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Prof Carstens' Report

BJJ 210
Prof. A. Carstens
Table of contents
1 General outcomes
2 Specific outcomes
3 Study materials
4. Educational approach and empirical basis
5. Assessment
6. Library
7. Lecturers’ contact details
Study units
Study unit 1
Study unit 2
Study unit 3
Communication in the engineering profession
Report types
The report-writing process
Study unit 4
Study unit 5
Study unit 6
Study unit 7
Study unit 8
Study unit 9
Study unit 10
Study unit 11
Study unit 12
Study unit 13
Getting acquainted
Title and introduction
Literature review
Results and discussion
Putting it all together
Compiling a reference list
Appended parts: front matter and back matter
Reference list
Working with numbers
Document design (presentation)
Presentation skills
Addendum A
Addendum B
Addendum C
Lists of figures and tables
List of tables
Table no.
Table 4.1
Table 4.2
Table 4.3
Table 8.1
Table 8.2
Table 8.3
Table 8.4
Table 11.1
Table 11.2
Table C1
Table C2
Measurement for setup 1
Measurement for setup 2
Average length of diameter of specimen
Comparison of the mode of elasticity for several materials
Comparison of the melting points of four substances
Comparison between petrol consumption of two makes of cars
Productivity for three factories
Data and calculations for concrete mix
Designed and achieved stresses
Measured modulus of elasticity values
Results: flow rate through the petrol valve as a function of
fraction valve opening and pressure drop across valve
Page no.
List of figures
Figure no. Title
Figure 3.1
Figure 3.2
Figure 3.3
Figure 4.1
Figure 4.2
Figure 5.1
Figure 5.2
Figure 7.1
Figure 7.2
Figure 10.1
Figure C1
Figure C2
Figure C3
Figure C4
Figure C5
Figure D1a
Figure D1b
Figure D1c
Figure D2
The report-writing process
Smart Podium Prototype I
Smart Podium Prototype II
Wheatstone bridge circuit
Galvanometer circuit layout
(Students formulate caption)
(Students formulate caption)
Apparatus for an experiment on the value of the coefficient of
sliding friction
Conventional and modified versions of a hot-water cylinder
Setup of an experiment to verify that pressure acts equally in all
directions at a given point in a stationary liquid
Photograph to identify rotary piston
Exploded view
Number of registrations of electrical and chemical engineers
from 1970 to 1995
Total jet fuel consumption by region from 1990-1998
Energy demand by sector in Tshwane
Full representation of a complex electronic circuit
Schematic overview of a complex electronic circuit
Centre block from the diagram expanded
Confusing chart
Page no.
Introduction to the module
1. General outcomes
The module is aimed at guiding students towards acquiring the skills specified in ECSA
Document no. PE-61: Standards for Accredited University Bachelors Degrees, in particular
Professional and general communication
The B.Eng./B.Sc.(Eng.) graduate is competent to
1. Communicate effectively, both orally and in writing, with engineering audiences
and the community at large, using appropriate structure, style and graphical support;
2. Apply methods of providing information for use by others involved in engineering
2. Specific outcomes
After successful completion of BJJ 210 you will be competent to plan, compose and revise
technical reports, by applying discipline-specific and genre- principles relating to content,
structure, style, grammar, vocabulary, punctuation and visual presentation.
3. Study material
This workbook will serve as your primary source of information on writing technical reports.
Crucial information will, however, be discussed during contact sessions, and the interaction
with your fellow students and the lecturer, as well as the differences of opinion and discussions
that follow all constitute invaluable academic experiences.
In addition you will have to search for and access sources on the specific topics chosen for your
group report.
4. Educational approach and empirical basis
The educational approach is that of Critical Genre Pedagogy. This approach departs from the
following premises:
Academic and professional writing is driven by the purposes and goals of discourse
Members of specialised professional and academic communities package information in ways
that conform to the discipline or profession’s norms, values and ideology. More specifically, it
accepts that there is a systematic relationship between disciplinary purposes, genre and
language use. The main purpose of engineering professionals is to propose designs in order to
solve problems. Secondary purposes, which contribute to this main purpose, may be to conduct
research of various types (field, laboratory, etc.), to visit and inspect sites, to determine the
feasibility of different designs, materials, etc., to indicate progress in a project, to propose new
or adapted designs, and so forth. It is therefore no surprise that engineers write documents such
as research reports, inspection reports, feasibility reports, laboratory reports, progress reports,
and project proposals.
Students learn best in the context of social apprenticeship
This model (first introduced by Vygotsky, 1978) involves scaffolded learning, moving from the
exploration of model texts, through explicit instruction, joint construction, independent writing,
and critical reflection.
Students need to develop a critical orientation towards their writing
Although a genre approach assumes that certain goal-driven formats have become
conventionalized within professions and disciplines, and that students can be taught these
formats to initiate them into the discourses of experts they should also be aware that:
• engineering disciplines differ in terms of their purposes, and that these differences may
cause differences in writing conventions; and induce different emphases;
• specific contexts may necessitate deviation from the standard or norm;
• disciplinary purposes may change over time, and conventions may need to be challenged
It has been established empirically that the technical report is one of the genres or formats most
frequently used by professional engineers and required by engineering lecturers. This module
focuses in particular on laboratory reports and research reports, since these genres have to be
mastered as from second-year level at university.
Individual work
Group work
Individual tasks and class test(s)
First draft of report (upload on ClickUP in MSWord format)
Final version of report (submit a printed copy to your
lecturer, together with the marked first draft and a printout
of PowerPoint slides)
Presentation (10 minute in-class oral presentation with
PowerPoint support)
Please note
There is no separate examination.
The cumulative mark for the various assessments is final. Students who achieve less than
50% fail the module.
No re-examinations or supplementary examinations will be granted.
5.2 Plagiarism
You are guilty of plagiarism when you excerpt information from a book, article or web page
without acknowledging the source, and pretend that it is your own work. This not only applies
to verbatim citations, but also to when presenting someone else’s work in an amended format
(paraphrase), or using someone else’s argument(s) without the necessary acknowledgement. It
is also forbidden to allow another person to copy or consult your work, and present it as his/her
The following link on the UP intranet will give you information on exactly what counts as
plagiarism: http://www.ais.up.ac.za/plagiarism/index.htm
If you are guilty of plagiarism, you forfeit all credit for the work concerned. In addition, the
case may be referred to the Committee for Discipline. Plagiarism is considered a serious
violation of the University’s regulations and may lead to suspension from the University.
To verify that your report is free from plagiarism, it will be subjected to scrutiny via the
plagiarism detector program Turnitin when you upload it via ClickUp.
5.3 Task description
Every student will submit tasks to his/her class lecturer on dates agreed upon by the class and
the lecturer.
For the group work assignments students should
(a) constitute as groups of three to four members (no more than four members will be allowed
to join a group);
(b) select a topic from the list available on ClickUP;
(c) select a group leader – a person who is competent to guide the group as well as to coordinate all group activities;
(d) complete the group record (available on ClickUP) and submit to your lecturer (the
responsibility of the Group Leader).
The information specialists at the library are competent and eager to assist students in locating
sources as well as accessing information.
Information specialist for your engineering group:
7. Schedule
A schedule will be handed out in class.
8. Lecturer's contact details
Study unit 1
Communication in the engineering profession
After completing this study unit you should
1. understand the importance of communication skills in the engineering world;
2. understand that the writing conventions engineers use are directly related to what they
do as engineers.
1. The importance of communication in the engineering world
Many engineers and engineering students dislike writing. Beer and McMurrey (2005: 1)
express this attitude towards writing as follows:
After all, don’t we go into engineering because we want to work with machines,
instruments, and numbers rather than words?
You may hold a similar attitude, but the fact remains that to be a successful engineer you
must be able to write and speak effectively. Even if you could avoid communication with all
others, what purpose would your ideas and discoveries serve if they never got beyond your
own mind? Moreover, many engineers spend over 40% of their work time writing, and they
usually find that the percentage increases as they move up the corporate ladder.
Beer and McMurrey (2005: 3) quote the following response from an engineer who works as a
software deployment specialist, when asked to outline a typical day at his job.
Activity 1
Underline the activities where communication skills are called for:
Arrive, read and reply to overnight e-mails from overseas.
Work on project.
Meet with project manager to write answer to head of department’s request.
Write up a request to obtain technical support.
Meet with server group about submitted application to fix process problems.
Reply to e-mails from Sales about prospective customers’ technical questions.
Give presentation to server hosting group to explain what my group is doing.
Join the team to write up weekly progress report.
Write e-mails to update customers on the status of solving their problems.
Write e-mail reply to questions about knowledge base article I wrote.
Meet with group to discuss project goals for next four months.
Meet with group to create presentation of findings to project management.
Draft report on survey.
Leave for day.
2. The importance of good writing skills in the engineering
Activity 2
Ask at least two consulting engineers in your field to answer the following questions:
What is the estimated percentage of your work that involves writing?
Which types of writing do you need to do, and how often?
With which aspects of writing did you struggle when starting your career?
How well did university prepare you for these types of writing?
What is your advice to students in terms of learning to write in a way that is
acceptable in the engineering world?
It is widely accepted among teachers of communication skills that there is a direct
relationship between the purposes of a field (e.g. engineering) and the writing conventions
of that field. Practising engineers and engineering lecturers use these conventions
unconsciously because they have practised them for a long time.
One of the main aims of this module is to make these conventions visible to students of
engineering. This means that our focus will be on what engineers do as engineers, and how
these purposes tie in with the language, style and other conventions that are used in
communication among professionals as well as between engineers and other audiences.
Activity 3
Before we move on to the next study unit it is necessary for you to reflect on what your main
purposes are as a civil, chemical, computer, electric, electronic, industrial, mechanical,
mining, or metallurgical engineer.
1. Visit the official website of your professional society (e.g. http://www.saice.org.za), and
establish the main objectives of engineering professionals in your field (e.g. What does a
civil engineer do?)
2. Download the guidelines your engineering department provides on the writing of
technical reports. Keep this document for future reference. Bring these along to the
next class. Your lecturer will negotiate with you a topic from this document on which to
write a paragraph at the next contact session. Civil engineering students may, for
instance, be required to write a paragraph of 250 words on “the systems approach in
engineering” in class. This means that you will have to read pp. 4-1 – 4-4 of your
department’s guideline document on reports, dissertations and theses.
Study unit 2
Report types
After completing this study unit you should have basic knowledge of the report types used
by engineers, and be able to make an informed decision on which to use for a particular
audience and purpose.
You should be convinced by now that producing documentation in written form – including
reports, manuals, procedures, proposals and even marketing support materials – comprises an
essential part of an engineer’s work.
The report is one of the document types that plays a central role in the life of an engineer.
The report types most commonly written are:
• Inspection, site and trip reports
• Laboratory reports
• Project reports
• Progress reports
• Recommendation reports or feasibility reports
• Design reports
• Research reports
Inspection, site and trip reports describe the inspection of a site or facility; describe an
incident or an accident, property or equipment; or summarize the events and results of a
business trip (Beer & McMurrey, 2005: 93-95). In these documents it is important to
document (describe) observations of material objects and conditions in detail, write down
events in chronological order (give a recount) and evaluate results.
Progress reports answer a client’s questions on the status of a project, such as: Are you on
schedule?, Are you within budget?, Are any risks evident? If so, how do you plan to control
them? What remains to be done? What is your plan for doing it? What is your overall
assessment? (Finkelstein, 2000: 97). The emphasis in this type of report is on systematically
(according to steps or phases) describing and evaluating progress.
Laboratory, project and field reports report and interpret an experiment, test or survey.
Thus they present the data collected, and discuss the research, theory, method or procedure,
findings, interpretation of the data and what can be concluded from the interpretations. (Beer
& McMurrey, 2005: 92; Finkelstein, 2000: 139). Laboratory reports are primarily aimed at
testing a design or procedure under highly controlled conditions. Project reports are often
associated with demonstrating the application of a theory or technology in a practical
situation. In both these genres describing a procedure or process chronologically, and
interpreting results, are crucial.
Feasibility reports determine the feasibility of solving a problem in a particular way, or
discuss several options for solving a problem, and make a recommendation at the end
(Finkelstein, 2000: 97). Feasibility reports need to give an accurate and multidimensional
description of the problem that needs to be solved, followed by a description of one or more
possible solutions, and a set of criteria by which the solutions can be evaluated objectively.
Feasibility reports usually have an empirical research component where data is collected and
applied. Feasibility reports therefore require the skill to describe a problem and possible
solutions, tease out cause(s) and effect(s), compare (and perhaps contrast) different solutions,
and evaluate the effectiveness of the various solutions.
Design reports are written to introduce and document engineering and scientific designs. In
general, these reports have two audiences: one includes other engineers and scientists
interested in how the design works and how effective the design is. Another audience
includes management interested in the application and effectiveness of the design. From a
structural point of view they start with an Introduction (which identifies the design problem,
the objectives of the design, the assumptions for the design, the design alternatives, and the
selection of the design being reported. This is followed by a Discussion, which presents the
design itself, the theory behind the design, the problems encountered (or anticipated), how
the problems were (or could be) overcome, and the results of any tests on the design. The
report ends in a Conclusion, which summarizes the design and testing work, and assesses
how well the design meets the objectives presented in the Introduction.
Research reports are comprehensive reports on an issue that is relevant to a particular
branch of engineering. In the broadest sense they are focused inquiries into technical
subjects. Research reports differ mainly quantitatively from project reports and laboratory
reports. They normally have a broader scope than a single experiment, procedure or
application. Furthermore a thorough literature survey has to be conducted to serve as
theoretical basis for understanding the topic.
Although many different categorisations are possible, all engineering reports may be
classified as technical reports, which may again be subclassified as
• informative reports; and
• analytical reports
Progress reports and reports on site visits, inspection trips and vacation work may be
classified as informative.
On the other hand feasibility, laboratory, experimental, project, and research reports may be
subclassified as analytical.
However, you should not focus too narrowly on the names of reports. There are no
international standards on the names, content and format of reports. Therefore, there are
no generic “templates” that you should use. What is important is to determine the
requirements for the report you have to write; think primarily about the purpose of your
report (which will largely determine the content), and the needs and requirements of your
audience. These dimensions will determine the structure of your report, and the language and
style you will use.
Study unit 3
The report-writing process
After completing this study unit you should
1. know and understand the steps in the process of report-writing;
2. realise the importance of knowledge of audience, purpose and field (professional or
3. be able to use this knowledge to make decisions about the content and style required for
a particular report;
4. realise the importance of research in report-writing, and know how to use information
from relevant sources;
5. know how to make notes from (printed) sources, and how to organise these notes before
starting to write.
1. The process of report-writing
The writing process in general comprises three phases: planning, writing and revising. These
phases usually take place in succession, but each phase may be recurrent and overlapping.
The more comprehensive the report is, the more planning and revision will be necessary.
Research reports, in particular, usually require thorough planning, and include a number of
writing, revising, and rewriting cycles.
The process of report-writing can be summarised in FIGURE 3.1:
Defining audience,
purpose, criteria and
Revising drafts
Inserting graphic aids
Gathering the
Writing the report
Organising the facts or theory:
topic outlines and mind maps
Analysing the data
Drawing conclusions
Making recommendations
FIGURE 3.1 The report-writing process (adapted from Grant & Borcherds, 2002:
This study unit deals with phases 1, 2 and 3 in particular. Phases 4, 5 and 6 will be dealt with
in the discussion of two prominent written genres in engineering communication, viz. the
laboratory report and the research report.
During Phase 1, you need to take cognisance of three important dimensions that will
determine the effectiveness of your report:
• Audience
• Purpose
• Field requirements
Section 2 below will give an overview of these dimensions.
Phase 2 requires research. Primary research comprises research in the real world, such as
doing experiments in a laboratory, doing field-research, doing research on the effectiveness
of a particular model or design, etc. Secondary research comprises a survey of the literature
relevant to your purpose. This will be dealt with in section 2. below.
2. The planning phase: determining audience and purpose, and
establishing field requirements
2.1 Audience
Every report has an intended audience: the reader or readers of the document. Your audience
will affect all the decisions you make, from organisation and visual aids, to sentence structure
and word choice. Since your goal is to generate the clearest document for your audience, you
must consider their needs and expectations as you plan, write, and revise. Questions you need
to ask, especially during the planning phase, are:
• Who is my audience?
• How much do they know about the topic?
• How much information do they need?
• Why do they need this document?
• What do they expect of the document?
• What will they do with it?
Your answers will affect the topics you include, how much detail you present on each topic,
the approach you take, and even the format you choose.
Activity 4
1. Which type of report will provide your readership with the information they need to do the
following (compare Study Unit 2):
• being satisfied that you understand core concepts and can solve a problem by
applying standard technologies and procedures correctly and convincingly under
controlled conditions;
• being satisfied that you have kept to your schedule and budget;
• being able to make an informed choice between different technologies or
In groups of 2 – 3 students, consider FIGURES 3.2 and 3.3:
FIGURE 3.2 Smart Podium Prototype I
FIGURE 3.3 Smart Podium Prototype II
Read the following two scenarios, and within each scenario provide an appropriate
characterisation of the equipment needed for the two proptotypes. Keep the following
questions in mind: How much do my audience know? What do my audience need to do with
the information?
Scenario 1
Suppose you are a consultant from Electrosonic SA, one of the developers of smart
podiums, who have been approached by the Head of the IT Department at UP to suggest
possible prototypes. The purpose of your proposal is to assist the IT Department in advising
university management on which system to implement throughout the university. What
would you include in this description?
Scenario 2
Suppose you are the Head of the IT Department at UP, and you had to describe to lecturers
two smart podium prototypes, which they then have to rate in terms of adequacy and
usability. What would you include in such a description?
Rewrite the following passage for a non-engineering audience, such as the members of
a rural town council:
From the early 1970s to the mid-1980s the use of employment-intensive methods, which
generate significant employment opportunities per unit of expenditure, were explored as a
means for both the construction of public works and the generation of employment. In theory
and small-scale experimentation the methods were found to apply to many aspects of civil
construction. However, to date in sub-Saharan Africa, employment-intensive methods have
only been used on a large-scale for low-cost, low-volume rural road construction. During the
1990s research and field experimentation in South Africa has not only confirmed the validity
of the earlier research but demonstrated that, as long as certain basic principles are
followed, employment-intensive methods may also be used for high-standard, heavily
trafficked roads and other high-standard infrastructure without compromising cost, quality or
time. Since the bulk of civil construction expenditure is on high-standard infrastructure, the
use of employment-intensive methods could multiply the positive social and socio-economic
effects of such expenditure without detriment to the public purse (adapted from
McCutcheon, 2001).
