Enough of the kinetic modeling talk for awhile...this post begins a series on report writing. I know, many readers will just yawn. My hope is that some students and recent graduates will benefit from my comments. I don't know what instruction engineering students receive at the university these days, but in my day it was sometimes in conflict with the way reports were to be written in industry.
The first and most important factor in report writing is to know the purposes for the report. Yes, I said purposes, plural. Ideally, a report would focus on one purpose, but most often industrial reports are written to accomplish more than one objective. Usually, the writer needs to move on with other work, so one report must serve all needs. This presents a major challenge to the writer.
In the following, I am assuming that the report is for company use as opposed to general publication. Also, this discussion focuses on reports of special projects or investigations. Reports of routine nature, such as a monthly production report, are not addressed.
The main purposes for reports are given below.
Recommending action and obtaining approval
Special studies (e.g. research, design, troubleshooting) are undertaken to determine the best course of action (e.g. investment, change in procedure). The report recommends the action to be taken based on the findings of the study. The main audience for this purpose is one or more layers of management, depending upon the level of authorization needed.
You may be thinking: "I have already made presentations to management and obtained the approvals so why bother with a report?" Please read on.
Sharing of results with a team
An engineer's project may be only a portion of a larger project. In addition to the main result from the project, there often are other findings that are important to the rest of the project team.
Industrial projects can involve the safety of many people and billions (yes, billions) of dollars. Thus, mistakes in design can be catastrophic. Peer review is thus very valuable for both the company and the engineer who did the work.
You might be amazed how many times work needs to be repeated, usually with some modification. Without good documentation of the earlier work, the later workers are "reinventing the wheel". Even if you are asked to revive your own work, you will need good documentation of the original work.
The report also documents the basis for the recommended actions. The oral presentation that may have resulted in management approval of the recommendations is not adequate documentation of the methods used and results.
Sometimes the documentation may be needed for audits by government agencies or by partners in joint ventures. If those purposes are anticipated, it would be wise to obtain the specifics regarding content and format needed before writing the report. If the requirements are too confining, a separate report may be needed.
On occasion, new technology or methods might be used in the project. For example, a new type of laboratory reactor may have been used to obtain the kinetics of a catalyst. Or, a new computer program may have been used. Although the use of these new methods were not the main purpose of the project, your colleagues may be interested in learning about the new technology and how it is implemented in practice. A good report can serve to introduce the technology to your organization.
I think I have covered the main purposes and audiences for industrial, in-house reports. As you can see, the audiences can be quite diverse. Future posts will present ways of dealing with this diverse set of purposes and audiences.