NDT personnel write technical reports for two primary purposes. Technical reports are used to communicate information to customers, colleagues and managers, and they are used to document the equipment and procedures used in testing or research and the results obtained so that the work can be repeated if necessary or built upon. The content and style of technical reports vary widely depending on the primary purpose and the audience. Many companies and organizations have developed their own standard format. The sections generally included in technical reports are shown to the right.
Qualities of Good Technical Reports
Regardless of the specific format used, all quality technical reports will posses the following qualities:
Great care should be taken to ensure that the information is presented accurately. Make sure values are transferred correctly into the report and calculations are done properly. Since many people proof read right over their own typographical errors, it is often best to have another person proofread the report. Mistakes may cause the reader to doubt other points of the report and reflect on the professionalism of the author.
Data must be evaluated honestly and without bias. Conclusions should be drawn solely from the facts presented. Opinions and conjecture should be clearly identified if included at all. Deficiencies in the testing or the results should be noted. Readers should be informed of all assumptions and probable sources of errors if encountered.
The author should work to convey an exact meaning to the reader. The text must be clear and unambiguous, mathematical symbols must be fully defined, and the figures and tables must be easily understood. Clarity must be met from the readers' point of view. Don’t assume that readers are familiar with previous work or previous reports. When photographs are included in a report, a scale or some object of standard size should be included in the photograph to help your readers judge the size of the objects shown. Simply stating the magnification of a photograph can cause uncertainty since the size of photographs often change in reproduction.
Most people are fairly busy and will not want to spend any more time than necessary reading a report. Therefore, technical reports should be concisely written. Include all the details needed to fully document and explain the work but keep it as brief as possible. Conciseness is especially important in the abstract and conclusion sections.
Reports should be organized in a logical manner so that it is easy for the reader to follow. It is often helpful to start with an outline of the paper, making good use of headings. The same three step approach for developing an effective presentation can be used to develop an effective report:
1) Introduce the subject matter (tell readers what they will be reading about)
2) Provide the detailed information (tell them what you want them to know)
3) Summarize the results and conclusions (re-tell them the main points)
Make sure that information is included in the appropriate section of the report. For example, don’t add new information about the procedure followed in the discussion section. Information about the procedure belongs in the procedure section. The discussion section should focus on explaining the results, highlighting significant findings, discussing problems with the data and noting possible sources of error, etc. Be sure not to introduce any new information in the conclusion sections. The conclusion section should simple state the conclusion drawn from the work.
A relatively formal writing style should be used when composing technical reports. The personal style of the writer should be secondary to the clear and objective communication of information. Writers should, however, strive to make their reports interesting and enjoyable to read.