Choose any of the topics below, find a paragraph written for a technical audience, and
rewrite it in a style appropriate for a non-engineering audience (submit both):
A. Toxic waste management at Koeberg / Safe transportation of hazardous and toxic
materials to and from Necsa
B. Cable-stayed bridges
C. Workflow Management Technology / Optical LAN Technology
D. Electricity-powered cars / Wind-powered electricity / Nuclear pebble-bed reactors
E. Nitinol-based robots / Using cellular technology to design a navigation aid for blind
F. Achieving world-class manufacturing standards in the automotive industry / The nature
and value of lean systems / The ISO 9001: 2000 Quality Management Standard
G. Applications of nano-technology in the agricultural sector or in computer hardware /
Processing platinum ore / Creating unique coin “signatures”
H. Ventilation in deep gold mines / Effective seismic monitoring systems in mines
I. Computational fluid dynamics / Bio-fuelled cars / Uses of water-propelled rockets /
Minimising the impact of load-shedding
4. Who is your main audience when writing a laboratory report or a research report while at
university, and how does this affect the style you will use?
2.2 Purpose
The purpose of a report comprises (a) its aim or objective, and (b) the effect you want it to
have on your audience.
The main aim, purpose or objective could, for instance, be
• to determine the power-actuated tool that is most suitable for driving tempered steel studs
into concrete (Pauley & Riordan, 1987);
• to assess key environmental liabilities at site X. (Sylyn-Roberts, 2005: 37);
to define a framework for access control for virtual applications, enabled through web
services technologies (Coetzee & Eloff, 2005).
Your main purpose will directly influence the content of your report, which, in turn, will
determine the sources of information you will need in order to write the report.
The effect you want to have on your readership may be to (one or more than one may be
• Persuade: Attract readers’ attention, convince them, and move them to decide or take
• Inform: Provide information without expecting action.
• Instruct: Give information in the form of directions, instructions, procedures, or the like.
• Recommend: Suggest an action or series of actions based on alternative possibilities that
you have evaluated.
• Describe or record: Document, for the record, how something was researched, carried
out, tested, altered or repaired.
• Argue: Express an opinion and provide evidence as proof of the validity of the opinion
• Evaluate: Make inferences and generalisations.
(Finkelstein, 2000: 14)
Which of the above would be applicable in the case of (a) a laboratory report; (b) a research
report; (c) a feasibility report; and (d) a project proposal?
2.3 Requirements of your engineering field
The requirements for a report will also depend on your engineering department’s guidelines
for report-writing (which you have downloaded) – and when you become a professional
engineer, your company’s requirements. Every organisation, field and profession has its own
names for reports as well as its own requirements on format, content, and organisation.
Therefore, you have to think creatively about an appropriate format within the boundaries of
your discipline, your profession, your company and your audience to determine what the
report calls for.
Activity 5
Identify the requirements of your engineering field in terms of the following, and compile a
one-page style sheet:
• Names of the main sections of a technical report.
• Formatting (document design): indicate requirements for type size (for headings and
text), line spacing, margins, headings (how many levels?), space between headings and
text, typographic emphasis on important words, numbering, maximum length of
• Paragraph structure
• Tables and figures
• Evidence/proof for statements
• Language, style and grammar
3. Research
Primary research is done through observation, experiments (accurate and measurable
manipulation of the factors variables involved), surveys (interviews or questionnaires), etc.
The preferred methods for primary research are discipline-specific, and engineering
departments will typically provide information and guidelines in this regard.
Secondary research includes consultation of general books, reference books, journals (as
well as the indexes and abstracts associated with them), technical reports, patent literature,
product literature, specifications, and the Internet. These sources will provide (a) input for
background sections dealing with the theoretical bases of the project, (b) previous research
that is relevant to your project/report, and (c) content and structure for your literature review
section. In addition, your own interpretation, and conclusions deriving from the theory and
data as well as your ability to identify purpose, extract main ideas and reflect critically on the
process, will provide content for the report.
4. Making notes and organising them
To plan and compose the theoretical or literature review section of your report it is necessary
to study the relevant sources and make notes after you have defined your purpose, your
audience and have taken note of special field requirements.
Pauley and Riordan (1987) advise writers of research reports to start by generating
questions, for example
Who uses it?
What are its effects?
Where is it used?
What is its history?
Where is it made?
What are its major divisions?
How is it made?
How is it regulated?
What is it made of?
Do experts disagree about any of these questions?
What are its causes?
Some authors advise writers first to jot down ideas in the format of a diagram or brain map.
Others think in a more linear fashion, and prefer to jot down the main ideas point-wise.
Here is a strategy to follow:
1. Collect all the sources you want to use and make photocopies of the relevant pages, or
print the web pages.
2. Highlight or underline key phrases or bracket paragraphs.
3. Use a restricted number of keywords to label key paragraphs or lines (preferably those
that will eventually form primary or secondary sections in your proposal). Write the key
words in the margins.
4. Open a file on your computer, and summarise the information that you want to use, or
copy the passage verbatim, using inverted commas.
The table below may be useful for noting bibliographic information as well as for
summarising relevant content:
Please note that this table is an informal format to help you keep record of what you have
read and in which source you found the information. It is NOT the format to be used in your
Surname and initials of author
Name of article or web page (if applicable)
Date of publication (year) Web pages often
do not have a date of publication.
Name of editor (if it is a volume with
contributions by various authors)
Name of book/thesis/report/journal
Volume and number (if it is a journal)
Page numbers (if it is an article or volume)
Place of publication
Internet address (URL) if it is a web page
Date you consulted the source if it is a web
5. Use your content summaries to draw a diagram containing key phrases and
showing the relationship between primary, secondary and tertiary concepts
5. Preview of SECTION II of this book:
The next main sections will assist you to write two important types of texts, viz.
the laboratory report and the research report.
These two genres are similar in that they
• describe investigations into properties and principles of objects, systems or concepts;
• should contain enough detail so that the procedure could be repeated and verified by
another competent person, and to present the results and draw conclusions from the work;
• share the same basic structure: Abstract, Introduction, Methods, Results and Discussion
and Conclusion (compare Sylyn-Roberts, 2005: 79).
We shall use the cover term technical report to refer to both these genres.
Study unit 4
Getting acquainted
After completing this study unit you should be aware of the major sections and most
important language characteristics of a laboratory or other technical investigation report.
The function of a laboratory report is to communicate information gained through
laboratory tests, which are the most rigid of all data-gathering methods. The accuracy of the
test results depends on the procedure used during testing: therefore the laboratory report
place special emphasis on apparatus and procedure (compare Pauley & Riordan, 1987: 230).
Research reports differ from laboratory reports in that they make use of published
information to a much larger extent. Furthermore, they often deal with less clearly delineated
problems, and entail more independent research. Instead of receiving a set of instructions
from a lecturer or supervisor, the researcher identifies a real-world problem or a gap in the
research. He or she then devises a strategy on how to address the problem. Many decisions
have to be taken, such as:
• Which theories apply?
• What research has already been done on the topic?
• Which research methods should be followed?
In terms of their overall structure, research reports do not differ much from laboratory
reports. However, they are normally more comprehensive than laboratory reports, and
involve experimental or field research as well as a thorough literature survey.
• Abstract
• Introduction
• Literature survey (only research reports)
• Method (Apparatus and Procedure)
• Results
• Discussion
• Conclusion and recommendations
The occurence and order of these sections in reports vary between engineering fields.
Compare the following differences in experimental reports from four engineering fields
noted by Bazerman (1985):
Objective/purpose &
summary (how the
purpose was
accomplished & a
statement of the
results and their
Facilities and
Apparatus and
Apparatus and
In other words, the form of a technical investigation report is not simply a case of ‘one size
fits all’. Before you decide on a structure for a report you have to consider
(a) specific requirements of your engineering field and the academic department to which
you are submitting the report; and
(b) the subtype and topic of the report
1. Exploring a laboratory report
The report we look at, is about a laboratory experiment to find the resistivity of iron. The
resistivity is a constant which is a measure of the electric resisting power of a substance. it is
defined as the resistance offered by a one metre cube of the material. The resistivity is
represented by the symbol ρ and is given by the formula ρ = RA/1, where R is the resistance
of a uniform conductor of length 1 and cross-sectional area A. Read through the report and
look for answers to the questions which follow it.
Activity 6
The resistance, R, of a uniform conductor is proportional to the length, 1, of the
conductor and inversely proportional to its area of cross-section, A. Thus we
can write:
where the constant of proportionality, p, is known as the resistivity or specific
resistance of the material of the conductor.
In the present experiment, the specimen of iron is supplied in the form of a
wire, and its resistance is measured using a metre bridge. This is a convenient
form of the Wheatstone bridge circuit shown in FIGURE 4.1, where P,Q, R and
S are four resistors, E is a cell and G is a galvanometer.
FIGURE 4.1 Wheatstone bridge circuit
One of the resistors is adjusted until the galvanometer shows no deflection,
when the bridge is said to be balanced. It can be shown that the values of the
resistors then satisfy the condition:
Thus, if P, Q and S are resistors with known values, the unknown resistance of
R can be calculated. Hence, if the length and cross-sectional areas of the
specimen are measured, its resistivity can be calculated from equation (1).
The form of metre bridge used is shown in FIGURE 4.2 AB is a uniform wire
one metre long and C is a sliding contact. The galvanometer G is protected by
a resistance X which can be short-circuited by the switch K to provide
increased sensitivity when an approximate balance point has been reached.
The unknown resistance R and a standard resistor S are connected by thick
copper strips, the resistances of which are negligible.
FIGURE 4.2 Galvanometer circuit layout
The circuit was connected as shown in FIGURE 4.2, where R was the
specimen of iron wire and S was a standard one ohm resistor. The length of
wire was chosen to give a balance point near the middle of the wire AB since
this gives maximum sensitivity of the bridge. The circuit was tested by touching
briefly the sliding contact on the 0 and 100 cm ends of the bridge wire, and
obtaining galvanometer deflections on opposite sides of zero. An approximate
balance point was then obtained by moving the sliding contact along the wire.
The switch K was then closed and an accurate balance point was found. This
was repeated four times and the values of 11 are shown in Table 4.1. The
specimen and the standard resistor were then interchanged and the procedure
was repeated giving the results shown in Table 4.2. The length of the
specimen of wire between the terminals was measured several times using a
metre ruler and its diameter was measured using a micrometer gauge at six
positions along its length. These results are shown in Table 4.3.
TABLE 4.1 Measurement for setup 1
TABLE 4.2 Measurement for setup 2
11 (cm)
Average = 33.55 ± 0.05 cm
Average = 66.20 ± 0.10 cm
Balance point for
circuit as shown in
Fig. 2
Balance point for Fig. 2
with standard and
unknown resistors
TABLE 4.3 Average length and diameter of specimen
Length of
71.14 ± 0.06
Diameter of
specimen (mm)
Average = 0.443
± 0.007 mm
Discussion of results
The average values of the balance points and the length and diameter of the
specimen of the wire were calculated, their errors estimated form the specimen
of the wire were calculated, and their errors estimated from the spread of the
measurements. The resistance of the wire was calculated to be 0.505 ±
0.001Ω and 0.511 ± .001Ω using Table 4.1 and Table 4.2 respectively. These
values differ slightly because of contact resistances at the ends of the bridge
wire. The average value of 0.508 ± 0.001Ω and 0.511 ± .001Ω was taken as
the resistance of the specimen.
The resistivity of iron was calculated using Equation (1) and the average
values for the length and diameter of the wire, since this has the largest
fractional error. The accepted value for the resistivity of iron is 9.8 × .10-7Ω m.
Most of the uncertainty comes from the measurement of the diameter of the
wire since this has the largest fractional error. The accepted value for the
resistivity of iron is 9.8 × .10-8Ω m, which is significantly different from the result
of the present experiment. This may be because different samples of iron wire
contain different impurities. It was also noted that the specimen used was
slightly rusty. In this case the diameter measured would be greater than the
true diameter of the iron, which could account for the fact that the resistivity
was found to be 12% higher than the accepted value.
The resistivity of iron has been determined by using a metre bridge to measure
the resistance of a specimen of wire. The value found was (1.10 ± 0.01) × 107
Ω m, which is significantly greater than the accepted value. This discrepancy
was probably due to impurity of the specimen or rust on its surface.
(Dudley-Evans, 1985: 5)
What are the aims of the different sections of the report?
Choose the best alternative from the following:
(a) The introduction is concerned with
(i) the theory of the experiment
(ii) the method for carrying out the experiment
(iii) the results of the experiment
(b) The procedure section includes
(i) the steps that were followed by the student in carrying out the experiment
(ii) the steps that are usually followed in carrying out the experiment.
(iii) the instructions for carrying out the experiment
(c) The discussion of results section presents
(i) a summary of the main results
(ii) a summary of the main aim
(iii) a summary of the main aim and the main results
Answer the following questions about the tense used:
(a) Which verb tense is used in the introduction?
(b) Which tense is used in the procedure section?
(c) Which tenses are used in the discussion of results section?
(d) Which tenses are used in the conclusions section?
The report is written in a formal, scientific style. Write down how the writer expresses
the following points:
(a) We use a piece of iron wire for the specimen in the experiment.
(b) We adjust one of the resistors until the needle of the galvanometer does not move.
We tested the circuit by touching the sliding contact on the 0 and 100 cm ends of
the bridge wire for a short time, and getting movements of the galvanometer
needle on opposite sides of zero.
(d) We switched the specimen and the standard resistor round and did the same thing
again, giving the results shown in TABLE 4.2.
(e) The result of the experiment was not what we expected.
Study unit 5
Title and introduction
After completing this study unit you should be able to
1. formulate an informative title for an investigative report;
2. list the most frequently occurring subsections of an introduction to a research report;
3. make an informed decision on how to structure the introduction of your group’s research
report, with a view to your topic, purpose, audience and the requirements of your
engineering department;
4. be able to rewrite a research question as a purpose statement (aim);
5. be acquainted with the most salient lexical and grammatical characteristics of the
6. use verb tense appropriately in the various parts of the introduction;
7. apply other important language conventions used in the various subsections of the
8. write an introduction to a given report, or a report you have chosen or have been
assigned to write.
1. Choosing an appropriate title for your report
The nature of the investigation is usually mentioned in the title or the introduction of the
report (Dudley-Evans, 1985: 10; Finkelstein, 2000: 140).
With regard to reports in science and engineering the title of a report tells us
what the report is about
what was measured/investigated/compared; and
in the case of experiments, how the measurement was carried out
Compare, for instance, the title of the model report we explored in the previous study unit:
The determination of the resistivity of iron by means of a metre bridge.
Words often used in titles of laboratory, project and research reports are:
a careful observation of a phenomenon
a careful study by means of observations and tests, and
deductions of these
measurement/determination: finding the value of a property by comparison with a
standard, e.g. measuring current by means of the standard
carrying out an experiment to show that a scientific law is
true, or that observations made by previous researchers are
Activity 7
Choose the best word from the above list to fill in the blanks. If you choose ‘study’ or
‘investigation’ add ‘a’ or ‘an’.
__________________ of the different methods of calculating velocity.
__________________ of the hardness of various metals using the Brinell testing
The accurate __________________ of the resistance of an unknown resistor.
__________________ of the law of reflection using a plane mirror.
__________________ of the relationship between the length of a pendulum bob and
the square of periodic time.
2. Introductions to reports: an exploration
• Some sources recommend that the introduction be written last. However, if you are clear
about the main purpose of the experiment or research, and the underlying theory, you
could start with this section.
• Different disciplines and different departments have different ideas about what should be
included in an introduction, and what not. Furthermore, the introductions of various types
of technical reports will differ.
Although the format of an introduction to a report will be influenced by factors such as the
company or department’s house style and the topic of the report, the following format (which
is referred to as a funnel introduction) occurs fairly regularly:
(a) General statement(s) about the field of research to provide the reader with a setting for
the problem to be reported (Background)
(b) More specific statements about the aspects of the problem already studied by other
researchers (Indication of prior research)
(c) A statement that indicates the problem addressed, which may indicate a real-world
problem or opportunity, and/or a need for more investigation (the Problem Statement
and/or Gap Statement)
(d) Very specific statements giving the Aim or Objectives of the present research.
(e) A brief indication of the Scope of the research report.
The introduction could be represented by the following schema:
(Previous research)
Problem/Research gap
It should again be stressed that introductions to research reports may differ in terms of their
components. Before starting to write, you should acquaint yourself with the requirements of
your academic department. The nature of the topic will also influence the nature and ordering
of the elements in an introduction.
A research article in a scientific journal is a kind of research report. Compare the introduction
to a research article by Tseng (2006) below, and label the various parts of the introduction.
(Please note that the numerical style of referencing is used by this journal. You have to use
the Harvard style).
We shall now look at the various possible sections of an investigative report separately.
2.1 The background (sometimes also referred to as the ‘setting’)
This subsection of a laboratory or a research report provides the information necessary for
the reader to understand and appreciate the report and the findings that will follow.
The most important point to remember is that the background section should progress from
general to specific. Readers are first provided with the background necessary to view the
topic of the research in relation to a general area of study. Then you would start with
generally accepted statements about the area in which you are working, and step by step,
move the reader closer to the specific topic of your report.
Activity 8
Read the following part of an introduction, and then answer the questions below:
Clean water is a basic human need. Its discovery, transport, and systematic
renewal have always been crucial to all but the least densely populated
societies. Increasing population and industrial wastes, together with
diminishing sources of easily available energy with which to manage them,
are converging to emphasize that all the earth’s resources are finite. But the
supply of clean water, though also finite, is at least infinitely renewable.
Among the various approaches to improving present technologies for wastewater treatment, several involve the use of plants, which can remove
pollutants and provide materials useful as animal feeds or energy sources.
Various aquatic plants are being proposed in such approaches, and the
duckweeds in particular, an essentially unique group of higher aquatic
plants, might be especially advantageous in such systems.
1. Which sentences in this introduction make obvious statements or statements that would
be generally acceptable by scientists concerning the general area of investigation?
