Prepare a Report

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How to Write a Project Report

1.   Why is the report important?
If you wish to secure a good mark for your project, it is absolutely essential that you write a good report. It is the report which is marked, not the program or anything else you might have constructed during the project period. No matter how significant your achievements, if you do not write up your work, and write it up well, you will obtain a poor mark. It is essential to understand that the report will be read and marked by a number of examiners (normally 2 - 4), only one of whom - your supervisor - will have any familiarity with the work which the report describes. Examiners are not mind-readers, and cannot give credit for work which you have done but not included in the report. 2.   What are the examiners looking for?

Each project report is marked initially by two examiners, one of whom is the supervisor. Each examiner fills in an online mark form, giving marks for various aspects of the report and an overall mark. Studying the mark sheet will give you a good idea of what aspects of the report are important. The notes to examiners which accompany the mark sheet use the terms ``perfect'', ``quite good'', ``abysmal'' and so on to describe the attributes of a particular numerical mark (e.g. 5 is ``satisfactory''). There is a separate document which goes into great detail about what precisely ``satisfactory'' means in particular contexts, but I'm not sure that these definitions are widely used: most examiners believe that they have an accurate and objective understanding of what is ``satisfactory''. Note that supervisors might specify on the mark sheet that a particular aspect of the project is to be assessed - for example, a review of the project area - even if that area is not covered in the project report. Decisions on what is to be assessed are the supervisor's responsibility, but you should be aware of the standard headings, think carefully about what you present (or do not present) under each, and discuss and agree it with your supervisor. Remember that your report is an academic dissertation, not a popular article or commercial proposal. For example, rather than describing only a series of events and a final product, try to establish criteria, present arguments, derive principles, pose and answer questions, measure success, analyse alternatives and so on. Where a project has been undertaken with industrial support, the significance of that support for the project, and the relevance of the project to the supporting industry, should be discussed. 3.   The mechanics of writing

The problem you have to solve is this: to transfer your own experiences of doing the project, and the knowledge you have gained, from your brain onto paper in a coherent, logical and correct form. There are several ways of achieving this. Different authors have different techniques. My own method, which I think is quite common among technical authors, is to write as quickly as I can, without regard for coherency, structure or order, until I have written down (or rather, typed in) all the points I can think of. If my brain is running faster than my fingers and a thought pops into my head which belongs in another part of the document, I skip to the end of the page and insert a few words there to remind me to expand that point later, then resume where I was. The aim is to transfer as much relevant material from brain to paper as quickly as possible. This method has been called the ``brain dump''. It is practised, I think, by some writers of fiction as well as by technical authors. After three hours of ``brain dumping'' I might have four or five pages of disorganized text. I then spend perhaps six hours putting the text into order and tightening up the prose, after which I might have three pages of good-quality prose. This method of writing is an iterative process, with periods of ``brain dumping'' alternating with periods of tidying-up. At the rate of three pages of polished...
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