Check your subject requirements and expand the sections below to learn more about each section. Download a Technical Report template here.
Technical reports usually require a title page. To know what to include, follow the conventions required in your subject.
A technical report summary (or abstract) should include a brief overview of your investigation, outcomes and recommendations. It must include all the key information your reader needs to make a decision, without them having to read your full report. Don’t treat your summary as an introduction; it should act as a stand-alone document.
Tip: Write your summary last.
Table of contents
Help your reader quickly and easily find what they are looking for by using informative headings and careful numbering of your sections and sub-sections. For example:
A technical report introduction:
- provides context for the problem being addressed,
- discusses relevant previous research, and
- states your aim or hypothesis.
To help, consider these questions:
- What have you investigated?
- How does your study fit into the current literature?
- What have previous studies found in the area?
- Why is it worth investigating?
- What was the experiment about?
- Why did you do it?
- What did you expect to learn from it?
The body of a technical report is structured according to the needs of your reader and the nature of the project. The writer decides how to structure it and what to include.
To help, ask yourself:
- What does the reader need to know first?
- What is the most logical way to develop the story of the project?
Tip: look at other technical reports in your discipline to see what they’ve included and in what order.
Figures, tables, equations and formulae
Technical reports include a mixture of text, tables, figures and formulae. Consider how you can present the information best for your reader. Would a table or figure help to convey your ideas more effectively than a paragraph describing the same data?
Figures and tables should:
- Be numbered
- Be referred to in-text, e.g. In Table 1…, and
- Include a simple descriptive label - above a table and below a figure.
Equations and formulae should be:
- Referred to in-text, e.g. See Eq 1 for…
- Centred on the page, and
- On a separate line.
Your conclusion should mirror your introduction.
Be sure to:
- Refer to your aims
- Summarise your key findings, and
- State your major outcomes and highlight their significance.
If your technical report includes recommendations for action. You could choose to report these as a bullet point list. When giving an answer to your problem, be sure to include any limitations to your findings.
Your recommendations can be presented in two ways:
- Action statements
e.g. Type approval should be issued for tunnel ventilation fans.
- Conditional statements
e.g. If fan blades are painted with an anti-corrosion coating system, it is likely that…
e.g. The research has found that the fan hub should be constructed from forged steel and the fan housing should be constructed from hot dipped galvanised steel, but future research…
- Action statements
Acknowledge all the information and ideas you’ve incorporated from other sources into your paper using a consistent referencing style. This includes data, tables and figures. Learn more about specific referencing conventions here: https://library.unimelb.edu.au/recite
If you have data that is too detailed or lengthy to include in the report itself, include it in the appendix. Your reader can then choose to refer to it if they are interested. Label your appendix with a number or a letter, a title, and refer to it the text, e.g. For a full list of construction phases, see Appendix A.
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