2. Which sentence focuses on one subarea of the general area of study?
3. Which sentence indicates the topic of the report?
2.1.1 “Old” and “new” information
To move along smoothly from general to specific in the background section of your report, it
is important to make use of the notions old and new information. The basic principle is:
Place old information (information already known to the reader) at the beginning of
sentences, and place new information at the end.
Activity 9
1. Explain the principle of old and new information by referring to the following text:
Plants obtain atmospheric CO2 required for photosynthesis by diffusion
through open leaf stomates. While this is taking place, water in the leaf
parenchyma tissues evaporates into the substomal cavities and diffuses
through the open stomates into the atmoshphere. This process can create
large water potential differences between the leaves and the soil
surrounding the roots.
2. The following statements are adapted from the background section of an introduction to
a research report about ice on rivers. The sentences are not presented in their correct
order. First number the sentences in the order you believe they appeared in the original
introduction, using the notions of old and new information and level of generality to
guide you. You may substitute some of the nouns for pronouns to make the discourse
more natural.
A. Water regularly changes back and forth from liquid to gas to solid.
B. River ice constitutes a small fraction of the total quantity of ice in the
C. The solid phase of water takes many forms.
D. Water is one of the most important substances on earth.
E. Solid forms of water range from small snowflakes to immense polar ice
F. Water makes man’s survival possible and supports his transportation
(Weissberg and Buker, 1990: 26-27)
3. Locate a journal article reporting research findings in your area of specialisation, and
answer the following questions:
(a) Does the introduction contain a background section? Support your answer.
(b) Does the author use old information at the beginning of sentences to link ideas?
4. The following is an excerpt from a student’s thesis in civil engineering. Fill in the blanks
with the appropriate old information:
Hydrology is based on the water cycle, most commonly called the hydrologic
cycle. _________________ is visualized as beginning with the evaporation
of water from the oceans and continental lands. The resulting
________________ is condensed to form clouds, which in turn may result in
precipitated water, or precipitation. _______________________ which falls
upon the land is dispersed in several ways. A large portion is temporarily
retained in the soil near where it falls and is ultimately returned to the
_______________________ of the precipitated water, called runoff, finds its
way over and through the surface soil to stream channels, while
____________________ penetrates into the ground to become part of the
earth’s groundwater supply.
2.1.2 General and specific reference
Students often have difficulty in determining which, if any, article should be used before a
noun or noun phrase.
The guidelines you can use are:
• Does the noun refer to a general or a specific entity?
Is the noun countable or uncountable? If it is countable, use a or an (singular), or –s at the
end (plural)
Activity 10
Fill in the blanks, using the articles a, and, the, or the plural –s. Some of the blanks would
not require filling in:
Recent concerns about _____ expenditure of energy for human
transportation_ have accentuated _____ need for more efficient passenger
vehicle_. The result has been an unprecedented increase in ______ use of
lightweight structural materials in automobile_ in _____ United States.
Another result has been _______ increased popularity of bicycle_ for
practical transport.
With _____ large interest in bicycle transportation, ______ research has been
conducted at ______ University of California, Davis in recent years to
develop _____ lightweight aluminium bicycle. _______ Aluminium was
chosen because preliminary calculation_ showed that weight could be
reduced while increasing frame efficiency. _____ efficiency_ indicates
______ ability of a frame to absorb as small an amount of energy as possible
from ______ total usable effort during pedaling. Hence, _____ highly efficient
frame delivers almost all usable rider effort to the drive train with very little
energy going into ______ distortion of ______ frame.
2.2 Mentioning previous research
Previous research could be mentioned briefly in the introduction. The introduction may then
provide a summary of the situation in which the problem arose. Bruckmann and Mandersloot
(1998: 63) refer to a critical summary of the ‘state of the art’ in order to show why the
investigation was undertaken.
However, any comprehensive review of the available literature should be included in a
separate section of the report (not included in the introduction). The literature review is
discussed in the following study unit.
Activity 11
Which paragraphs in the texts below cite previous research as a rationale for
the study reported on?
The two introductions are not structured exactly according to the template we
suggested. In which ways do they differ?
In most deserts of the world, transitions between topographic elements are
abrupt, and water courses which are dry most of the time tend to dissipate
their occasional waters within local basins. Occasional torrential rainfall,
characteristic of most desert regions, washes loose debris into water
courses or transports this material, depositing it in and along the shores of
ephemeral lakes. This physical processes result in a redistribution of dead
plant material (litter), affect the distribution of soil water and create a
heterogeneous biotic community. Therefore, before the dynamics of desert
ecosystems can be adequately understood, the spatial relationships must
be clarified.
There have been few studies of litter distribution and or soil fauna in any of
the world deserts (Wallwork, 1999). Wood (2001) surveyed the soil fauna
in a number of Australian arid and semi arid ecosystems. Wallwork (1999)
did some studies of the microarthropods in the Mojave desert in Nevada.
In the Chihuahuan desert, Whitford et al. (1999; 2004) described the
spatial relationships for many groups of organisms, but soil microarthopods
remain unstudied. The lack of such information represents a gap in our
knowledge of desert ecosystems.
As part of our continuing program of studies of the structure and dynamics
of Chihuahuan desert ecosystems, we designed the study reported here to
understand the relationship between litter redistribution and the spatial
distribution and composition of the soil microarthropod community.
The purpose of this report is to provide a comprehensive investigation of
Quantum Central Processing Units (QCPUs), including a theoretical review
of the premises of their operation.
Traditionally, computing power has been enhanced by increasing CPU
speeds primarily through decreasing the size of conductors and solid-state
devices used in chip fabrication. Decreasing size, however, has finite
limitations, such as those associated with reducing the dielectric constants
of the required materials. There has also been a move toward increasing the
number of instructions executed for each clock cycle, especially with
reduced instruction set (RISC) processors.
Traditional paradigms have recently been transcended by developing the
QCPU. The QCPU exploits and manipulates the quantum of performing very
large numbers of advanced computational tasks simultaneously using the
superimposition of multiple values encoded into the respective spin states of
individual atoms. The resulting CPU speed is equal to or better than 500
GHz (Josephson, 1999: 291). this effective speed intensive tasks such as
cryptographic factoring of large numbers, DNA sequencing in genetic
research, and interactive, three-dimensional holographic imaging in
advanced virtual reality systems.
Quantum computing theory applies the knowledge of quantum physics to
exploit subatomic phenomena of common elements to perform extremely
complex computational tasks. When properly exploited, these phenomena
provide a truly unprecedented ability for massibel parallel processing
(Aardvark, 1999: 446-448). Several options exist to exploit quantum
phenomena in this regard. One is to equate binary values to the ground and
excited states of an atom. Another is to use traditional nuclear magnetic
resonance (NMR) techniques to read induced spin states of atoms. A third is
to polarize photons in an optical chamber. In this research project the
second option has been applied, using NMR techniques to read specifically
induced spin states in carbon, hydrogen, and other atoms (Josephson,
1999: 301).
To manipulate carbon and hydrogen atoms, radio frequency (RF) energy is
applied to each atom at its specific resonant frequency. This RF energy is
applied to the atom while it is in a fixed magnetic field. Because the atom
remains in a fixed position the position can serve as its memory address.
The nucleons of these atoms spin predictably while in this magnetic field. If
an atom lines up with the direction of the magnetic field, it is considered to
be in a “spin up” orientation. If it lines up in a direction opposite to the
magnetic field, it is considered to be in a “spin down” orientation. Different
spin atoms have different energy signatures for different atoms at different
magnetic field magnitudes. These differences can be read by NMR sensors.
2.3 The problem statement
The investigation would normally deal with a problem, whatever its nature is (Bruckmann &
Mandersloot, 1998: 59).
There are various options regarding the problem statement, for example:
• A real-world problem
• An opportunity
• A research gap
o The previous literature may be inadequate because an important aspect of the research
area has been ignored by other authors.
o There is an unresolved conflict among the authors of previous studies concerning the
research topic.
o An examination of the previous literature suggests an extension of the topic, or raises
a new research question not previously considered by other researchers in your field.
Special signal words are commonly used to indicate a gap in the literature. Connectors such
as however, are used for this purpose. These are followed immediately by a gap statement in
the present or present perfect tense, which often contains modifiers such as few, little or no.
Signal word
(present or present
few studies have been done on
not much literature is available on
very little is known about
no work has been done on
Research topic
the effects of air flow
rates on simple flat
plate solar collectors
Subordinating conjunctions like although and while can also be used to signal this stage, but
then you have to write a complex sentence starting with while and although, followed by
modifiers such as some, many or much, plus a second clause containing modifiers such as
little, few or no:
Signal word
Previous work
(present or present
some literature is available on X,
many studies have been done on X,
much research has been devoted to X,
Gap + topic
little information
is available on Y
Activity 12
1. Identify the problem statement in the introduction to the article on LAN technology which
you explored at the beginning of this study unit.
2. Fill the blank spaces in the following introduction with appropriate signal words:
A recent study (Chu, 2001) of the failure of rubber strips due to repeated stretching has
indicated that the process is caused by gradual tearing. The tear begins as a small flaw
and then gradually increases until catastrophic failure occurs. This simple theory is
remarkably successful in predicting the fatigue life of strips of soft vulcanized rubber
(Chu, 2001; Bartlett, 2003). ______________ there is some evidence that chemical
processes may also contribute to rubber fatigue, there is _____________ literature
available concerning this possibility.
3. Rewrite each of the following telegraphic formulations as a problem statement for an
• Thermal conductivity: important concept in the design of heat transfer equipment.
• Thermal conductivity data for uncommon metals and many alloys: not known.
• Literature data on the conductivity of uncommon metals: not always believable.
2.4 Aim
It is usually necessary to include a statement of the aim of an experiment, study or
investigation in your report. It may come either in a separate section called the ‘Aim’,
‘Objective’ or ‘Purpose’, or as part of the Introduction.
Compare the following examples:
Aim: To verify that, at a point in a stationary liquid, pressure acts equally in all directions.
The aim of the experiment was to verify that, at a point in a stationary liquid, pressure acts
equally in all directions.
Your aim should be formulated in such a way that your reader can infer the research question
behind your study. Compare the following examples:
The aim of this investigation was to study groundwater conditions in order to aid in
evaluating the general hydrologic situation in the area under study.
(Wessels, Natrass and Rivett, 2007)
Your aims or objectives are written in such a way that they focus on either the research
(process), or the written report (as a product). The following ‘formulae’ may help you to
formulate your aim/objective:
Report orientation
is to give an overview of
• the problems that are likely to arise
from traffic in cities during the next
• ways in which responsibility can be
achieved in an engineering
The purpose of this report
The aim of the present paper
The objective of this report
Research orientation
Research question
The purpose of this study
The aim of this investigation
The objective of the research reported here
Research question
was to determine how effective
delegation of responsibility can be
achieved in an engineering
Activity 13
What is the main difference in the formulation of a report-oriented and a researchoriented statement of the aim?
2. Look how the following research question has been rewritten as an aim:
(a) Research question: Is an automatic measurement system suitable for classroom
and laboratory demonstrations?
Formulated as an aim: The purpose of this investigation was to determine if an
automatic measurement system would be suitable for classroom and laboratory
Rewrite the following research questions as aims:
(b) How should the environmental impact of public works projects be assessed and
how can this be taken into account in the evaluation of the merits of such projects?
(c) Is the safety record of the construction industry as poor as is frequently
suggested? What steps should industry consider to improve the present situation?
3. Write suitable aims for the experiments depicted by figures 5.1 and 5.2:
FIGURE 5.1 (Formulate title/caption on the basis of the aim of the experiment)
FIGURE 5.2 (Formulate title/caption on the basis of the aim of the experiment)
2.5 Scope
The scope indicates the limits of the investigation, and may include:
• terms of reference (the brief given to the investigators, as in contracts for engineering
work or R & D projects)
• constraints (caused by circumstances or self-imposed); and
• methodology (only the general strategy of the investigation)
3. Language conventions
We have already dealt with language issues such as:
• old and new information
• generic and specific reference
• words and structures frequently used to signal a gap in the research
Another aspect that should be highlighted is the way we can use language to express
tentativeness and certainty regarding statements that we (as authors) are making, or
statements by other researchers to which we refer.
Two types of words that provide us with “tools” to express degrees of tentativeness are
modal auxiliaries and reporting verbs. Modal auxiliaries, in particular, are used to indicate
your commitment to the results or the effect of your research, and will typically occur in the
introduction or the conclusion of your report:
The data contained in this report will supplement that presented
in earlier publications.
The purpose of this study was to determine if the use of
calculators would influence the scores of students.
This alternative method should simplify the analysis procedure.
Both of the factors studied here may be of importance in
explaining metal fatigue in truck bowls.
Results of this study could have considerable impact on
estimates of land. values
FIGURE 5.3 Expressing tentativeness and certainty
Activity 14
Fill in the blanks with appropriate verbs, modal auxiliaries and/or signal words in the
introduction paragraph of a report about using computers in classrooms:
The advantages of an automatic measurement system over manual
methods of collecting and analyzing data _____________ apparent to
anyone who has used manual methods of collecting and analyzing data.
________________________, the superiority of automatic analysis
__________________ not yet been demonstrated in an educational
environment. The greatest realization of these advantages comes when the
two methods are compared side by side. It ____________ the purpose of
this report to outline the implementation and use of an automatic
measurement system for classroom use. This is done with the hope that it
_________ provide an alternative solution to the problem of manually
demonstrating principles and theories in an educational environment.
Additionally, the system __________ serve as a basis for the study of
automatic measurement systems __________ serve as a basis for the study
of automatic measurement systems in an instrumentation course. The
simplicity of implementation and operation ___________________ enable
the student to observe details required in all systems without the usual
problem of having to learn complex operating and programming procedures.
Indicate the various sections of the introduction to a research report in the
following text from Bruckmann and Mandersloot (1998: 61):
Several senior managers have complained to the Education
Department that the courses for clerical workers have not kept pace
with new developments in the company. Allegedly, the students are
being taught procedures no longer in use, while current data
processing procedures are not covered. This study investigated the
validity of the complaints as well as the feasibility of remedial
measures. As 70% of clerical training is done at the Kelvin training
centre (increasing to 100% next year), the investigation was limited
to this centre. Information was obtained by interviewing senior
managers, participants in recent courses and staff at the centre
3. The following introductions have been scrambled. Number the sentences in the order
you believe the authors used when they wrote the reports.
Very simply, a rock filter consists of a submerged bed of rocks through
which the lagoon effluent is passed horizontally.
However, previous research on filters has not fully identified the basic
algal removal mechanism or developed a rational design method based
on this mechanism.
Aerobic stabilization lagoons are commonly employed by small cities and
isolated industrial plants for wastewater treatment.
The objective of this project was to confirm that sedimentation is the
primary removal mechanism operating within rock filters.
To remove algae from lagoon effluents, a variety of techniques has been
proposed including microstraining and chemical coagulation and
An additional promising alternative for the removal of algae from lagoon
effluents is the rock filter.
(Adapted from Weissberg & Buker, 1990: 74)
A. The phase of the project covered in this report comprises the evaluation of
commercially available catalysts, and inclusion of a pair of alcohols with
the same problem but higher molecular mass (1-propanol and 2-butanol) to
demonstrate that the process is effective for a wider range of alcohol pairs.
B. An α-alcohol is difficult to separate from a β-alcohol with one more carbon
atom by distillation (ref. 1) because their boiling points are almost the
C. A new catalyst evaluation method was used, which simulates industrial
process conditions and thus generates plant design information for the
D. Such alcohol mixtures are produced in several processes, for instance
Fischer-Tropsch synthesis. The technical feasibility of removing isopropanol from mixtures with ethanol by selective catalytic dehydration of
the latter was demonstrated previously (ref 2) using a locally synthesized
(adapted from Bruckmann & Mandersloot, 1998: 62-63)
Study unit 6
The literature review
After completing this study unit you should
1. know what the main function of a literature review is;
2. be able to conduct a literature survey for a research report;
3. be able to extract relevant information, draw up a logically organised outline, and write a
coherent overview of the theory relevant to the topic of your report;
4. be able to refer to sources in your text correctly, using one of the standard referencing
styles, e.g. Harvard;
5. demonstrate good judgement in deciding when to paraphrase and when to cite;
6. be able to use language appropriately in order to position yourself with regard to the
authors and sources you refer to.
1. Functions of the literature review
The literature review has various functions (compare, for instance, the list provided by the
Department of Mining Engineering (n.d.), from which the following have been taken:
• It gives further background information needed to understand your study.
• It demonstrates to your readers that you are familiar with the important research that has
been carried out in your field (it gives authoritative backing to your project).
• It establishes your study as one link in a chain of nascent research that is developing
knowledge in your field.
• It defines the scope of the project.
• It expands the writer’s knowledge and understanding of the field in which the research is
being done.
• It helps to focus your research.
2. Content and structure of the literature review
A common problem with literature reviews, mentioned by Bruckmann and Mandersloot
(1998: 64) is that they include a large number of references without any critical evaluation.
Furthermore, they often lack focus and structure. However, if you follow the guidelines
expounded in Study Unit 3 these pitfalls should not trip you up.
Let us summarise the procedure:
1. Collect all the sources you want to use and make photocopies of the relevant pages, or
print the web pages.
2. Read through the sources attentively.
3. Generate questions that will help you to organise the content of your literature review (as
suggested by Pauley and Riordan,1987), for example:
Who uses it?
What are its effects?
Where is it used?
What is its history?
Where is it made?
What are its major divisions?
How is it made?
How is it regulated?
What is it made of?
Do experts disagree about any of these questions?
What are its causes?
Derive a small number of categories from these questions.
Highlight or underline key paragraphs or sentences, and label them according to the
categories you have defined. You may feel the need to add categories on the basis of your
“discovery” of salient points you have missed.
Make content summaries.
Draw a brain map or make a linear outline containing key phrases and showing the
relationship between primary, secondary and tertiary concepts.
Critically discuss the points made in the documents under the headings you defined in the
Formulate a conclusion on the reviewed material.
3. Referring to sources in the text (in-text referencing)
Referencing is an extremely important, yet often neglected, activity in the process of writing
reports. There are a number of important reasons why you must acknowledge the sources you
used. I mention three:
(a) The author of any piece of writing has an ethical and legal obligation to give other people
credit for their work. If you do not recognise the sources you used to inform your
thoughts you are committing plagiarism (compare the Introduction to this workbook).
(b) Referencing is a ‘call on authority’: By referring to authors and sources you demonstrate
that you are informed on the subject, and have taken cognisance of what scholars and
other researchers have said or found.
