Formal Techical Report Writing Guide

Guide to Writing Technical Formal Reports

1. Technical Memorandum

(Note: technical memos are not required for CHEE 218 or CHEE 420 reports)

According to Pfeiffer and Boogerd (2003), a memorandum (memo) is defined as a document written from a member of an organization to one or more readers within the same organization. A memo in general, is written to effectively and efficiently review a task, project or experiment and act as a reminder of why a particular task was accomplished.

The technical memorandum is attached outside of the front cover, before the title page of a formal report. It should be the first document that a reader sees. The suggested format of a technical memorandum is the standard block style. An example of a standard block style memo is provided below. Memorandum templates are easily accessible on any word processor. All templates will generally include headings such as date, to, from and subject.

Keys to writing a good memo:

First and foremost, the key to writing a good memo is to know your purpose. Sift through details to narrow down key concepts that will lead to a sole purpose for writing the memo. Next, propose a sentence that clearly and effectively establishes the purpose, known as a purpose sentence.

It is essential that a memo writer knows his or her audience. Knowing this, a writer can establish the vocabulary and tone that are appropriate for his or her audience. A mixed technical audience increases the challenge of addressing each group appropriately. In this situation, a writer may create different sections appropriate to different technical backgrounds or reduce the level of difficulty so that all audiences can easily understand. First person references such as "I" and "We" are perfectly acceptable practices in memo writing.

Readers like to receive information quickly and clearly, especially when there are several competing companies. Therefore, it is imperative that memos are brief and concise. The Abtract Body Conclusion (ABC) method described by Pfeiffer and Boogerd (2003) addresses all the essential components. To summarize, an abstract includes a well defined purpose sentence and an outline of the main sections of the memo. The body includes supporting evidence presented in a tactical manner with particularly strong and/or positive statements located either at the beginning or end of ideally, short paragraphs. Reference to attachments is common especially when greater details are required to emphasize an argument. Finally, the conclusion statement includes future recommendations. The following memo is an example of memo writing adapted from Pfeiffer and Boogerd (2003)

Memo Sample #1:

R & R
Engineering Ltd.


To: Technical Staff


Suzie Smith


Henry Hill, Sarah White and Joey Black


October 13, 2004


New Employees to Help With Technical Editing

Last week we hired an editor to help you produce top-quality reports, proposals and other documents. This memo will provide you with the necessary background on this change, highlight the credentials of our new editor and describe how this change will affect you.


At September's staff meeting, many technical staff members noted the excessive time spent on editing and proofreading. For example, some of you indicated that the final stage of writing takes from 15 to 30 percent of the billable time on an average report. Most importantly, editing often ends up being done by project managers who are the employees with the highest billable time.

Despite all efforts to edit effectively, there are still errors that show up in documents that go out the door. Last month, I asked a committee called the Society of Technical Writers to review our latest documents here at R & R Engineering Ltd. Their evaluation report reveals serious problems with our editing process. Given the importance of our documentation, I decided to seek a solution.


To deal with our editing problem, the office has hired Jack West, an experienced technical editor. Jack will join our team on January 3. For the past seven years, Jack has been employed at Jones & Company, a Toronto firm that is actively involved in biochemical engineering. Prior to his employment, he completed a master's degree in technical writing at Sage University in Buffalo.

During next week's staff meeting we will discuss the best ways to utilize Jack's skills. For now, he will be get familiar with our work by reading our recent reports and proposals.


By working together with Jack we'll be able to improve the editorial quality of our documents, free up more of your time for technical tasks and save the client and ourselves some money.

I look forward to meeting with you next week to discuss the best use of Jack's services.

2. Title Page

The basic aspects of an acceptable title page may be seen in the following example. Please note a title page is not given a page number.

Title page example:

Hydrolysis of Acetic Anhydride:

Limitations of Temperature Scanning in Reaction Kinetics Analysis

(Concise title)

Presented to: Angie Misseri, Project Supervisor

(Person to whom the report is submitted)

Laboratory Projects II

Department of Chemical Engineering

Queen's University

(Affiliation of author(s))

October 16, 2014

(Date of Submission)

I/we do hereby verify that this written report is my/our own individual work and contains my/our own original ideas, concepts and designs. No portion of this report has been copied in whole or in part from another source, with the possible exception of properly referenced material. Furthermore, I/we have not and will not lend any part of this report (electronic or hardcopy) to any other student, either now or in the future.

