Mechanical Elements of Reports
This resource is an updated version of Muriel Harris’s handbook Report Formats: a Self-instruction Module on Writing Skills for Engineers, written in 1981. The primary resources for the editing process were Paul Anderson’s Technical Communication: A Reader-Centered Approach (6th ed.) and the existing OWL PowerPoint presentation, HATS: A Design Procedure for Routine Business Documents.
Contributors:Elizabeth Cember, Alisha Heavilon, Mike Seip, Lei Shi, and Allen Brizee
Last Edited: 2013-03-11 11:43:19
The mechanical elements of your report are largely included to make sure your information was useful and accessible as possible for your readers. It is especially important to incorporate the HATS methodology (headings, access, typography, spacing) when designing your mechanical elements, as that will make your documents easier to read, and it will give your documents a professional appearance.
Title or Cover page
The title or cover page includes the title, the name of the person authorizing the report, the name of the author(s), the name and address of the institution or company issuing the report, and the date.
Letter of transmittal
The letter of transmittal explains why the report was prepared and its purpose, mentions the title and the period of work, and states the results and recommendations. The letter of transmittal may be separate from the report, but it is usually bound into the report immediately before the table of contents.
Evaluating a letter of transmittal
- Does it achieve the purpose of a letter of transmittal?
- Does it offer enough specific information?
- Is it well written?
The acknowledgments section includes material which is irrelevant to the actual report but is required for the record or for acknowledgment purposes. The acknowledgments may include, for example, the names of people who made technical contributions, notices of permission to use copyrighted materials, and so on.
Table of contents
The table of contents contains a guide to the contents of the whole report. It lists the preliminary pages such as the letter of transmittal and the acknowledgements, and it includes all headings and subheadings used in the report, exactly as they appear in the report.
The table of contents also includes the page numbers for all parts. Use lower case roman numerals (i, ii, iii, etc.) for all preliminary pages and arabic numerals (1, 2, 3, etc.) for all pages in the body of the report, starting with page 1 for the introduction of the body.
Lists of tables and figures
In some situations, especially if the report contains only a few figures and tables, all of the figures and tables, with their complete titles, are listed in the table of contents. In that format, tables and figures are listed separately even though they are mixed together in the report.
In most situations, tables and figures are listed on separate pages, with the figures and their complete titles listed on one page and the tables and their complete titles listed on a separate page. If you follow this format, list the headings for each page in the table of contents.
Graphics are all the tables and figures used in a report as visual aids for the reader. They are useful, important parts of a report and must be accurate. They should also be clear so the reader can interpret them easily. Tables are all lists of data presented in rows and columns. Place the numbers and titles above the tables. Figures are any other visual presentations. Place the numbers and titles below the figures.
When tables or figures are discussed in the text, cite their numbers and the pages on which they appear. Either number them consecutively through the report or number them according to the section in which they appear (2.1, 2.2, 2.3, etc.). Put all units in the tables, and don’t make the tables too long. If necessary, break them up into several short tabulations. This will help your tables be more visually appealing and will encourage your readers to look at them.
Types of illustrations:
- Line graphs—for representing continuous processes
- Bar graphs—for representing absolutes
- Pie graphs—for showing percentages
- Flow charts—for illustrating stages in a process
- Schematics—the same as flow charts, but usually used for illustrating more abstract concepts
References are used to cite your sources and give credit to the written work of others that you have read and used. When you refer to these published works in the text of your report, you can choose one of several formats. See the following handouts on the Purdue OWL for more information on references.
Attachments or appendices
An appendix is like a storage warehouse, the place to put material that needs to be included in the report, but is not essential. Putting material (such as raw data, processed data, analytical procedures, details of equipment, etc.) at the end keeps the report from being buried in a mass of detail, but keeps all that detail available if needed by any of your various readers. Each appendix is numbered or lettered consecutively and given a title.
The following two sample research papers are typical of the papers that might be submitted in different kinds of courses.
Reading these papers will help you learn about organizing an argument and working with sources. The papers also demonstrate the use of MLA style to document sources and the formatting of the margins, line spacing, and other physical attributes of a printed paper. The MLA’s guidelines on formatting papers appear elsewhere on this site.
The sample papers were written by MLA staff members who are experienced college teachers. You may find that the writing and documentation seem polished. Because the sample papers serve as models, we aimed to make them free of errors in grammar and documentation. Nevertheless, we hope that the papers usefully represent good student work.
This paper, on Jacob Lawrence’s Migration series, shows you how to incorporate figures into your text, style a block quotation, and cite a variety of sources. Read about block quotations in the MLA Handbook (1.3.2–3, 1.3.7).
This paper, on Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park and the courtship novel, features examples of how to use notes in MLA style, cite a dictionary definition, and more.