(c) Readers need information on the sources you used if they wish to locate and consult those
There are different referencing systems or conventions, such as APA, Harvard, footnotes, etc.
In this book we explain the Harvard method, but you have to find out which method your
engineering department requires, and acquaint yourself with this method as well.
In-text referencing is acknowledging somebody else’s original ideas or words in the text of
your proposal. You either:
• record the original author’s exact words: citation; or
• your own reformulation of the primary author’s words: paraphrase.
Important notes
Irrespective of whether you cite or paraphrase the surname of the author and the year of
publication of the source are mentioned in round brackets, e.g.
(Scott, 1983) or
According to Scott (1983) …
Certain academic fields and/or professional journals also require the page number, e.g.
(Scott, 1983: 15).
However, the majority of engineering fields require only the surname and year of
publication if paraphrase is used.
(a) Citations
Citations are the exact words of the original author. They are particularly useful when the
reader needs to know what the original author wrote, or when one quotes norms, standards or
as specifications that have to be stated exactly like in the original source. There is more than
one way to embed a citation in your text:
As part of your sentence (in inverted commas, using double quotation marks), for
According to Finkelstein (2000: 159) the RF energy is applied to the atom while it is in
a fixed magnetic field, and “because the atom remains in a fixed position, the position
can serve as its memory address.”
(ii) After a colon in the same line (in inverted commas, using double quotation marks), for
Finkelstein (2000: 159) explains: “This RF energy is applied to the atom while it is in a
fixed magnetic field. Because the atom remains in a fixed position, the position can
serve as its memory address.”
(iii) After a colon, in a separate indented paragraph (in the case of which you do not use
quotation marks), for example:
Finkelstein (2000: 159) argues as follows:
This RF energy is applied to the atom while it is in a fixed magnetic field. Because the atom
remains in a fixed position, the position can serve as its memory address.
Citation should be used judiciously and sparingly. The majority of engineering
departments restrict the number of citations used in a report of limited scope to two or three.
(b) Paraphrase
Paraphrase is used when:
• the original text is written in a language your audience may not understand;
• the passage that you wish to refer to is very long;
• you want to change the structure of the original text/sentence to match the structure of the
sentence you have formulated.
The RF energy is applied to the atom in a fixed magnetic field, and since the atom is
static, the position can serve as its memory address (Finkelstein, 2000).
When referring to personal communication (interviews and conversations) in your proposal,
you do so in the same way as any other in-text reference, in that you mention the
interviewee’s surname and the year in which you conducted the interview. The rest of the
details are indicated in the reference list (see the example in the next subsection).
According to Dijkstra (2005) the unemployment, poor infrastructure and a low economic
growth rate have been some of the major problems facing the Makapanstad community.
In a personal interview Dijkstra (2005) expressed the view that “unemployment and a lack
of local infrastructure and economic growth have been some of the major challenges
faced by the [Makapanstad] community.”
When referring to Internet documents in the text, you do not quote the web address (URL)
in the text. Only the name of the author or page and the year of publication are mentioned.
Page numbers are not mentioned, since the pagination of the document may depend on the
settings of the computer.
According to the Department of Mineral and Energy affairs (2006) ...
The current figure for people living with AIDS in South Africa is ... (AIDS in South
Africa, 2002).
Important notes
1. Sources are referenced in the text and in the reference list. In this section we deal only
with in-text referencing.
2. In in-text references you use the ampersand (&) if you mention two authors in bracketed
references, and et al. if there are more than two, e.g.
During 2005 the Department of Water Affairs and Forestry requested an evaluation of
the Water Services Development Plans in two catchment areas (McKenzie et al., 2005).
Reservoir sedimentation is a worldwide problem, with the annual loss in storage capacity
due to sedimentation estimated at 1% of the original storage capacity (Batuca &
Jordaan, 2000).
Activity 15
Suppose that you wish to refer to the main idea expressed in the citation below. Write down
three different ways to refer to this idea or fact (you should use paraphrase in at least one
example and citation in at least one example).
Title of source (book): An introduction to mechanics
Date of publication: 1984
Authors of the book in which it occurs: Daniel Kleppner and Robert J. Kolenkow
Relevant excerpt from the book: “The concept of momentum is invaluable in
understanding the motion of a rocket. A rocket accelerates by expelling gas at a high
velocity; the reaction force of the gas on the rocket accelerates the rocket in the opposite
Page on which the excerpt occurs: 136
4. Language conventions
Reporting verbs will typically occur in your literature review or theoretical part of your
introduction. The following matrix indicates the degrees of endorsement that you are able to
express with regard to the literature that you invoke to support your research:
Less endorsing (lower
degree of agreement)
X believes, thinks, reckons,
assumes, presumes,
speculates, postulates,
suggests, posits, claims,
proposes, contends, argues,
X comments, says, reports,
states, declares, points out,
notes, observes, describes,
puts forward, explains,
proposes, theorizes, predicts
More endorsing (higher
degree of agreement)
X confirms, agrees,
concurs with, makes
clear, maintains, stresses,
Study unit 7
After completing this study unit you should
1. know that the Method section normally describes materials and procedures;
2. be able to make informed decisions about whether to integrate materials and procedure
in one section, or to treat them separately;
3. know how to structure procedural steps in the Method section;
4. know which verb tense to use for description of the procedure, and for the description of
conventional and specific materials respectively;
5. know when passive voice should be used in the Method section;
6. be able to apply your knowledge about content, structure and language to write the
Method section of your group report.
The purpose of the Method section is to inform readers who want to know how your
methodology may have influenced the results, or are interested in replicating your study.
The methodology section usually comprises a description of materials and method. Thus,
the method or methodology section describes the procedural steps you followed in
conducting your study, as well as the materials you used at each step. However, the two
sections may be dealt with in separate main sections of the report.
1. Materials (in laboratory reports the terms ‘Apparatus’ or
‘Instrumentation’ are sometimes used)
Materials are the items used to carry out a research project. According to Weissberg and
Buker (1990: 114) materials may include:
• laboratory equipment
• field equipment
• human or animal subjects
• natural substances
• fabricated materials
• surveys, questionnaires and tests
• computer models
• mathematical models
In a laboratory report equipment may be listed either at the end of the introduction – after
the problem, aims and theory – or it may be integrated with the Procedure section.
The Apparatus (sub)section could be written in list form or prose format. Compare the
following examples:
The instrumentation used included an HFT-80 and NT-300 spectrometer, a
Hewlett Packard 5980-A mass spectrometer, a Waters Associates HPLC
Instrument, Model 600A, and a Varian Aerograph 1400 GC instrument with a 1ft column containing 15% Carbowax on Chromosorb W.
The apparatus used is shown in FIGURE 7.1. It consists of:
(a) a steel plate with one ground surface;
(b) a steel block with one ground surface;
(c) a set of weights for superimposing load on the block;
(d) a scale pan
(e) a set of weights for loading the scale pan; and
(f) a pulley which was thoroughly oiled to reduce errors caused by friction in the
loading system
FIGURE 7.1 Apparatus for an experiment on the value of the coefficient of sliding friction
between two ground steel surfaces, using a pulley and weight system (DudleyEvans, 1985)
Activity 16
Read the following text, and identify the types of information the writer has included in the
materials description. Also note the order in which the information is presented.
(a) In which sentence does the physical description of the dryer begin?
(b) What is the function of the sentences before that sentence?
The see-saw dryer was developed for the drying of coffee and cocoa beans.
It was intended for small-scale drying operations and could be easily
operated. It was designed for use in tropical regions.
The dryer was operated in two positions along a central axis of rotation
running north-south. This see-saw operation permitted the drying material to
face the sun more directly during both morning and afternoon.
The drier consisted of a rectangular wood frame divided lengthwise into
parallel channels of equal width, and crosswise by means of retaining bars.
The bottom of the dryer was made of bamboo matting painted black. The
cover of the frame was made of a film of transparent Polyvinyl Chloride
(PVC), which provided a screening effect against ultra violet light, thus
reducing photo-degradation of the drying product. All of the internal parts of
the dryer were coated with a matt black paint. The drying frame was tilted
during operation so that it faced east during the morning and west during the
If the materials are well known to researchers in your field, it is sufficient to name them only.
However, if you used specifically designed or unconventional materials, it is common to
write a detailed description of them in the report. In such cases the information is ordered as
1. Overview: One or two sentences that give a general idea of the material and the purpose
for which it is intended.
2. Description of principal parts: Each major part or characteristic of the material is
described in logical sequence
3. Functional description: It has to be indicated how the various features described in 2.
function together.
Activity 17
1. Read the following materials section from an article in the field of soil science (note that
the numerical reference system is used instead of the Harvard). It describes a piece of
field equipment used to simulate natural rainfall.
2. Identify steps 1, 2 and 3 in the selection.
The device described here applies water to an approximately 16 x 20 m
area with kinetic energy approximating that of natural rainfall. It samples and
records the rates of runoff in such a way that sediment production can also
be measured accurately. Maximum error of 1% in application and in runoff
measurements was a goal in the design, as were ease of assembly and
transport. The apparatus is patterned partly on that described by Meyer and
McCune (2), but it is simpler and more easily transported. The major
components consist of: (i) a 1500 ℓ tank truck for transporting water, and (ii)
a framework and moving spray assembly for applying water, and (iii) a
device for sampling and measuring the rate of runoff. Power is supplied by a
10-horsepower gasoline engine which drives both a centrifugal pump and
electrical generator. Water from the tank truck is supplied to the apparatus
by the centrifugal pump. The pressure of the output from the pump is
controlled by an adjustable bypass pressure regulator valve plumbed to
return the excess water to the tank. The output from the regulator is
connected to the spray assembly by 30 m of 20 mm hose. This moving
spray assembly applies water to the plots through eight nozzles, mounted
as specified by Meyer and McCune(2). The assembly is moved back and
forth along aluminium 1-beams by 12 mm roller chains.
Activity 18
Study the following examples and see if you can work out a rule of thumb for the use of
tense in the materials section of a laboratory/research report:
1. A typical chemical reactor includes a helical, tube-in-tube heat exchanger.
2. The Auditory Test for Language Comprehension permits the assessment of oral
language comprehension of English and Spanish.
3. For the testing programme this collector was protected from weather by an outer window
of .10 mm tedlar.
4. The heater consists essentially of a bundle of parallel tubes, the ends of which are
expanded into tube sheets.
5. Air enters and leaves the solar collector pipe through the air release vacuum breaker
valves mounted at the highest point of the system.
6. Liquid from the wall of the column was directed to the holding chamber and then was
carried to the boiler via a liquid level controller which was specifically designed for this
7. The greenhouse air surrounding the treatment chamber was heated in winter by steam
pipes. In summer the greenhouse was cooled by pulling outside air through watersaturated pads on the south end of the building.
2. Procedure (In laboratory reports the term ‘Experimental’ is
often used)
2.1 Structure
The main aim of the procedure section is to describe the various steps followed in carrying
out an experiment or other research.
You normally follow a set of instructions when carrying out an experiment, and the
following are typical examples of such instructions:
Determination of the density of a steel sphere using a balance
1. Find the zero reading (m2) of the balance.
2. Put the sphere in the left pan and put weights into the right pan to bring the
pointer to zero and obtain the apparent mass.
Activity 19
Let us assume that the experiment referred to in the example above is completed. Now
describe the procedure as you would do in a laboratory report. Think carefully about the use
of passive voice and tense. (Remember, you cannot simply convert all the instructions you
received to carry out an experiment into the passive form, and then assume that you have
done it in report format.)
Compare the difference between the set of instructions for the experiment entitled
Determination of the density of a steel cylinder from its mass and diameter below, as given
by a lecturer, with the way in which the writer reported on the procedure in the report. In
what way does the procedure section written for this part of the experiment differ from the
Instructions given by the lecturer
Determine the mass (m) of the steel cylinder using the balance and weights
provided. First find the zero reading, that is the mass (m2) which must be put
into the right-hand pan to bring the pointer to zero when the left-hand pan is
empty (it may be + or -). Then put the cylinder in the left pan and put
weights into the right pan to bring the pointer to zero and obtain the
apparent mass (mα). Then the mass required is given by m = (mα) – m2.
N.B. Take care of the weights, lift them with the forceps and not the
fingers, and always replace them in the proper receptacles immediately
after use. Leave the pans clean and the beam supported off its knifeedges. The beam should rest on the knife-edges only during the actual
process of weighing, and not when changing weights. The pointer reads
zero when it swings an equal distance to either side of zero; it should not
be stationary.
Description of the procedure by the student
First the zero reading (m2) of the balance was found. Then the cylinder was
put in the left pan and the weights added to the right pan to obtain the
apparent mass (mα). The smallest weight used was 0.01 g. Readings were
taken with the pointer swinging slightly to avoid frictional effects.
From this we may conclude that:
• In a report, particularly a laboratory report, only the most important points of the
procedure should be included, and not unnecessary detail.
• Instructions about calculations, e.g. “calculate the volume of the cylinder,” should not be
reported in the procedure section.
• It is sometimes necessary to include a brief explanation of why a certain procedure was
followed, e.g.
Instruction: Determine both the length of the cylinder by means of the vernier
Procedure: The length was measured using vernier calipers only as the cylinder was
too long for the micrometer.
2.2 Language
2.2.1 Active and passive voice
Study the following examples, and see whether you can work out when to use active and
when to use passive voice:
1. The temperature inside the chamber was increased from 0°C to 20°C. (passive)
2. Four thermocouples were monitored hourly. (passive)
3. A 200 hp generator provided power to the piezometers. (active)
4. Control gauges monitored air pressure inside the chamber. (active)
2.2.2 Process verbs
When describing procedure, certain verbs – known as process verbs – are used quite
frequently. According to Dudley-Evans (1985: 18) The following count among these:
carried out
set up
Activity 20
1. Complete the following table by writing down appropriate subjects for the verbs in the
right-hand column. If necessary, change was to were (a standard dictionary of English
should provide some of the answers).
A test of the elasticity of the material
was carried out
was followed
was conducted
was observed
was noted
was recorded
was determined
was plotted
was set up
was adjusted
was checked
was tested
Now choose appropriate verbs from the above list to complete the following sentences:
A test of the hardness of the material was _____________.
The apparatus was _____________ as shown in the diagram.
A graph of extension against load was ______________.
A survey of students’ attitudes towards this module was _______________.
At the beginning of the experiment the temperature was _______________ at 5˚C.
All the data were ________________ in a table.
The accuracy of the measurements was _________________ with a micrometer.
Variations in the humidity were ____________________.
The initial reading of the pointer was ________________.
The safety procedure outlined in the manual was ____________________.
The lens of the microscope was ____________________ to bring the object into
clearer focus.
Activity 21
Compare the following procedure section from a report:
An earthen dam was constructed across the West Branch of the
Mahoning River in northeastern Ohio. Three spillway conduits at the
base of the dam were monitored for deformation during construction of
the embankment. Just prior to the completion of the embankment, large
deformations were observed. The top of the embankment was
subsequently moved, and piezometers were installed. It was found that
the piezometric levels in the clay were extremely high. Stability
analyses indicated that the piezometric levels needed to be lowered
immediately, and electro-osmosis was identified as the most suitable
method for this purpose.
Electrodes were positioned at the bottom of the clay deposit, along the
central 1000 ft long portion of the embankment. Eight rows of
electrodes were installed along the top of the embankment, and six
rows were placed along both the upstream and downstream sides.
The power was generated by 14 generators with capacities ranging
from 90 to 300 KW. When fully operational, the generators supplied
about 14,000 amps. The total elapsed time from the beginning to the
end of the treatment was about 10 months.
1. Which tense is used throughout this section?
2. Does the active or passive voice dominate this section? What may be the reason for
this choice?
Activity 22
The following methodology description was taken from a report about a highway
construction project. It has been altered so that the writers of the report are mentioned as
agents in each sentence. Rewrite the description in a depersonalized form.
We started construction of the reinforced concrete structure in July
2006, and completed it by May 2007. We built standard sections of
forms for the casting of the concrete. We used concrete of the B225
type, in accordance with government regulations. At the two ends of the
structure we constructed wingwalls, and we installed three side
openings on the downhill side to provide enough daylight to render the
use of electric lights unnecessary.
Activity 23
The following is the introduction to a study in the field of engineering management.
1. Read the introduction below.
2. From the outline that follows, write a description of the Method section, using all
the headings given.
Job outcomes can be directly related to the experience of performing a
task, or they can be allocated by others as a function of performing a
task. Outcomes that are strictly related to performing a task are termed
intrinsic outcomes, while those allocated by others are called extrinsic
outcomes. for example, performing a task that requires the worker to
make full use of his/her skills and abilities provides intrinsic outcomes.
Pay based upon the quality of one’s work qualifies as an extrinsic
The anticipated satisfaction that one associates with specific job
outcomes is a major influence on worker motivation. Satisfaction is a
function of the job outcomes desired and expected by the worker, and
those actually received. Workers who receive the outcomes they expect
or desire from their work will tend to be satisfied with their work. Satisfied
workers exhibit lower absenteeism and file fewer grievances. If managers
are able to make job satisfaction dependent upon the performance of
required tasks, the results should be increased worker motivation and
A study of construction workers was carried out including workers from
various trades in the industry to determine how job satisfaction was
related to job outcomes among these workers. Results of this study may
suggest ways in which construction workers can be motivated to greater
productivity by ensuring that they receive the outcomes they expect from
their jobs.
Stratified, random, cross-sectional
2800 construction workers, large city in Gauteng
Different trade unions
20 percent of the members of each trade union
Data collection
Envelopes (postage paid return envelopes)
Send to local business manager of each union
o Cover letter
o Questionnaire: modified version of the Michigan
Organizational Assessment Package
Union business manager requested to:
o Select workers from his union
o Send envelopes to selected workers
o Request workers - fill out questionnaires
o Mail the completed questionnaires to
 Use postage paid return envelopes
Data analysis
1012 completed questionnaires returned
Statistical analysis: Multiple regression, used to
o measure overall satisfaction with job
o identify most important job outcomes
o correlate job outcomes, job satisfaction
3. Integration of apparatus/materials and procedure
Although the materials used in a study are sometimes described separately from the
procedures it is more common that materials and procedures are described in an integrated
format, as in the following example from Weissberg and Buker (1990: 120):
Aqueous sodium hydroxide (3 g, 186 ml) was cooled in ice in a 500-ml beaker,
stirred magnetically while 5 g of nickel-aluminium alloy was added in several
small portions, and gradually warmed to 100°C as required to maintain the
hydrogen evolution. The nickel was then allowed to settle, and the liquid was
decanted. After being washed with 5% fresh sodium hydroxide and distilled
water until neutral, the nickel suspension was filtered with a glass funnel and
then finally washed with 100 ml of 2-propanol. The catalyst was transferred
with small amounts of dry 2-propanol. the catalyst was transferred with small
amounts of dry 2-propanol to a glass stoppered bottle.