Author line (printed name and student number)___student signature___date

(Each member must print, sign and date underneath the plagiarism statement. Use one line per author)

3. Abstract

An abstract is situated immediately after the title page and before the Table of Contents. To accurately reflect the content of a report, the abstract must be written after the entire report is completed. An abstract is normally ½ to 1 page long. According to Macartney (1998) a scientific style abstract consists of:

  • A specific and tactful title (the same title as the report)
  • List of authors
  • A clear and concise purpose statement
  • Well defined procedure
  • Summary of important results and discussion
  • Principle recommendations

Examples of published abstracts include (available electronically through Queen's University Library):

  • Hovanec, B.M. J. Anal. At. Spectrum., 2004, 19 (9), 1141-1144.
  • Murner, H.; Jackson, B.A.; Barton, J.K. Inorg. Chem., 1998, 37 (12), 3007-3012.

4. Table of Contents, List of Figures and List of Tables

The Table of Contents and lists of figures and tables appear sequentially on separate pages after the abstract. The abstract and associated tables are listed numerically with roman numerals. The abstract is numbered as page (i), Table of Contents (ii) and so on.

The Table of Contents lists everything from the Introduction to the individual appendices with page numbers aligned on the right hand side. Lists of tables and figures include table or figure numbers, description with page numbers aligned on the right hand side of the document. They should be listed in the order they appear in the report.

Examples of Table of Contents and List of Figures:

Table of Contents


ABSTRACT ....................................................................................


LIST OF FIGURES ...........................................................................


LIST OF TABLES .............................................................................


1.1 Project Objectives


1.2 Principles of Inductively Coupled Plasma Mass Spectrometry .


1.3 Successful hyphenated techniques .....................................


1.4 Environmental Applications ................................................


2. EXPERIMENTAL ..........................................................................


List of Figures



Typical Meinhard Nebulizer ......................................................



Scott Double Pass Spray Chamber ...........................................



Quadrupole Mass Spectrometer ...............................................


5. Introduction

Keys to writing an introduction include:
  • Clear and specific objective/purpose based on sound theoretical principles
  • Complete review of the fundamental theory related to the research objective
  • Well referenced theoretical concepts
  • To describe fundamental theories, good use of structures, diagrams and/or equations are recommended
  • Structures, diagrams and equations must be numbered and referenced in the body of the text at least once.
  • A discussion of the previous work completed in the area
  • Limitations of the current work

6. Experimental

A well written experimental procedure will include the following components:

  • Details of chemical preparation, materials and equipment operating parameters used to perform the experiment
  • Names of equipment, which include the make and model number.
  • The type and quantity of materials. For example: 50 mL polypropylene beaker or 20 cm of 0.50 i.d. Tygon tubing.
  • Labeled schematic diagrams
  • Safety considerations
  • Detailed procedure! The procedure should be detailed enough that someone else can repeat the experiment with the procedure provided.

7. Results and Discussion

A results and discussion section will include the following key points:

  • Presentation of data in a meaningful order and form. The form of the data may include plots, tables, figures or appendices.
  • All raw data are placed into appendices
  • Use units consistently!
  • Sub-headings are useful to maintain organization. i.e. Effect of pH on Slurry Stability. It is important to guide the reader in a logical fashion.
  • Use statistical analysis to compare experimental results i.e. F-tests, T-tests etc.
  • Interpretation of results include a discussion of major experimental trends, assumptions, errors, inconsistencies, and comparison to the literature with references

8. Conclusions/Recommendations

Keys to writing a conclusion/recommendation section are:

  • Be concise and convincing
  • Briefly summarize major conclusions developed in the discussion section
  • Present the conclusions in order of importance
  • DO NOT provide new information
  • Other parameters or improvements worth investigating in future work
  • Convincing recommendations

9. References

Proper referencing of all materials is the obligation of all engineers and scientists. All ideas NOT original to the author(s) of a laboratory report MUST be referenced. Referenced material may include lectures, conferences, textbooks, journal articles, ideas from coworkers etc.

