Rajeev is confident, as he is most of the times. But last minute work deludes him, just like it troubles most of his peers. He has been intending on writing a report for a major project that he did recently for over a fortnight now. With deadline fast approaching, he finally makes up his mind, opens his laptop and logs onto Google to research and side by side opens a word document. He stares at the screen with a blank mind trying to recollect where he left last.
He also remembers having screwed up reports on tasks which he executed efficiently. He knows well that report writing is a piece of cake but yet, is nervous. Most easy things are the most difficult ones to do with perfection, simply because the brain perceives them as easy. Over confidence overtakes confidence and there goes the A+ grade down the drain.
For Rajeev and his like who do an excellent job of a project only to falter at last hurdle, i.e. Report Writing, here comes the rescue! We get an expert, Prashanth Nadukandi (IIT Guwahati alumnus, details below) to list the most common pitfalls of report writing.
1. Not saving everything you do in your work/research. It helps to document your work. By this we mean making notes of relevant ideas, succinct summaries of existing works and organize them chronologically. Having the ﬂow of ideas and the development of work/research documented chronolog¬ically acts as a catalyst during the report/article writing phase.
2. Not using adequate resources, e.g. a reference/bibliography manager. Rarely does a report/article be devoid of a References/Bibliography section. During the course of your work saving the citations of reviewed works in a reference manager does relieve the pain in creating the References section and in typeset¬ting it in a chosen format.
3. Procrastinating. Usually the biggest hurdle is to start writing. Make an outline of your report to stay focused and start writing a draft. Usually, writing a report is an iterative process, i.e. the drafts improve in quality and quantity in successive iterations until you converge to a ﬁnal version of the report.
4. Lack of structure and detail. This is a crucial point. A classical reference that highlights this aspect is: Frederick A. Mumpton, “The Universal Recipe, Or How To Get Your Manuscript Accepted By Persnickety Editors”, Clays and Clay Minerals, Vol. 38, No. 6, 631-636, 1990. DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1346/CCMN.1990.0380609 This is an open access article. Although it addresses journal papers, the points discussed therein are equally valid for any report.
5. Nonlinear story-telling fashion. Although this style works ﬁne in movies/novels, it hardly receives accolades in technical works. Good reports are written in a linear/serial story-telling fashion.
6. Not citing existing and related work. Doing this is a sin
7. Bad grammar/orthography. It is painful to read a report littered with typos, spelling mistakes and bad gram¬mar. Occasionally, it may mislead the reader. Most of the text editors come with grammar and spell check which can be handy.
8. Report/article being hard to read. Avoid unnecessary scientiﬁc/technical/literary jargon.
9. The current report/article being heavily dependent on another report/article. Reports should be stand-alone, i.e. a reader should not rely on another reports to understand the contents of the current work. Should the current work be a continuation of an earlier work, a section should be devoted to explain concisely the basic ideas and essential results of the previous work.
10. Not asking/inviting feedbacks. Do circulate your report and ask for feedback. Getting your report reviewed by peers will highlight those parts which could be improved. The exposition, which might be clear to you (of course you have written it!), need not be clear for a third person and this has to be respected. Recall that the report is written for an audience!
11. Bad typography. This is related not to the content but to the rendering of the report. Similar to gorgeous people, a beautifully typeset report turns heads!
About the author: – Prashanth Nadukandi is an IIT Guwahati alumnus (Class of 2005) and is currently pursuing his Post Doctoral Research (Numerical Simulation of Fire Dynamics) at CIMNE, Spain. In his academic career, he has published several research papers and written many project reports (if you can catch him, do ask for a copy of his Ph.D dissertation) and has considerable authority on subject.