Activity 24
FIGURE 7.2 below shows two hot water cylinders run by electricity. The heater on the left
is a conventional model commonly used in most homes. The heater on the right is an
experimental model, modified with several features to save energy. Assume that you have
conducted an experiment to test and compare the energy efficiency of the two models.
Now write up the materials section of the report and briefly describe the modified
heater in relation to the conventional design.
Consider the following before you start writing:
1. What kinds of information will you include, and how will you order them?
2. What verb tenses will you need to describe the materials?
3. What voice will you use?
4. What principle of organisation will you use?
Spatial organisation: Describe the features from top to bottom, from front to back, from let
to right, from the centre to the outside, etc.
Functional organisation: Describe the principal features in the order in which they
function, from beginning to end. This arrangement is best for describing parts that operate
in a fixed sequence.
FIGURE 7.2 Conventional and modified versions of a hot-water cylinder
Study unit 8
Results and discussion of results
After completing this study unit you should be able to
1. present data in an appropriate format;
2. refer to tables and figures in an appropriate way;
3. use language appropriately to generalise about results, explain results and compare
results to those obtained in other studies as well as published findings
1. Results
In the Results section of an investigative report you present the findings of the study. The
difference between the Results and the Discussion sections is that the Results section is
usually focused on a summary of the data, and sometimes (in research reports) also
statistical analyses, whereas the Discussion section comprises an interpretation of the
results in more general terms. However, if there is little data processing the condensed or
selected data could be presented in the same section as the discussion, in which case that
section would be headed Results and Discussion.
A common pitfall is presenting all results without considering their relevance. Bruckmann
and Mandersloot (1998: 66) recommend that report writers should examine the results
carefully, and then ask themselves the following questions:
• What results are relevant to the problem?
• Can the results be condensed or re-organised for presentation?
• Can the significant results be emphasised?
The Results section of a laboratory or technical investigation report usually presents data
in the format of tables. Compare the following examples from Dudley-Evans (1985: 24ff.)
Example 1
Summary of results
8.1 Comparison of the modulus of elasticity for mild steel, tool steel, brass
and dural from the experiment with the generally accepted values
Mild steel
Modulus of elasticity (E) from
experiment (MPa)
Generally accepted
value (MPa)
Example 2
Summary of results
8.2 Comparison of the melting points of paraffin wax, ice, glucose, acetic acid
and lead from the experiment with published values
Experimental melting
point (mean value in °C)
Published value
Acetic acid
Praffin wax (hard)
In laboratory reports the findings are often tabulated without any introductory sentence.
However, in research reports the data is often introduced by means of a sentence such as:
Table 1 below summarizes the results.
Results of the t-tests are presented in Table 1.
2. Discussion of results
In the Discussion section of a report the writer moves from the specific information
reported in the Results section and assumes a more interpretive stance. The results are
evaluated and conclusions are drawn. Bruckmann and Mandersloot (1998: 66) regard the
Discussion section as the place where the writer applies his knowledge, understanding and
professional judgement. In other words you:
(a) generalise from the results
(b) explain possible reasons for the results
(c) compare the results you obtained with results from other studies or with published
Activity 25
The Results and Discussion section below is from a paper in the field of civil engineering.
It describes the types of organisms found in waste water treatment ponds.
Identify the following types of information in these examples:
• Statements that describe the most important findings
• Statements that locate the data tables
• Statements that generalise from the results
• Statements that explain possible reasons for the results
• Statements that compare the results with results from other studies
Results and discussion
A total of 53 samples were examined. Direct microscopic examination
of the samples showed 20 different fungal strains, which were isolated
by culture and identified to the level of genus and/or species (Table 1).
These findings show that fungi can tolerate adverse environmental
changes in the vegetative form. Table 2 shows the results of the tests
applied to the isolates. None of the fungi strains was able to grow in
culture media with 5000 to 5000 mg L-1 of anionic surfactant. An
inhibitory effect on fungal growth and activity might be expected from
the anionic surfactant level found in the ponds.
Each comment given below comes from the Discussion section of a different
research report. Determine the function of each.
(a) Up to this point, these results are consistent with those of Chapman and
Hutchison (2004).
(b) This data indicate that performance of Rhizobium japonicum strains is likely to
be better under irrigated conditions.
(c) The reason for this erratic pattern could be the relatively small sample.
(d) These findings accord with those from a larger study by Smith and Gamble
3. Language conventions
3.1 General conventions
When you report/state your findings (in the Results section), use either the past tense or
the present tense, depending on the conventions of your subject-field, for example
(Psychology) The coefficient of correlation was found to be significant at the .001
When commenting on or speculating about your findings (in the Discussion section),
use the present tense. Modal auxiliaries and tentative verbs may be used to indicate
tentativeness, for example
This is consistent with earlier findings (compare Fitzpatrick & Jones, 2001)
These results can/may be explained by considering the voltage distribution on 230
kV insulators during freezing conditions.
It appears/seems/is likely that …
These results suggest that …
3.2 Comparing findings
Comparison is a characteristic feature of reports that involve experimentation. The
language that is used to describe various dimensions of comparison is rather specific. We
mention and discuss a number of these:
(a) Comparison among groups
Quartz I reactors had a higher mass flow than Quartz II.
The highest incidence of … was found among …
(b) Fluctuation of a variable over time
Prices showed a tendency to increase over the three year period.
The percentage of … tended to decline in the second half of the decade.
The concentration of sulfur dioxide
over the period studied.
remained constant
(c) Relationship between two or more variables
Dry weight of top growth was highly
related to total nitrogen.
(d) Comparison of experimental values with generally accepted values
Present tense is normally used when comparing experimental values with generally
accepted values. If there is good agreement between the results and the published
values, the following constructions are typically used:
is/are consistent with
agrees/agree with
the published value
the standard value
If the agreement between the results and the published values is poor, the following
constructions are likely to be used:
is/are significantly different from the published value
do/does not agree with
the standard value
Activity 26
Read Example 1 below, and answer the following questions:
(a) Underline the phrases that are used to express comparison with generally
accepted values.
(b) How does the writer explain the difference between the result for brass and the
generally accepted value?
(c) What is the writer’s purpose in the final paragraph?
(d) What tense is used in this discussion? Are there any verbs which are not in that
particular tense? Can you think of a reason why this is the case?
2. Read Example 2, and answer the following questions:
(a) Which sentence acts as an introduction to the discussion?
(b) Which sentence describes results that do not agree with the published values?
(c) Which sentence explains the difference between the experimental results and the
published values?
(d) Which sentence describes results that agree with the published values?
Example 1
Discussion of results
Comparison of the experimentally determined values of the modulus of
elasticity with those generally quoted for these materials mostly shows a
good agreement. The value obtained for brass, which is 104 MPa, is
somewhat higher than the quoted value of MPa.
It must be realised, however, that no exact comparison is possible when the
composition and treatment of the beam made of brass are not known.
The slight lack of straightness in the beams seemed to have no effect on the
quality of the individual graphs or on the modulus of elasticity. As the
determined values of modulus of elasticity are close to those generally
accepted, it may be stated that the circular bending test is a suitable method
for determining the elastic modulus of any material. This type of test is more
economical than a full scale tensile test, as there is no need to have an
expensive tensile testing machine, no need to have the specimens
machined with precision, and the test can be carried out quickly.
Example 2
Discussion of results
Table 8.2 shows the average of the results obtained for five substances
melted on the same day under the same atmoshpheric conditions and
the published values quoted by Kaye and Laby (1980). The figures
show that the results obtained for paraffin wax, ice and lead are
consistent with the published values. However, the values obtained for
glucose and acetic acid, 136°C and 15.8°C respectively, are
significantly different from the values quoted by Kaye and Laby (1980).
These discrepancies may be due to lack of purity in the substance.
Comparison between different sets of results
In certain types of investigations you may be expected to test different types of machine,
different materials or different specimens. In this case it will be necessary to compare the
different results in the discussion section.
Activity 27
Examine the following table in the Results section, in which a comparison is made
between the petrol consumption of two makes of cars:
Summary of results
8.3 Comparison between petrol consumption of two makes of cars
(Dudley-Evans, 1985: 38)
Age of car
Make A
Make B
 = much better than average performance
 = better than average performance
 = average performance
X…..= worse than average performance
XX…= much worse than average performance
Note: If a car has a better performance in the tests on its petrol consumption, we
would say that it is (very) economical to run.
Now consider the Discussion section of the same report:
Table 8.3 shows the performance of two makes of car, designated A and B in
the table, in tests to determine their petrol consumption and reliability. The
cars were between the ages of 1 and 5 years. The size of the sample is
indicated in the column marked N and the key explains the symbols used.
The results show a clear difference in the petrol consumption and reliability of
the two makes of car. With two exceptions, Make A was consistently more
economical and reliable than the average, whereas Make B was, with three
exceptions, less reliable than average. Therefore, on the evidence available,
make A would seem more economical and reliable than Make B.
However, it should be noted that the Make A sample was almost three times
as large as the make B sample, and it is therefore possible that a larger
sample of Make B cars would provide very different results.
It is also interesting to note that in neither case was there a significant
correlation between the age of the car and its performance in the tests.
1. The discussion of the above text consists of four paragraphs. Two of them compare
results, one introduces the results and explains how they are set out, and one
expresses doubt about the results. Identify which paragraph has which function.
2. Underline words or phrases that mark contrast between A and B.
3. Consider the following sentence:
After one year, cars of Make A performed quite well in the test of petrol consumption
whereas the make B cars performed badly.
Write two similar sentences about the performance of Make A and B cars in other years.
4. Make similar statements about the sample sizes for years 3 – 5.
Activity 28
Table 8.4 below compares the production of bicycle components at different temperatures
in three different factories. It shows the number of components produced at various
temperatures in the three factories. The aim of the research project was to determine the
optimum working temperature for each of these factories. Describe the differences
between the three factories.
8.4 Productivity for three factories
Working temperature ranges
Factory A
Factory B
Factory C
Explanation of error
An aspect of language use that should be focused on is the explanation of error. In the
model discussion above we saw that reasons were given for inaccurate results. This is
standard practice whenever a result is different from what you expected. In English we use
expressions such as the following:
discrepancy be
due to
the result of
human error
incorrect calibrations
Important note
In some reports the Discussion and Conclusions are combined in one section, entitled
‘Discussion and Conclusions.’ Whether they are presented separately or as one integrated
section will depend on the type of investigation, the length of the report, the variety of
solutions and conclusions, and the audience. Bruckmann and Mandersloot’s advice is that
you should keep them separately when drafting the report, and decide on possible
combination at a later stage.
Study unit 9
After completing this study unit you should
1. know what content to include in a conclusive section of a report;
2. know how to structure and formulate the conclusion;
3. independently write a conclusion for a given report or an investigation you
carried out;
4. use language appropriately.
The conclusion is one of the most important parts of a report. It is not a summary, but a
demonstration that the aims of the investigation have been fulfilled (Visser, 2008).
Structure and language of the conclusion
1.1 Laboratory reports
1.1.1 Structure
The conclusion normally comprises
• a short, general statement which says whether the experiment was successful or not;
• a comment on the method used; and
• a recommendation about future work.
Consider the Conclusion section of the model report discussed in study Unit 4
(Determination of the resistivity of iron by means of a metre bridge). For contextualisation
purposes the Discussion section has also been included below.
Discussion of results
The average values of the balance points and the length and diameter of the
specimen of the wire were calculated, and their errors estimated from the
spread of the measurements. The resistance of the wire was calculated to be
0.505 ± 0.001Ω and 0.511 ± .001Ω using Table 4.1 and Table 4.2
respectively. These values differed slightly because of contact resistances at
the ends of the bridge wire. The average value of 0.508 ± 0.001Ω and 0.511 ±
.001Ω was taken as the resistance of the specimen.
The resistivity of iron was calculated using Equation (1) and the average
values for the length and diameter of the wire, since this has the largest
fractional error. The accepted value for the resistivity of iron is 9.8 × .10-7Ω
m. Most of the uncertainty comes from the measurement of the diameter of
the wire since this has the largest fractional error. The accepted value for the
resistivity of iron is 9.8 × .10-8Ω m(2), which is significantly different from the
result of the present experiment. This may be because different samples of
iron wire contain different impurities. It was also noted that the specimen used
was slightly rusty. In this case the diameter measured would be greater than
the true diameter of the iron, which could account for the fact that the
resistivity was found to be 12% higher than the accepted value.
The resistivity of iron, which was determined by using a metre bridge to
measure the resistance of a specimen of wire, was found to be (1.10 ± 0.01) ×
10-7Ω m. This value is significantly greater than the accepted value, probably
due to the impurity of the specimen or rust on its surface.
Here the conclusion focuses on:
(a) the main aim
(b) the main finding
(c) the reason for the discrepancy in the result
It is very important that the conclusion is linked to the main aim of the experiment stated
in the Introduction.
Compare the following experiment that deals with the verification of laws and principles:
FIGURE 10.1 Setup of an experiment to verify that pressure acts
equally in all directions at a given point in a stationary liquid
A suitable conclusion would be:
From the results obtained in the experiment, it is clear that, for any particular depth
of water in the tank, the deflection of the diaphragm remained constant for all
angles of orientation of the sensor. Thus it may be concluded that at a point in a
stationary liquid pressure acts equally in all directions.
Activity 29
1. Why is the first sentence of the conclusion to the experiment on the Determination of
the resistivity of iron in the past tense, while the second is in the present tense?
2. Which general guidelines can be formulated about the use of tense in conclusions of
experimental reports?
3. Rewrite the following sentences, using the appropriate tense and deciding whether
the active or the passive voice is preferable:
(a) The value of the coefficient of linear expansion of aluminium at normal ambient
temperature (find) to be 22.8 × 10−6, which (be) consistent with the published
value of 23 × 10−6 quoted by Kay en Laby (1980).
(b) Soldering (be) a quick and simple method of joining two pieces of metal.
(c) It (find) that the machine (perform) successfully in all the tests.
(d) The results (indicate) that high speed steel (be) a hard and tough material which
(be) very suitable for use as a drilling bit.
(e) It can be seen from the results that there (be) a relationship between pressure
and volume in gases, provided that the temperature (remain) constant.
Write a conclusion for the following experiment which appeared in Study Unit 8:
Summary of results
9.1 Comparison of the modulus of elasticity for mild steel, tool steel,
brass and dural from the experiment with the generally accepted
Mild steel
Tool steel
Modulus of elasticity
(E) from experiment
accepted value
Discussion of results
Comparison of the experimentally determined values of modulus of
elasticity with those generally quoted for these materials mostly shows a
good agreement. The value obtained for brass, which is 104 MPa, is
somewhat higher than the quoted value of 97 Mpa.
It must be realised, however, that no exact comparison is possible when
the composition and treatment of the beam made of brass are not known.
The slight lack of straightness in the beams seemed to have no effect on
the quality of the individual graphs or on the modulus of elasticity. As the
determined values of modulus of elasticity are close to those generally
accepted, it may be stated that the circular bending test is a suitable
method for determining the elastic modulus of any material. This type of
test is more economical than a full scale tensile test, as there is no need to
have an expensive tensile testing machine, no need to have the specimens
machined with precision, and the test can be carried out quickly.
1.2 Research reports
1.2.1 Structure
In the Conclusion section of a research report you step back and take a broad look at your
findings and your study as a whole. Three subsections are normally included:
(a) Generalisations;
(b) Limitations of the study that restrict generalisation;
(c) Recommendations for future research and practical applications.
The Conclusion section provides an overview of the conclusions reached in the
Discussion. Bruckmann and Mandersloot (1998: 69) advise that the conclusions should be
given point-wise, and in their order of importance; however the majority of academic
disciplines prefer prose (continuous text) format.
Please note that a Conclusion should not contain:
• any new information
• any conclusions not derived from the Discussion section.
An important objective of a research report is to suggest actions based on the results.
Experts on report-writing differ with regard to whether recommendations may be stated
in the imperative mood, and organised point-wise. Bruckmann and Mandersloot (1998: 71)
support an imperative style, such as ‘Install air conditioning in the computer room’.
Academic departments, on the other hand, usually prefer traditional prose format.
Activity 30
Which one of elements (a) – (c) above dominates the following conclusion?
In conclusion, estuarine waterways within an urban environment could add
a special dimension to daily life. An expanse of safe water would provide
additional opportunities for recreation. these are values which ought to be
preserved. Unfortunately, our social and community life is sometimes
hostile to these values. While urban subdivision, traffic, refuse disposal and
industry may all essential parts of our daily life, we must pursue these
activities without unnecessary environmental degradation. Different
conflicting interests must be resolved so that our many proper aspirations
may be accommodated both now and in the future (Butt et al. 2000: 120).
1.2.2 Language
(a) Verb tenses
The verb tenses used in the Discussion section depend on the type of information you want
to present. If the explanation is restricted to specific findings of your study, you use the
past tense, and if it refers to a general condition, as in the Conclusion, you use the
present tense.
Examples of statements dealing with specific aspects of your study:
This research attempted to assess two methods …
We originally assumed that …
The principle of … was not followed.
It is possible that microbial activity caused some immobilization of labial soil
Our sample was relatively small.
Examples of more general statements about the importance of the study:
It appears that squatter housing markets behave as economically rational entities.
We recommend that the approach outlined in this study be replicated in other
manufacturing plants.