Any idea that is NOT original to the report author and is not cited with a reference is considered plagiarism. Plagiarism is a serious academic offense. Please refer to the Faculty of Applied Science web site at: for details on academic dishonesty.

There are many correct methods of citing references and writing a reference list. APA, IEEE and MLA are commonly used systems. APA is the preferred method for CHEE Technical Laboratory Reports. You can refer to Jordan (2000), pages 292-294 or Pfeiffer and Boogerd (2003) page 477 for further background on citation systems.

Here are some examples of how references might be cited within a body of text (the last example is not an example of APA format):

Example 1: According to Atkins et al., (1995), the kinetic energy of a body is defined as the energy it possesses as a result of its motion.

Example 2: Atkins et al., (1995) concluded that the kinetic energy of a body...

Example 3: Atkins and coworkers (1995) stated that the kinetic energy...

Example 4: The kinetic energy of a body is the energy it.... (Atkins et al., 1995)

Example 5: The kinetic energy of a body is the energy it possesses as a result of motion [1].

(The number [1] refers to an author(s) listed in the reference section of the report. Authors in this case are numbered in the order they are referenced to in the text.)

10. Appendices

Appendices contain a wealth of very detailed information that is not essential to the understanding of the formal report. Items in an appendix may include primary data, intermediate results or sample calculations. Appendices are numbered and listed in the order that they appear in the text. In general, Appendix A or Appendix 1 should be the first appendix referred to in the body of the report.

11. Figures and Plots

  • Be clear, concise, legible and uncluttered
  • Choose an appropriate presentation method to maximize your argument (See the example provided)
  • Place each figure in the order they are discussed in the body text
  • Reference all figures in the body of the text at least once.
  • Label and number each caption chronologically
  • Place descriptive titles underneath captions
  • Properly reference figures that are not original to the report writer
  • Provide units, appropriate significant figures and definition of variables
  • Clearly label schematics
  • Plots should include one legend placed underneath the figure
  • Do not use a legend for a single plotted line
  • Do not include shading or horizontal lines
  • Do not use the title option provided by Excel when plotting graphs. Use your own title caption placed below the figure.

An appropriate plot would include:


Figure 1: Calibration plot of Pb in seawater using an ICP-MS for metal speciation.

Plots which represent a line of best fit are drawn as a straight line with the written equation (y = mx + b) for that plot placed directly on the plot.

If the above figure was not original to the student, then the authors and date of publication would appear in brackets following the figure description as shown below:


Figure 1: Calibration plot of Pb in seawater using an ICP-MS for metal speciation (Smith, J.K. and Smith A.G., 2004).

Note that each plot above contains:

  • Clear and visible format
  • Appropriate scale
  • Labels on the x and y axes with appropriate units
  • A dependant variable on the y-axis

Question: Based on the information provided so far in this section, can you identify what is wrong with the following figure?



  • Range of the x-axis scale is too large. A scale of 0 to 60 is ideal
  • Range of the y-axis is too large. A scale of 0 to 3000 would be better
  • Both major and minor ticks on an x and y-axes are useful for the reader
  • A legend is not required for a single line
  • Gridlines are not acceptable
  • Do not use the title option provided by Excel. The title should be placed below the figure caption.
  • Background of the plot is grey. A white background is preferred.
  • Title of the plot is too vague. The reader does not know what was measured and how.
  • Figure caption is not numbered
  • Figure caption is incorrectly placed above the plot. The figure title should be centred below the plot

12. Tables

Table do's:

  • Place descriptive titles (left-justified) above a table
  • Number tables in chronological order as they appear in the text
  • Include units on the category header only
  • Use appropriate degree of precision (significant number of digits)
  • Center numbers with respect to the decimal place

An example of a proper table would be:

Table 1: Concentration dependence on slurry particle size.

Experimental Concentration of Lead (ppm) Slurry Particle Size (mm)
20 20
470 10
830 5
1060 < 2

Certified value for Pb is 1060 ppm

13. Important Miscellaneous Requirements

  • Number all pages on the bottom right hand corner
  • Font size 12, font type Times New Roman or Arial
  • Double space the entire body of the text
  • Paragraphs should be left-justified without any indent
  • Do not draw boxes around figure captions
  • Avoid colors unless they truly contribute to a figure
  • Avoid jargon or slang in technical writing
  • Proof read all materials for spelling and grammar