(b) Complex sentences
Sentences in the Conclusion section of a report typically have complex structures,
A main clause
We can conclude
Noun clause
both theories are able
to explain significant
amounts of variance
(c) Researcher’s position towards the findings
In the notes about the Introduction, but more specifically in the Literature review, I
stressed the use of terms of appraisal that will explicate your position in relation to what
other researchers have found or what they claim, without using emotional language. In
the Results section you learnt that you should comment on your own data or findings by
using words that express degrees of certainty or tentativeness. In the Conclusion (and the
Discussion) section(s), you may restate your position toward the findings, and/or assume a
position regarding explanations, implications, limitations or application of the
If you wish to suggest the implications of your findings the following expressions may be
Main clause
These findings
lend support to
the assumption
led us to believe
provide evidence
Noun clause
frost affects the pan by
breaking its massive
Activity 31
Below are a number of discussion statements. Rewrite each statement as a complex
sentence with a noun clause by adding an appropriate expression at the beginning of
each element:
(a) (implication) An increase in chlorine emission is accompanied by a
corresponding increase in noise, so that the detection limit remains constant.
(b) (explain results) The addition of water to the powder diet released certain
flavours and odours that enhanced palatability.
(c) (explain findings, negative) Significant details, invisible to the naked eye, and
visible only to 3-D processing, could have been added to the Shroud of Turin.
Underline the words/phrases that indicate the author’s stance toward explanations,
implications, limitations or application of the findings:
(a) We can no longer assume that it is satisfactory to seek explanations in
economic factors.
(b) We acknowledge that other industries may produce different results.
(c) Clearly, this technique has promise as a tool in the evaluation of soil samples.
(d) The present study offers clear evidence that “hands-on experience” is not
sufficient for the productive learning of computer programming by novices.
(e) These findings lead us to believe that more difficult materials should be used in
order to give engineering students additional practice in technical writing.
(f) We acknowledge that our research is exploratory, and that there are still
problems with the statistical model.
(g) This finding is of considerable importance since it suggests that the “resetting”
of the machinery is not confined to a single compartment.
Read the following excerpt from a discussion section of a report. The study tested
the effect of two styles of indentation and four levels of indentation on the ability of
novice and expert subjects to understand a computer programme.
(a) Underline all the words and phrases that indicate tentativeness/certainty
regarding the findings or explanations of these.
The results indicate that the level of indentation has a significant effect on
program comprehension and that deeper indentation could become more
of an hindrance than an aid. The level of indentation that seems to
produce optimal results in comprehension is between two and four
spaces; as the number of spaces increases, the comprehension style the
comprehension level decreases. The blocked and nonblocked styles of
the program yielded no significant differences between the experts and
the novices. We are not sure how to explain these results because we
expected a significant difference in comprehension between the two
styles. It is possible that comprehension scores for a longer and more
complex program would show a greater difference. We believe future
experiments should employ the measure of program comprehension and
we recommend that nine indentation levels (0-8 spaces) be studied.
Moreover, the blocking style should be consistent through a program so
that users can easily find the statement or statement segment they are
trying to locate.
Study unit 10
After completing this study unit you should
1. be able to list the types of information typically included in an abstract;
2. know whether your engineering department has special requirements for writing an
3. know which language conventions are customary;
4. be able to apply your knowledge to compose an abstract/summary of a given report,
or of a report you have written about an experiment or an investigation you conducted.
Although the abstract normally precedes everything else in a report, apart from the title, it
is often the last part of the report to be written.
The primary function of the abstract is to help readers assess the information in the rest of
the document, and help them decide whether they need to read the whole document.
1. Structure
Abstracts of research reports usually include the following elements:
• Background (optional)
• Problem
• Aim
• Method
• Main results
• Conclusion and recommendations
The most important point to remember is that the abstract “should be a miniaturized
version of the document”(Sylyn-Roberts, 2005: 18). It should give a brief overview of all
the key information. If the report itself does not contain all the sections listed above, the
abstract will not do so either. The following abstract (Dudley-Evans, 1985: 59)
summarises only purpose, method, main results, a conclusion and a recommendation – as
in the laboratory report it summarises:
The purpose of this experiment was to compare the speed and reliability of
two possible tests to measure the coefficient of sliding friction between two
materials. The two methods used involved the weight and pulley apparatus
and the inclined plane apparatus and, using a range of different loads,
measurements of the coefficient of friction were made using both methods.
It was shown that the measurements using the inclined plane method took
on average about half the time but the results were less repeatable. It is
therefore recommended that the inclined plane method be used only where
accuracy is less important than speed of execution.
Activity 32
Read the following abstract of a research report (adapted from Beer & McMurrey,
2005: 128). Note the kinds of information included, and the order in which the
information is presented:
This report analyzes a recent study conducted on a 2 450 ft2 residential
home built in Ann Arbor, Michgan. The goal of the study was to determine
the effectiveness of employing energy-efficient building strategies to
minimize energy consumption and costs in a residential home (referred to
as Standard Home or SH). The home was modelled using Energy-10, a
sophisticated software package capable of calculating the energy
consumed during the use of the home over a 50-year period. SH was then
modelled to reduce the energy consumption by employing various energyefficient strategies (referred to as EEH or energy efficient home). The total
life-cycle energy consumption of SH was found to be 15 455 GJ, which
consisted of space and water heating and cooling, lighting, ventilation, and
appliances. The total life-cycle consumption of EEH was reduced to 5653
GJ. The cost analysis found that despite a 9.5% increase in the purchase
price of an EEH, lower annual energy expenditures make the present value
nearly equal to the more energy-consuming version. It was found that the
most effective strategy for reducing overall annual energy costs is
installation of a high-efficiency HVAC system. However, for reducing
overall energy consumption, insulation was the most effective strategy
followed by high-efficiency HVAC and air leakage control.
(a) Identify the most important information elements in this abstract.
(b) Why are they ordered in this particular way?
Important note
Although abstracts from almost all fields are written in a very similar way, academic
departments and companies may have specific formats or ‘house styles’ that apply.
Sometimes a reduced format is established by journal editors, companies and departments.
Therefore it is important that you establish the information elements your
engineering department wants to see in an abstract before your submit your group
2. Language conventions
The language conventions used in the abstract correspond to those used in the major
sections of the research report.
Activity 33
Complete the following grids:
Section and Text
Roadways constructed of conventional pavement are subject
to deformations after prolonged use.
A laboratory model study of an anchored pavement was
carried out to investigate construction problems and to
develop specifications for a full-scale test.
The study compared 1/20-scale anchored pavement and
conventional slabs of similar dimensions.
The deformations were lower for the anchored pavement
compared with those for the conventional slab, and stresses
in the soil were reduced and distributed more widely by rigid
These findings indicate that an anchored slab offers distinct
advantages over a conventional slab.
The ANSYS computer program could be used to analyze
such a soil-structure, incorporating the environmental and
mechanical effects.
Recent technological advances have made wind power a viable source
of alternative energy production, and the number of windplant facilities
has increased in the US. Construction was completed on a 73-turbine,
25-megawatt windplant on Buffalo Ridge near Lake Benton, Minnesota
in spring 1994. The number of birds killed at existing windplants in
California caused concern about the potential impacts of the Buffalo
Ridge facility on the avian community. From April 1994 through Dec.
1995 we searched the Buffalo Ridge windplant site for dead birds.
Additionally, we evaluated search efficiency, predator scavenging rates,
and rate of carcass decomposition. During 20 months of monitoring we
found 12 dead birds. Collisions with wind turbines were suspected for 8
of the 12 birds. During observer efficiency trials, searchers found 78.8%
of carcasses. Scavengers removed 39.5% of carcasses during 7
decomposition trials. After correction for biases, we estimated that
approximately 36 ± 12 birds (1 dead bird per turbine) were killed at the
Buffalo Ridge windplant in one year. Although windplants do not appear
to be more detrimental to birds than other man-made structures, proper
facility siting is an important first consideration in order to avoid
unnecessary fatalities (McMurrey, 2002: 341).
Study unit 11
Putting it all together
The following task tests your knowledge of the structure and the language of reports, and
your ability to compose a laboratory report independently:
Activity 34
Read the following telegraphic description of an experiment which a student conducted to
determine the strength of a proposed concrete mixed for the Canyon bridge-building
project, and put together a full report with a title, headings and an abstract.
Language, style and ordering of information should be according to the guidelines
provided in study units 5-10. (The order of the information should not be changed unless
you are convinced that it is necessary for effective and communication of the message.)
Testing feasibility of concrete mix proposed for the Canyon Project
Specs for project: must withstand 5 000psi
Concrete exposed to frequent freezing and thawing
Mix designed to meet requirement shown in Table 11.1.
TABLE 11.1 Data and calculations for concrete mix
Fine aggregate
Coarse aggregate
Weight (lb) per cubic yard
1 140
1 680
3 995
Weight (lb) per 28.7
Mixing tub
five waxed cylinders
Tinius Olsen testing machine (serial number 89377, capacity 400 000 lb)
Curing room
Mix one cubic metre concrete according to specs (Table 11.1)
Pour into five waxed cylinders; tamp three times during pouring
When concrete hardens, remove forms, place concrete cylinders in the curing room,
moist cure at 70 degrees Fahrenheit.
Final stage of procedure: Use a Tinius Olsen testing machine to test cylinders under a
compressive load. One cylinder tested at 7 days, one at 14 days, one at 21 days,
remaining two at 28 days.
As specified: Concrete use in Canyon project subjected to compressive strength of
5 000psi. During test concrete ruptures at 3 650psi. Table 11.2 shows designed and
achieved stresses.
TABLE 11.2 Designed and achieved stresses
Days cured
Max load (lb)
81 000
89 000
104 000
97 000
45 000
Stress (psi)
2 840
3 130
3 650
3 400
1 580
Designed stress
3 400
3 750
3 900
5 000
5 000
If we mix and cure the concrete properly, it should increase in strength throughout the
28-day period. The 7-day cylinder should be near 70% maximum strength, the 14and 21-day cylinders should show gains, and the final two cylinders should reach or
surpass 5 000psi.
We double-check calculations for amounts of water, cement and fine and coarse
aggregates. We detect no error in the proposed design.
Test the feasibility of concrete mix for the Canyon project.
Mix could not withstand compressive strength of 5 000psi. Ruptured at 3 650psi.
Most likely cause: cylinders were accidentally jarred during initial curing, prior to
removal to the curing room. This disrupt settlement of the concrete. Another
possibility: we did not tamp the cement enough during the pouring process.
We find no problem in the design. Our recommendation: tests must be repeated;
curing closely watched; great care taken during tamping stages.
Study unit 12
Compiling a reference list
After you have completed your report, you should list all the sources referred to in the
body of your report in a Reference List.
A distinction is sometimes made between a bibliography and a reference list (compare
Thill & Bovée, 2005: 421; Grant & Borcherds, 2002: 101). A list of references refers to all
the sources that informed your investigation, whether you quote from them directly or
rephrase their content in your own words. A bibliography may include additional reading
matter that one believes to be of interest to your reader.
Important note
You should include in your group report only the sources referred to in the body of your
report. Therefore you should use the heading Reference List.
1. Guidelines for using the Harvard method
As mentioned before, you should use the reference method prescribed by your engineering
department, viz. Harvard, APA, Chicago Style Manual or Numeric.
If you use the Harvard method, and the source is a published book, you mention
• the surname of the first author, followed by a comma and then by his/her initials (in the
case of more than one author the first author’s initials are followed by the surname of
the second, followed by his/her initials, and so forth.
• the date of publication, followed by a full stop
• the title of the publication in italics, followed by a full stop
• the town/city of publication, followed by a colon (:)
• the name of the publisher, followed by a full stop.
However, all publications are not books, and some books have editors in addition to the
writers of various sections or chapters. The following diagram shows how you treat
different types of sources (Compare De Jager, 2007). It is important to remember that
you should always list sources alphabetically according to the author’s surname.
Below I listed them according to the type of source so that you can focus on the
conventions for different types of sources (books, articles, web sources, etc.).
Type of
Format of entry in reference list
Book (one
Martin, M.W. 2000. Ethics in Engineering, 3rd ed. New York:
Book (more
than one
Jones, D. & Lane, K. 2002. Technical Communication: strategies for
college and the workplace. New York: Longman.
McKenzie, R.S., Buckle, H., Wegelin, W.A. & Meyer, N. 2003. Water
demand management cookbook. United Nations Human
Settlement Program and Rand Water Report.
in an edited
Greaves, M.N. 1994. Contrast culture continuum. In: Weaver, G.R.
(ed.). Culture, communication and conflict: readings in
intercultural relations: Needam Heights: Simon & Shuster.
Journal article
Davis, M. 1991. Thinking like an engineer: The place of a code of
ethics in the practice of a profession. Philosophy & Public Affairs
20(2): 150-167.
American National Standards Institute. 1998. American National
Standards for Product Safety Signs and Labels. ANSI Z335. New
York: American National Standards Institute.
published in
Baumann, J. 1998. E-mail in the business world: Teachers of English
for Specific Purposes, Association for Business Communication,
Conference Proceedings, Kyoto, Japan, 10 August 2000.
Smith, A.G. 1997. Testing the surf: criteria for evaluating Internet
information resources. The public-access computer systems
review 8(3). [Online]. Available:
http://info.lib.uh.edu/pr/v8/n3/smit8n3.html [2006, November
Brink, P.J. 2001. Violence on TV and aggression in children. Western
journal of nursing research. 23(1): 5-7. [Online]. Available
from EBSCOHost: Academic Search Premier at
http://www.lib.uct.ac.za/datahosts.htm [2007, January 22].
De Jager, K. 2007. Handbook on citation and related matters.
University of Cape town. [Online]. Available:
www.lib.uct.ac.za/Training/citationstyles.htm [2006, November
Journal article
available in
print and
(author’s name
appears on the
web page)
source (no
North Carolina Department of Transport. 2005. Model bridge building
competition. [Online]. Available:
http://www.ncdot.org/kids/BridgeComp/Guidelines.html [2007,
August 18]
source (no
author or
Introduction to Journal-Style Scientific Writing. [Online]. Available:
general.html [2008, September 04]
News story or
Gumede, W. 1998. Africa’s dream trip over reality at telecom show.
Sunday Independent Business, 16 May: 5.
Hafkin, N. 1996. Seminar delivered at the School of Education,
University of Cape Town. (Unpublished remarks and discussion).
Dijkstra, Wessel. 2005. Personal interview. 15 August, Pretoria.
Activity 35
1. Identify the errors committed in the following references in the resource lists of
• Homes Apart, A. Lemon.
• Grinaker LTA Durban Quay Wall Budget Analysis
• Prof. E. Rust, Geotechnical Engineer (PhD)., Interview. Geological maps and oral
project advice.
• http:www.cmer.wsu.edu/~yonge/ce465/poster.pdf
• Visser, A.T. et al. 2005. Practical evaluation of additives used for soil stabilization.
IMIESA 40(4).
2. Write down the details of the following source as you would do when preparing the
reference list of your proposal (use the Harvard style of referencing).
Engineers’ and
Managers’ Guide to
Winning Proposals
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication
Includes bibliographical references and index
ISBN 0-89006-780-5
Proposal writing in business. I. Title
A catalogue record for this book is available from
the British Library
Donald V. Helgeson
© 1994 Donald V. Helgeson
658 Canton Street
Norwood, MA 02062
Artech House
All rights reserved. Printed an bound in the United
states of America. No part of this book may be
reproduced or utilized in any form or by any means
without permission in writing from the publisher.
3. Rearrange the bibliographic details of the following (fictitious) sources according to the
guidelines provided in this workbook:
Title of chapter: The cable-stayed bridge
Author of chapter: Graham Smallberger
Title of book: Bridge building techniques
Page numbers of chapter wrote by Smallberger: 15-55.
Editor: Martin Jones
Publisher: John Wiley
Place of Publication: New York
Year of publication: 1995.
Author of article: J.P. Gross
Title of article: Arch-building in ancient Rome
Title of journal: Engineering Quarterly
Page numbers of article: 24-40
Volume number of journal: 44
Number of journal: 4
Year of publication: 2001
Study unit 13
Appended parts
1. Front matter (what comes before the abstract)
1.1 Table of contents
Do not compile the TOC before all its prefatory parts and supplementary sections have
been put together. Headings and page numbers typically undergo several changes during
preparation, so you can only ensure an exact match between contents list and text headings
when you compile the list from the final copy. The aim is to identify the main divisions of
the report and to show on which pages they start. The chapter or section headings must be
1.2 List of figures
In a report or a proposal all photographs, sketches and diagrams are labelled as ‘figures’.
The list of figures may be printed below the table of contents in the front matter, or on a
separate page. It contains the numbers, captions/titles and relevant page numbers of all the
illustrations, photographs and diagrams in the proposal.
Remember to caption all the visuals in the main body of your proposal, using a descriptive
title and a distinctive number for each, such as:
Figure 1.1 Map of toll plazas in Gauteng
1.3 List of tables
The list of tables may occur below or above the list of figures, and contains the numbers,
captions/titles and relevant page numbers of all the tables in the proposal.
1.4 List of abbreviations and acronyms
Most academic and professional disciplines use a set of abbreviations and acronyms that
do not need an explanation when used among peers. These abbreviations and acronyms,
may, however, not be known by lay people or other professionals, and therefore have to be
written out in full and/or explained, e.g. RRL: Rapid Rail Link; NRA: National Roads
Agency; SMA (Shaped Memory Alloys); AF (Austenite Finish); PC (Portland Cement).
1.5 Acknowledgements
Apart from acknowledging permission to reproduce copyrighted text or illustrations, you
should also record your thanks to any individuals and organisations from whom you have
received assistance during the preparation of the proposal – e.g. information received over
the telephone, documents sent to you, financial support (grants, donations), research.
2. Back matter (what comes after the reference list)
2.1 Glossary (optional)
When writing about topics in their discipline, engineers often need specialised vocabulary
to convey precise meanings and avoid ambiguity. However, some audiences may not be
familiar with this technical language. For them, you must define terms, expand
abbreviations and explain acronyms (words formed from the initial letters and/or parts of
other words).
If there are several terms that need clarification, they can be arranged in an alphabetical
order, and placed in a glossary following the main text. It is important to ensure that your
definitions are accurate and complete by checking them in authoritative sources such as
dictionaries, encyclopedias and text-books.
2.2 Addenda (also known as ‘appendices’)
The following types of documents are often appended to reports:
Copies of questionnaires
Collections of statistical tables
Visuals that are too large or detailed to integrate into the text
For the purpose of your report you will include copies of the source materials you
consulted as addenda.
Label (caption) and number your appendices, preferably by using letters of the alphabet,
e.g. Addendum A, B, C, etc., and remember to include clear cross-references to the
appendices in the main text of your proposal (consider using coloured text or coloured
highlighting). Otherwise your readers may not read the appendices at all.
Examples of cross references in the text are:
See Addendum F for tables and figures.
Detailed graphs are included as Addendum F.
Reference list
Beer, D. & McMurrey, D.A. 2005. A guide to writing as an engineer. 2nd edition. NJ: John
Wiley & Sons.
Booth, P.F. 1991. Report writing. Huntingdon: ELM Publications.
Braine, G. 1995. Writing in the natural sciences and engineering. In: Belcher, D. & Braine,
G. (eds.). Academic writing in a second language: essays on research and pedagogy.
Norwood: Ablex. pp. 113-134.
Bruckmannn, C.G. & Mandersloot, W.G.B. 1998. Structuring, writing, evaluating and
editing of reports. Pretoria: Delta Consultancy.
Chen, B., & Liu, J. 2008. Experimental application of mineral admixtures in lightweight
concrete with high strength and workability. Construction and Building Materials
22: 655-659.
Coetzee, M. & Eloff, J.H.P. 2005. An access control framework for web services.
Information Management & Computer Security 13(1): 29-38.
De Jager, K. 2007. Handbook on citation and related matters. University of Cape town.
Online available: www.lib.uct.ac.za/Training/citationstyles.htm
(accessed 2008/04/01).
Department of Chemical Engineering. Study guide: CSQ 311 Communication 311.
Pretoria: University of Pretoria.
Dudley-Evans, Tony. 1985. Writing laboratory reports. Melbourne: Nelson Wadsworth.
Finkelstein, L. 2000. Pocket book of technical writing for engineers and scientists. USA:
McGraw-Hill, chapters 2, 3, 4 and 9.
Grant, T. & Borcherds, R. 2002. Communicating @ work. Cape Town: Oxford.
Haines, R. 1990. Roger Haines on report writing. A guide for engineers. USA: TAB
Kamm. L. 1989. Successful engineering: A guide to Achieving your career goals. New
York: McGraw Hill.
McCutcheon, R.T. 2001. Using employment-intensive methods to construct and maintain
infrastructure. Proceedings of the Institution of Civil Engineers. Municipal engineer.
145(4): 273-284.
McMurrey, D.A. 2002. Power tools for technical communication. Australia: Thomson/
NASA 2008. Nasaexplores: Jet fuel consumption graphs. [Online available]:
http://media.nasaexplores.com/lessons/04-051/5-8_1.pdf (accessed 2008/03/22).
Pauley, S.E. & Riordan, D.G. 1987. Technical Report Writing Today. 3rd edition. Boston:
Houghton Mifflin Company.
Riordan, D.G. 2005. Technical Report Writing Today. 9th edition. Boston: Houghton
Mifflin Company.
Slack, J. Communication for electrical engineering. 2002. Cape Town: Oxford.
Sylyn-Roberts, H. 2000. Writing for science and engineering. Oxford: ButterworthHeinemann.
Sylyn-Roberts, H. 2005. Professional Communications. A handbook for civil engineers.
Reston, Virginia: American Association for Civil Engineers.
Thill, J.V. & Bovée, C.L. 2005. Excellence in business communication. 6th edition. Upper
Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall.
Tseng, Y.-M. 2006. GPRS/UMTS-aided authentication protocol for wireless LANS. IEEE
Prac-Commun. 153(6): 810ff.
Van Emden, J. 1990. A Handbook of writing for Engineers. London: MacMillan.
Visser, A. 2008. Personal communication. Pretoria, 14 April.
Weissberg, R. & Buker, S. 1990. Writing up research: experimental report writing for
students of English. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall.
Addendum A
Working with numbers
Engineers and students of engineering work with numbers a great deal. However, many
errors are made due to typos, incorrect or inexact numbers, and inconsistencies.
Beer and McMurrey (2005: 66-70) offer the following guidelines relating to the use of
Write cardinal numbers from one to ten as words and all other numbers as figures.
two transistors
three linear actuators
232 stainless steel bolts
12 capacitors
However, when more than one number appears in a sentences, write them all the
The organisation has 4000 members and 134 chapters in 6 regions.
Also, use numerals rather than words when referring to time, money or
1 a.m.
12.4 m
35 km
Spell out ordinal numbers only if they are single words. Write the rest as numerals
plus the last two letters of the ordinal:
second harmonic
21st element 14th attempt 73rd cycle
If a number begins a sentence, spell it out regardless of any other rule:
Thirty-two computers were manufactured today.
To avoid writing out a large number at the beginning of a sentence, rewrite the
sentence so it doesn’t begin with a number:
Last year, 5198 engines were manufactured in this division.
This division manufactured 5198 engines last year.
Note: You may sometimes see very large numbers written with spaces where you
expect commas. Thus 10,354,978 might appear as 10 354 978. this style avoids
possible confusion with the practice in some countries of using commas as decimal
markers. Decide which method you want to use based on your department’s (or
company’s) preference and your audience.
Form the plural of a numeral by adding an –s, without an apostrophe:
two 80s
the 1920s
Make a written number plural by adding - or -es, or by dropping the y and adding ies:
nines sixes fours nineties
Place a zero before the decimal point for numbers less than one. Omit all trailing
zeros unless they are needed to indicate precision:
0.345 cm
19.4 tons
Write fractions as numerals when they are joined by a whole number. connect the
whole number and the fraction by a hyphen:
2-1/2 liters
32-2/3 km
Time can be written out when not followed by a.m. or p.m., but you will normally
need to be more precise than this:
ten o’clock
10:41 a.m.
8:45 p.m.
4 hours 36 minutes 12 seconds 23:41 (=11:41 p.m.)
When expressing very large or small numbers, use scientific notation. Some
numbers are easily read when expressed in either standard or scientific form.
Choose the best format and be consistent:
0.0538 m
8.32 x 10-21 m/s
5.38 x 10-2 m
367 345 199 m/s
Units of measurement
SI units are written with a space between the numeral and the unit:
70 ns
100 dB
12 V 34.62 m
23 e/cm3
Important: A list of SI units can be accessed at:
Make sure you use the correct symbol when referring to units of measurement, and
remember that similar symbols may stand for more than one thing.
°C (degrees Celsius)
g (gram
m (thousandth)
n (nano-)
s (second, as in time)
C (coulomb – unit of electric charge)
G (gauss – measure of magnetic induction)
M (million)
N (Newton)
S (siemens – unit of conductance)
Units of measurements derived from a person’s name usually are not capitalized,
even if the abbreviation for the unit is. Note also that although the name can take a
plural form, an –s is not added to the abbreviation to make it plural:
amperes A
farads F
volts V
henrys H
kelvins K
Note: Symbols or abbreviations are indispensable to an engineer, but use them sparingly
when writing for an audience other than your lecturer or your peers. You may sometimes
need to define the terms or abbreviations you use, either in your text parenthetically, or
with annotations as in the following example:
P = power, measured in watts
E = EMF (electromotive force) in volts
I = current in amperes
Equations are normally centred on the page and numbered sequentially in parentheses to
the right for reference. Leave a space between your text and any equation, and between
lines of equations. Also, space on both sides of operators such as =, +, or -, as shown in the
following examples:
F(x) = ∫ logx dx
H(s) (xv2) = X(s)/Y(s)
Addendum B
Document design (presentation style)
The visual aspects of a report are as important as the text itself. Although the engineer
does not need to be an expert in graphic design, he/she needs to know that space,
typography and illustrations are crucial aspects of a document, which determine
• how easy/difficult it is to read (e.g. based on the font sizes used; the amount of white
space on the page),
• how the text will be read: top-to-bottom, left-to-right, column-by-column (e.g. based
on the formatting of the text in columns, tables, frames, etc.) ),
• what type of text it is (e.g. a product manual, a report, a letter, etc.),
• what the main, secondary and tertiary concepts in the document are (e.g. based on the
type sizes of the headings),
• what the writer thought was important (e.g. based on emphasis given to certain words
and pictures, the amount of graphic contrast used to set off certain ideas)
In this addendum basic principles will be discussed regarding four important visual
aspects of documents, viz. white space, text alignment, headings and numbering,
typography and graphic aids. For each of these aspects companies and engineering
departments usually have a ‘house style’. It is your task to determine what the house style
of your department is in this regard, and follow these whenever you have to write a report
or other document that is to be assessed by one of your engineering lecturers.
1. White space and layout
Use more space above and below headings than between normal lines of text, but put
more space above a heading than below it in order to link the heading as closely as
possible to the text.
If single line spacing (Ctrl+1) is used for the body text, then use 1.5 spacing after
headings, i.e. between the heading and the text that belong together (Ctrl+5):
The main purpose of this report …
Some departments prefer that you insert double line spacing (enter twice) between a
heading and the text that belongs together with it:
The main purpose of this report …
Use margins of at least 3 cm on all sides of the page.
Consider bullets and numbering for lists and steps in a procedure.
Avoid poor breaks:
o A heading at the bottom of the page
o A single line at the top of a page (widow)
o A table that is cut in two by a page break
Justified (blocked) text looks neat, but may leave large white spaces between words if
a very large font is used. or columns are used. Follow the guidelines your department
prescribes in this regard:
(Left and right) justified
Continuous text
xxxxxxxxx xxxxxx xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx xxxxxx xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx xxxxxxxxx
xxxxxxx xxxxxxxxx xxxxxxxxxxxxx xxxxxxxxxxxx xxxx xxxxxxxx xxx xxxxxxxxx
xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx xxx xxxxxxxxxxxxx xxxxxxxxxx xxxxxxxxxxxxxxx xxxxxxxx
xxxxxxxxxxx xxxxxxxxx xxxx xxxx xxxxxxxx xxxxxxxxxxxx xxxxx xxxxxxxxxxx
xxxxxxxxx xxxxxxxx xxxxxxxxx xxx xxxxxx.
xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx xxxxxxxxx xxxxxxx xxxxxxxxx
xxxxxxxxxxxxx xxxxxxxxxxxx xxxx xxxxxxxx xxx
xxxxxxxxx xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx xxx xxxxxxxxxxxxx
xxxxxxxxxx xxxxxxxxxxxxxxx xxxxxxxx xxxxxxxxxxx
xxxxxxxxx xxxx
xxxxx xxxx xxxxxx xxxxxx
xxxx xxxxx xxxxxx xxxx
xxxxxxxxx xxxxxxx xxx
xxxx xxxxx
xxxxxxxx xxx xxxxxxxxx
xxxxxxxxx xxxx xxxxxxx
xxxxxx xxx
x xxxxxxxxx
xxxx xxxx
xxxxxxxx xxxxxxxxx xxx
xxxxx xxxx
xxx xxxxxx
Left justified
xxxxxxxxx xxxxxx xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx xxxxxx xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx xxxxxxxxx
xxxxxxx xxx xxxxxxxxx xxxxxxxxxxxx xxxxxxxxxxxx xxxx xxxxxxxx xxxxx
xxxxxxxxx xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx xxx xxxxxxxxxxxxx xxxxxxxxxx xxxxxxxx
xxxxxxxxx xxxxxxxx xxxxxxxxxxxx xxxxxxxx xxxxxxxxx xxxxxxxxxxxx xxxxx
xxxxxxxxxxx xxxxxxxxx xxxxxxxx xxxxxxxxx xxx xxxxxx.
xxxxxxxxx xxxxxx xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx xxxxxx xxxx
xxxx-xxxxxxxxxxxxx xxxxxxxxx xxxxxxx
xxxxxxxxxxxx xxx xxxxxxxxxxxxx xxxxxxxxxxxx xxxx
xxxxxxxx xxx xxxxx-xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx xxx
xxxxxxxxxxxxx xxxxxxxxxx xxxxxxxxxxxxxxx
xxxxxxxx xxxxxxxxxx xxxxxxxxx xxxx.
2. Typography
2.1 Typeface
Typeface refers to the physical design of letters, numbers and other text characters. There
are basically two styles of type, namely serif and sans serif. Serifs have small cross lines
(called serifs) at the ends of each letter stroke. Examples of serif types are Garamond
and Times New Roman. Sans serifs do not have cross lines. Examples are Verdana
and Arial.
• Use serifs for the body of a text.
• Sans serif typefaces are ideal for headings and captions.
The golden rule is to limit the number of typefaces in a single document to TWO, e.g. a
sans serif such as Arial for headings and captions, and a serif font, such as Times New
Roman, for body text.
2.2 Type size
Type size vary from 8 points to about 72.
Body text is normally printed in a font size 10-12.
Heading text may be slightly bigger (1-2 point sizes bigger than the body text),
depending on how many heading levels you have.
2.3 Type styles
Type style refers to any modification that lends contrast or emphasis to type. Most
computers offer boldface, italics, and underlining. ALL CAPS is also sometimes used for
• Boldface is typically used for headings, and sometimes for emphasis in the text.
• Italics can be used for emphasis, to mark irony, and in captions. In the reference list
the names of books and journals are normally italicised.
Underlining should be avoided. It has an old-fashioned appearance, and may
interfere with your audience’s ability to recognise letters.
ALL CAPS may be used in chapter headings, or for the name of a document such as
a report. All caps should be avoided in the body of a report since it slows down
reading speed, particularly because it takes longer to recognise words printed in all
The most important rule is to be consistent, and do not use different typographic measures
to fulfil the same function.
3. Illustrations (visuals)
Visuals are presentations of ideas that exploit one’s sense of sight to communicate a large
amount of information quickly and efficiently.
Technical and professional writing deal with complex topics in precise ways, and one of
the most important tools for the technical and professional writer is visuals, such as
photographs, line-drawings (including, schematic and exploded diagrams, cut-away
views, enlarged detail sketches, etc), figures, diagrams and schemas, graphs, charts,
maps, and tables. Finkelstein (2000: 219) emphasises the importance of visuals in
technical writing when saying
Whether you are showing an exploded view of a mechanism or plotting the
regression curve from an experiment, you will find that visuals are an absolutely
essential element of any technical report.
Visuals may have different functions in a technical document (compare Bruckmann &
Mandersloot, 1998: 139), such as to:
• make information more clear and precise than is possible with the written word alone
• explain
• illustrate
• exemplify
• simplify (e.g. complex processes; and to avoid lengthy descriptions)
• show a process;
• analyse and interpret data.
3.1 General guidelines for using visuals
The following general guidelines for including visuals in technical and professional
documents can be given (Finkelstein, 2000: 219-220; Pauley & Riordan, 1987: 165; Beer
& McMurrey, 2005: 153-154):
• Include visuals only when it is functional. Do not use graphics purely for aesthetic
Be sure your illustrations are of high quality – clear and large enough, with plenty of
white space around them.
Keep illustrations as simple as possible. Show only items that are essential for your
Reference and explain a visual (figure or table) in the text before placing it in the
report or proposal. If the visual precedes the reference, the reader will wonder why it is
Use phrases such as the following:
o As can be seen in FIGURE 5, the thermophysical properties …
o The data in Table 1 shows …
o The arrangement pf the MOF network (Fig. 8.2) is structured so that …
o Averages for the fabric cutting speeds are shown in Table 4 on the next page.
Number and title all visuals, and include a list of figures as part of your Table of
Contents in the prefatory matter.
Please note that the numbers and captions of illustrations/figures occur below the
visual, whereas the names and numbers of tables occur above the table.
Include a source reference next to the title of a figure and below a table if you have
not designed it yourself.
Make sure that the terms you use in the visual coincide with the terms used in the
headings or the surrounding text. For example, if you are describing the negative
terminal of a D-cell battery, do not call it the negative terminal in the text, and the
cathode in the visual.
3.2 Types of visuals
The visuals used in technical and professional documents generally fall into the following
categories: photographs, line-drawings, flowcharts, graphs, and tables.
Images are visual reproductions (photographs and realistic drawings) that accurately
reproduce the appearance of objects or events. The advantages of images are that they are
credible; and provide a wealth of detail. However, too much detail can also be a
disadvantage, because the emphasised part can get lost.
FIGURE C1 Photograph to identify rotary piston (Riordan, 2005: 197)
There are different types of drawings, of which the following occur frequently in
engineering documents:
Exploded view
As the term implies, an exploded view shows the parts of an object disconnected, but
arranged in the order in which they fit together. Exploded drawings can show the internal
parts of a small and intricate object or explain how it is assembled. Manuals, instructions
and procedures often use exploded drawings with named or numbered parts.
FIGURE C2. Exploded view (Riordan, 2005: 197)
Cross-sectional view
A cross-sectional view is a drawing of an object cut at right angles to its axis. A crosssectional view shows the size and relationship of all the parts. Two views of the same
object are often placed beside each other to give the reader an additional perspective of the
object. Compare the cross-sectional view of the hot water cylinder in Study Unit 7.
Enlarged detail
As the name indicates, an enlarged detail sketch shows part of a larger object in detail.
This is often done when the reader needs to see the object as a whole, but the issue at hand
concerns one specific part of that whole. Compare the experiment in fluid mechanics (to
verify that pressure acts equally in all directions at a given point in a stationary liquid) in
Study Unit 9.
Tables are orderly arrangements of data in columns and rows. Numerical data is often best
presented in tabular form (compare Booth, 1991:18-19). Readers can quickly scan the
columns to make comparisons, note significant trends and sudden fluctuations. Beer and
McMurrey (2005: 145) suggest that the following design considerations be kept in mind
when designing tables:
• Put table titles and numbers above tables, not below. Use the word ‘Table’.
• Include a heading at the top of each column (a ‘column head’) to identify the
contents of the column.
If necessary, include a row heading in the farthest left column to identify the contents
of the row.
Sometimes there is a need to assign a heading to the vertical column to the far left of
the table in which you list various line headings that identify horizontal rows of data.
This heading that appears in the top left cell of such a table, is known as a ‘stub’.
If two sets of variables are handled in columns and rows the independent variable (e.g.
time) usually reads across the table, and the dependent variable reads vertically.
Put the measurement value in the column or row heading (name, date, unit, etc.),
not in each of the data cells.
For textual material, left-align column headings and column contents.
For numeric material, right-align column headings and centre column contents.
Compare the following examples:
TABLE C1. Measured modulus of elasticity values compared to generally
accepted values
Column heads
Tool steel
Modulus of elasticity (E)
from experiment
(kN/mm )
Generally accepted
TABLE C2. Results: flowrate through the control valve as a function of
fraction valve opening and pressure drop across the valve (Department of
Chemical Engineering 2006: 33-34)
Graphs are visual representations showing relationships among sets of numbers or of
quantities and proportions of mathematical values. They are particularly useful for
presenting statistical information. The three types of graphs most often used in proposals
are line charts, bar/column charts and pie charts.
Line graphs
Line charts show trends in data. The vertical axis (y) is used to plot dependent (variable)
data points, and the horizontal axis (x) labels the independent variables. Each line plotted
on the graph shows the changing value of a specific variable. Compare the following line
FIGURE C3. Number of registrations of electrical and chemical engineers from 1970
to 1995 (Bruckmann & Mandersloot, 1998: 150)
Bar graphs
Bar charts are effective for comparing discrete variables. Since each variable is a separate
entity, a line chart would not be appropriate because there are no developments or changes.
According to Beer and McMurrey they can also, to a limited degree, indicate change over
time. Compare the following example:
FIGURE C4. Total jet fuel consumption by region from 1990-1998 (NASA 2008)
Pie charts
Pie charts are useful for showing the relative proportions of a total amount made up by
each member that contributes to that total (Beer and McMurrey, 2005: 146), e.g. if you
want to show what proportions of a total budget (100% of the budget) are allocated to
specific budget items. Compare the following example:
Bruckmann and Mandersloot (1998) feel strongly about the fact that when using a pie
chart, the numerical data on each slice be indicated in the graphic (on each slice or just
outside it - AC). Ideally pie charts should contain a maximum of about six or seven slices.
If there are too many slices, the sections become too small to discriminate from one
another by using colour or texture, and to clearly indicate the value of each section.
Compare the following example from an executive summary:
FIGURE C5. Energy demand by sector in Tshwane (Africon, 2008)
Addendum C
Presentation skills
Presenting your work orally to a live audience can be a nerve-wracking experience. The
problem can have an additional dimension when you have little experience of presenting a
paper or a report to a live audience or you are a non-mother tongue speaker of English.
However, this does not mean that you cannot be a successful presenter or shouldn’t strive
for perfection. It has been found that by knowing how to structure your materials, and by
focusing on particular techniques engineers can improve their presentation skills
significantly (Sylyn-Roberts, 2005: 205).
This addendum provides guidelines to develop a good structure for presentations, and to
add visual aids to support this structure. It also creates an awareness of the common
mistakes presenters make, and gives hints and tips on how to minimise nervousness.
As in the case of written proposals, the planning of an oral proposal requires determining
your audience and main message and main content before you can start composing and
fine-tuning (editing) it.
2. Planning an oral presentation
2.1 Audience
As with written documents, such as reports and proposals, it is important to realise who
your audience comprises. In other words you have to identify their interests, needs,
attitudes, and prejudices, and then focus your appeal on them. If your audience comprises
only experts, they will not need much background information. In fact, these people will
probably be bored and offended by basic explanations. On the other hand, non-experts will
be mystified unless you give them background information. If audience members are
professional engineers they will be more interested in the technical aspects of your talk
that pertain to their specialties. In contrast, an audience of non-experts will probably be
bored by a detailed talk on a subject they do not understand (Adler & Elmhorst, 2005:319).
Violating the standards of what your listeners find acceptable can antagonise your
audience and destroy your credibility.
2.2 Main message/thesis
The thesis or main message gives your listeners a clear idea of what you are trying to tell
them. It is very important that you have clarity on your thesis as every other part of your
presentation should support it, and you have a limited amount of time to drive this message
In the case of a technical report your main message will pivot on a technical solution to a
particular problem, providing an answer to a particular need or addressing a gap in
engineering research. Sylyn-Roberts (2005: 208) recommends that you state the
information that you most want the audience to remember at least three times. Adler and
Elmhorst (2005: 332) suggest that you repeat your thesis statement at least once in the
introduction, several times during the body and again in the conclusion.
2.3 Main content
Although the content of your written report and the oral presentation will be basically the
same, one of the most important points to remember is that you will be able to cover far
less in the oral version. The content needs to be condensed to a format stating only the
most important points. This may entail converting ten written pages into a presentation
of ten minutes.
3. Structuring an oral presentation
How the presentation is structured is vital to a listener’s understanding. According to
Sylyn-Roberts (2005: 208) everyone in the audience should be able to understand the
broad concepts of what you are talking about. In her opinion “it is a far greater
achievement to express a complex idea clearly than to bombard the audience with detail”
(2005: 208).
3.1 The structural differences between an oral presentation and a
written paper
There are important differences between the way people read material than when they
listen to it. This influences the structure of a presentation. Table D1 below highlights the
differences between how technical material is understood and assessed by readers and
Table D1 Assessment of technical information when reading a paper and when
listening to an oral presentation (Adler & Elmhorst, 2005: 333-334; Booth, 1991: 3-5;
Sylyn-Roberts, 2005: 209; Thill & Bovée, 2005: 443)
Listening to an oral presentation
Can be read at the reader’s own speed.
The listener has no control over speed.
Understanding is impaired if too much detail is
being given or pace is too fast.
Can be reread.
The speaker has no opportunity to increase
understanding by a rerun.
Overall understanding may be gained from an
overview of the abstract or the main headings.
The listener needs an initial overview to “predict”
the content.
Technical writing is neutral or non-emotive.
The manner of speaking (range of tones, sound,
volume, expressions and speed) may be adapted
to achieve attention, emphasise a point, etc.
The writer has almost total control over what
Part of the control is relinquished to the audience:
The speaker cannot predict the audience’s
reaction, and their reaction may influence the flow
of the presentation.
Credibility depends purely on technical content,
linguistic correctness and fluency.
A speaker can enhance his/her credibility with the
audience by demonstrating competence, exuding
confidence, earning the trust of the audience, and
emphasising your similarity to the audience.
Overall structuring of the presentation
Oral presentations of research reports will follow a similar structure as the written report.
Examples are available on ClickUP.
4. Determining the time-frame
In terms of business presentations Thill and Bovée (2005: 445-446) suggest the following
breakdown of the available time:
Greeting and introduction
60-70%: Discussing your main points (in the case of a research report this part should
mainly be devoted to the discussion of Results).
10-20%: Responding to comments and questions
5. Designing visual aids
5.1 Choosing between overhead transparencies and electronic
When having to choose between overhead transparencies and electronic presentations you
should consider their respective advantages and disadvantages:
Table D2: Advantages and disadvantages of transparencies and electronic
media projector
and PowerPoint
High-quality overheads can be
prepared using a computer and a
high-resolution colour inkjet/laser
They require little extra equipment to
show. Most conference rooms or
classrooms have overhead
Transparency images can be
projected in full daylight. Therefore
speakers can maintain eye contact
with the audience.
The computerized format makes
real-time manipulation of data easy.
You can change a graphic, add a
bulleted phrase, and even alter the
sequence of your slides with a
simple click of the mouse.
You can use multimedia (animation,
video clips, sound, hypertext, etc.)
Presentations are easy to store,
transport and customize for different
You can see a file’s entire batch of
slides at once by using the slidesorter.
It is easy to add, change or delete
They are permanent, and must be
replaced in the content changes.
They are fragile.
They must be aligned one at a
time. Therefore the presenter’s
ability to move freely about the
room is limited.
Electronic slides require more
expensive display equipment than
overhead transparencies.
One can spend too much time
focusing on the technical
components of the presentation,
and neglect the content of the
Inexperienced presenters tend to
pack too many special effects into
their electronic slides. They may
create a dazzling experience but
the key message is blurred.
Creating electronic slides (using Microsoft PowerPoint)
5.2.1 Decide on the number of slides
The number of slides you use will depend on the length of the presentation and the
complexity of the subject matter. As a general guideline you should allocate no less
than two minutes per slide. The best way to find the right number is to time your
presentation as you practice.
5.2.2 Writing and designing the text
For some reason slides consisting of whole sentences, sometimes several of them bulleted
on one slide, are popular with many presenters. However this practice should be avoided at
all times. The most important rule to follow when designing the text for your slides is to
create simple, readable content. Use a short informative title to summarise the content
of each slide, and limit each slide to one thought or idea. Use only short phrases or single
words. The content should not exceed about 40 words (6 lines x 7 words per line).
5.2.3 Colour
You do not need training in colour theory to create presentation images that impress your
audience rather than confuse them. It is normally safe to use the colour schemes from the
design templates that come with your presentation program. However, beware of busy
designs. Guffey (2001: 325) provides the following guidelines for using colour:
• Limit choices to a few (contrasting) ones. Contrasting colours increase readability.
• Use warm colours (red, orange and bright yellow) to highlight important elements.
• Use the same colour for similar elements, e.g. headings at the same level of the
hierarchy: primary, secondary, etc.
• If the presentation is shown in a dark room, use a dark background on light text.
• If the presentation is shown in a well lit room, use dark letters on a light background.
• Use dark text on a light background for transparencies.
• Beware of dramatic too colourful or busy backgrounds. If you are not using a custom
company background design, choose one that is simple, is appropriate for the subject,
and will appeal to the audience.
5.2.4 Visuals
Because we live in an increasingly visual age, and because people remember and
understand information better when they both hear and see it, most effective engineering
speakers support their talks with illustrations of some kind. Beer and McMurrey (2005:
193) suggest that you use visuals if you feel they will
• simplify a point;
• clarify a point;
• stress a point; or
• show critical relationships between ideas.
There are two major pitfalls (types of noise) against which you should be warned:
• Visuals that are too complex (compare Jay and Jay, 2004: 54; Beer & McMurrey,
2005: 194; Finkelstein, 2000: 247)
• Visuals that are too small (Beer & McMurrey, 2005: 194)
Figure D1a is, for instance too complex. The problem could be solved by first providing a
schematic overview, and then breaking up the diagram into smaller sections.
Figure D1a: Full representation of a complex electronic circuit
Figure D1b: Schematic overview
Figure D1c: Centre block from the diagram
expanded to part of the original circuit
Figure D2, on the other hand, is confusing:
Figure D2: Confusing chart (Finkelstein, 2000: 247)
5.2.5 Fonts and type styles
The following basic guidelines may be followed when selecting fonts for your
• Avoid fancy fonts. If you are going to run the disk on any other computer it may not
support them, tables may not align or other similar technical problems can arise ( Jay
& Jay, 2004: 54).
• Limit fonts to one or two per slide (one for headings and the other for bulleted items).
• Avoid italics. It is hard to read on screen.
• Avoid all caps.
• Use type that is between 42 and 24 points.
5.2.6 Animation and special effects
Electronic slide shows can utilize a number of special effects, including sound, animation
and video. However, animation schemes should be used with great care. They can
easily be disturbing or distracting. If you do make use of pre-programmed animation
schemes you should preferably apply one scheme throughout the slide show.
6. Speaker notes
Grant and Borcherds (2002: 30) are of the opinion that “business presentations benefit
enormously from being note-free, from a delivery that is polished but spontaneous, and
spoken in an everyday style of language.” However, most people do not feel comfortable
relying on memory only. If you use a presentation program such as Microsoft PowerPoint
you can elaborate on your main points, using the notes page facility, and printing them
out, or using cue cards (library cards). This approach gives you something to refer to and
still allows for eye contact and interaction with the audience.
7. Delivering the presentation
Although you will probably have graphic support of some sort (overhead transparencies or
an electronic presentation), the primary channel is oral.
7.1 Types of noise in engineering presentations
All your preparation efforts are aimed at one goal: to give an effective, noise-free
presentation that will produce the desired results. By the time you stand in front of your
audience, you should have fixed most of the potential glitches that can surface. However,
the sad fact remains that “plenty of lackluster and somewhat boring presentations occur
every day in business and industry” (Beer & McMurrey, 2005: 199). As with a written
report, such presentations can be greatly improved by the elimination of noise.
In oral presentations, noise can be defined as “anything that prevents the message from
effectively getting into the minds of the audience.” The following causes of noise (and
possible remedies) are mentioned in the literature (compare Thill & Bovée 2005: 457;
Grant & Borcherds, 2002: 31; Beer & McMurrey, 2005: 199)
Table D3: Causes of noise in oral presentations and possible remedies
Type of noise
Trying to impress the audience with jargon or
unfamiliar vocabulary.
Using a written style.
Reciting your speech. (If you memorise your
speech, you are likely to forget your lines, you
will speak in a monotone voice; and your
speech will sound stilted.)
Reading your slides. (When speakers read
bulleted points to the audience word for word,
they lose contact with the audience.)
Speaking too softly.
Speaking monotonously. (Have you heard
about the professor who dreamed he was
giving a lecture only to wake up and find he
Using verbal fillers, such as uh, umm,
basically, like.
Blocking the screen.
Being insufficiently prepared.
Becoming a statue or a pendulum. (Some
speakers freeze physically when in front of a
group, and remain in that position for the entire
talk. Others sway back and forth without
moving their feet.)
Possible remedy
Make sure you can define all the words you use.
Use clear, vivid language, especially if there are
lay people in your audience: familiar words, short
sentences and concrete examples. If you decide
to read (parts of) your presentation you must
maintain eye contact with your audience.
Rather use cue cards or notes pages.
Refer to your notes page or use the bulleted
points as an external memory, and elaborate.
Try to project your voice relative to the room and
audience size.
Avoid hypnotic monotony by varying your pitch
and your pace. Enthusiasm on your part will also
encourage your audience to listen to you.
Try to avoid this kind of noise in your
presentation. There is nothing wrong with being
silent for a few moments while gathering your
Move around enough during your presentation to
avoid blocking anyone”s view continuously.
Better yet, stand far enough to the side to
prevent screen blockage from becoming a
Thill & Bovée (2005: 462-465) advise presenters
that, when practicing the presentation, they
should run through it about five times using their
electronic slides or overhead transparencies.
Be aware of the effect you may have on your
audience through your movements. Try for a
natural stance, with some foot movement but not
enough to wear your audience out as they follow
you back and forth across the room.
Hints and tips for successful delivery
7.2.1 Before your presentation
If team members have never performed together before, practice is essential to ensure
coordination in the presentation.
Check the venue and the equipment in advance
Jay and Jay (2004: 54) reiterate that presenters have to check all software thoroughly in the
venue where they are going to present. There are countless potential problems: the
computer does not read the disk; all your bullet points have changed; the sound effects do
not work, etc.
You should also locate light switches and dimmers in advance; be sure a flipchart easel or
a chalkboard is on hand if it is needed; check for chalk, an eraser, a pointer, extension
cords, and any other small but crucial items you might need.
7.2.2 During your presentation
Put yourself in a relaxed mode
As you approach the lectern, walk slowly, breathe deeply, and stand up straight. Face your
audience, adjust the microphone, count to three slowly, and then survey the room. When
you find a friendly face, make eye contact and smile. Count to three again, and then begin
your presentation. If your throat is dry, drink some water.
Present your first sentence from memory
By memorising your opening, you can immediately establish rapport with the audience
through eye contact. You will also sound confident and knowledgeable.
Introduce your slides
If you are using overhead transparencies, the best approach is to introduce a next
overhead as you remove the old one and position the new one on the projector.
Immediately cover all but the first bulleted phrase with a sheet of paper. As you advance
through your discussion, you can move the paper down the transparency to uncover the
next item.
If you are using electronic slides, the best approach is to introduce the slide before you
show it and then give the audience a few seconds to view the design elements. With
electronic slides you can release bulleted points or sections of a graph as you discuss them.
Use visual aids effectively
Discuss and interpret each visual aid for the audience. Move aside as you describe it so
that it can be seen fully.
Engage your audience
According to Jay and Jay (2004: 60) “It is worth making a special note to think if there is
any object, or part of an object, which could be interesting and reasonably relevant to
display during your presentation.” Producing something and holding it up or passing it
around turns an abstract idea into a physical object, and substitutes a memorable picture
for a forgettable word.
The successful use of a working model can be the high point of a presentation. However,
those who are to participate in the demonstration should practise in the actual venue,
because if it fails to work, your presentation may turn into a major disaster.
Use appropriate non-verbal behaviour
Non-verbal behaviour has a tremendous influence on your perceived sincerity, authority,
credibility and persuasiveness. Consider the following categories of non-verbal behaviour:
Posture: Stand tall. Your posture is important in projecting more confidence. Stand
with your weight on both feet and your shoulders back. Avoid gripping the lectern.
Vary your facial expressions to make your message more dynamic.
Body orientation: Do not turn away from the audience with your body.
Maintain eye contact.
Move naturally. You can use the lectern to hold your notes so that you are free to
move about casually and naturally. Avoid fidgeting with your notes, your clothing, or
items in your pocket.
Do not overdo hand gestures. Use your hands to emphasize your remarks with
appropriate gestures, but keep them still at other times. Do not distract your audience
with nervous hand movements. Keep your hands out of your pockets.
Clothing and personal grooming: Dress appropriately (collar shirt, tie, jacket, formal
trousers for men, and co-ordinate set with formal shoes for women)
Voice: Do not speak in a high-pitched voice or stammer (the audience will assume that
you are not confident).
8. Effective handouts
Handouts are an effective way to offer your audience additional material without
overloading your slides with information. Examples of handouts are an outline of the
presentation, complex charts, pictures and diagrams, summaries, company reports,
case studies, websites, and brochures.
However, you need to think carefully whether you want to provide handouts, and if so,
what kind and when you will hand them out. Some speakers avoid handouts, as they feel
they distract from their audience”s attention. The disadvantage of giving them out before
or during your presentation, is that they tend to distract the audience, causing you to lose
control (compare Beer & McMurrey, 2005: 178; Guffey 2001: 323). If it is not necessary
for your audience to make notes on the handout, or follow text or examples that are not on
the slides, you can consider to delay the distribution until after you have finished.
Resource list
Adler, R.B. & Elmhorst, J.M. 2005. Communicating at work. 8th edition. New York.
Beer, D. & McMurrey, D. 2005. A guide to writing as an engineer. 2nd edition. Hoboken,
JN: John Wiley & Sons.
Booth, P.F. 1991. Report writing. Huntingdon: ELM Publications.
Finkelstein, L. 2000. Pocket Book of Technical Writing for Engineers and Scientists. USA:
Grant, T. & Borcherds, R. 2002. Communicating @ work. Cape Town: Oxford.
Guffey, M.E. 2001. Essentials of Business Communication. 5th edition. United States:
South Western College Publishing.
Jay, R. & Jay, A. 2004. Effective presentation. London/New York: Prentice Hall.
Sylyn-Roberts, H. 2005. Professional Communications. A handbook for civil engineers.
Reston, Virginia: American Association for Civil Engineers.
Thill, J.V. & Bovée, C.L. 2005. Excellence in business communication. 6th edition. Upper
Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall.