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The appearance and setting out of assignments or presentations, is a component of the Unit Assessment Guidelines. So also you will find criteria relating to mastery of language and expression. Communication competencies are a degree requirement too. The purpose of this document is just to provide some hints on how to better present work, using report format. It is not the same as clinical report format. This paper is about documents as an alternative to essays. This is how most Australian Commonwealth and State government departments present their documents.
This paper should be considered ‘work in progress’ and it will be continually updated. As I find frequently occurring errors in student’s work I will use them (anonymously of course) to show how problems can be corrected.
2. REPORT FORMAT
Firstly see the Style Manual for Authors, Editors and Printers. This held at the University libraries in open reserve. It is not an expensive book to buy.
(2002) Style Manual for Authors, Editors and Printers. Stafford, Queensland: John Wiley and Sons, Australia. ISBN 2002 070163648 3
2.1 Section Headings
ALL PAGES MUST BE NUMBERED IN WORK SUBMITTED EXCEPT THE ASSIGNMENT COVER PAGE. YOU MUST ALSO INSERT YOUR NAME, STUDENT NUMBER, UNIT NUMBER AND NAME INTO THE FOOTER OF ALL WORK SUBMITTED TO vUWS.
Use an assignment cover page – this is a UWS requirement for all written work and do not forget to put one on handouts or short papers. You MUST tick the declarations. Although not a Turnitin requirement many unit co-ordinators require this because of details of contact information- especially useful for external and blended learning units.
- Executive Summary
This summarises the content of your paper. An executive summary covers ALL the content ie topic, definitions, rationale, issues covered but also includes a summary of findings, all the main points, recommendations and implications of these recommendations eg costings, major changes in service delivery, etc. The executive summary (ES) should reflect the content requirements of the assignment you are submitting in summary form. Note it is not the same as an abstract, which and usually only hints at findings. The ES states what you found not what you intend to cover in the assignment.
An ES must stand alone. It is a separate page for this reason. It is intended as an alternative source of information to the whole paper. Often it is printed as a separate document. Executives or management may read this one (or two pages if a large document) only to make a resource allocation decision. They may wish to check some details and not read the whole paper. Note that an ES comes before the contents page. It is given number i.
An ES is not used for a very short paper or a handout eg two pages!
An ES may include references but they are acknowledged in the ES ie it has its own list of references or footnoted references. Any reference used in the ES if re-used in text must also be included in the references section of the full report.
- Contents Page
Number and list all section headings and use these in the text- and obviously the numbers will match. Include page numbers where the sections can be found. You are more likely to type a report and then set out the contents page (CP) afterwards. In fact, word will do this automatically for you. It’s a good idea to set out three (hidden) columns for the section number, heading and then page number. For example:
Always see how the contents page looks – more white space may be needed or less? References are a numbered section on the contents page. It is not called a reference list.
For a very short paper eg two pages a contents page is not used- nor an ES as explained.
This is crucial in report writing for two reasons to acknowledge the origin of the materials used and for the reader to be able to identify the exact page in the source document that you are referencing. It is NOT enough to just drop in a reference or several at the end of a paragraph or sentence– you must acknowledge as you use the source. Academic writing requires insertion of the reference at the EARLIEST OPPORTUNITY. This can be as follows:
Smith 2013: 666. or Smith 2013, p. 666.
Check marking criteria- most assignments only want recent references ie within the last five years unless the document is considered very important or seminal. Also a minimum of ten references ie valid , recent and appropriate references is often in the marking criteria. Turnitin can verify dates of publications.
Common referencing mistakes:
- Note the use of p. not pp. or pgs. Alternatively try 2013: 666. Note the space! If you see // marked on a returned paper it is an editor’s note that means space was omitted.
- Always place: publisher. Note space after use of : Do not write publisher then place- this is the wrong order.
- Only italics for text titles or the name and volume of a journal not the title of the article. Use italics for items used from web sources too.
- After the author’s surname use a comma, after initials use a full stop eg Smith, G. E. – and watch the spacing. With several authors end with “and” and there is no comma before and eg Smith, G. E., Jones, F. L. and Boggs, W.
- Do not use “&” signs in report format any where.
- No underlining should be seen in references except for web sites.
- DO NOT EVER just drop an author/report title and date in at the end of a paragraph- this does not indicate who wrote what or where all the sentences in the paragraph came from. Did you quote the whole paragraph?
- Integrate references into text eg According to Smith (2007) or Jones observed/found/reported/noted etc; or in the NSW Health Annual Report (2006).
- Personal communications are put into the text only and NOT in the reference at the end. Name the person, their position title, date of communication and write Personal Communication.
If only a few words are used they may just flow in the text eg Smith (1999: 16) concluded that “… xxx”. Longer quotes need to be set out properly ie indented, single spaced with author year and page reference. Always page reference quotations. An example follows overleaf.
Smith 1999: 666 concluded that:
Try and get into the habit of putting the page number immediately after the year so you do not forget to include it!
A maximum of 5% in any assignment may be quoted ie 75 words in a 1500 word assignment. You are advised to use your own words because even paraphrasing can be detected with Turnitin software text matching.
2.6 Tables, Graphs and Charts.
All tables, graphs and charts must be numbered and titled using leading capitals. They must be talked about in the text not just left on a page to speak for themselves. Try to draw out the main point(s) you wish to make. It is also a good idea to use a text box to contain the information. The source of information contained in them must be acknowledged with a page number if not original.
Table 1. Why Students Attend Report Writing Skills Workshops
Source: Smith 2002: 6. (Note that ALL sources must be page referenced, or at least table, chart number acknowledged.) Do not source to a web page rather to the document used from that web page.
2.7 Use of Op. cit and Ibid
Increasingly government reports do not use an end list at all for references but only footnotes. You do not use both. This is an option in Microsoft word. The advantage is that once you use insert reference, a number pops up in the footnote and it helps you remember to insert the reference. It also means you can use the following abbreviations:
Ibid which means you are acknowledging the reference already cited immediately above – it is exactly the same reference ie same author, year and page so just write Ibid. When citing content from a different page but same author use Ibid: p. XX. That is note the different page. Do not use a string of Ibids- it means that you have not used appropriate wording in the text to indicate continuing use of the same reference. Try also, furthermore, in addition etc. in the text to make it clear you are using the same source.
Op. cit which means you are acknowledging ONE of the references above, which means that author and year or report title and year must be included in the footnote. Be careful to acknowledge the page number.
2.8 Spelling and Grammar.
- Use grammar and spell check. Again get fussy and be consistent!
- Set language to Australian English- do not use UK or American spelling eg “z” in organisation.
- Report format uses past tense not active case eg it was found that ….
- Avoid use of the first person eg I, we, us. Try saying “It will be shown that…”
- Slang– do not use don’t, won’t, etc. Formal language only should be used in reports.
- Never start a sentence with “but”, “and” “because” or numerals. Write the number in full.
- Muddling singular and plural in the one sentence. My advice is to just use plural all the time. This also helps you think about populations not individual clients.
- “And” is always written in full in text- never &.
2.9 Formatting Problems.
Headings: If you use full stops in headings stick to them. Be consistent with indentation. Make sure headings are numbered. If they are minor headings use of bold may be enough.Otherwise all headings are numbered and this number matches the number provided on the CP.
Underlining: do not use this in report format. It is a cue to the printer to use bold.
Bullets: They must be led in with a clause or sentence. Make sure all points logically flow from the lead in clause. For an example see your unit outlines objectives:
- Develop an understanding of …..
- Explore ideological approaches to….
- Critically examine …..
Note that if the point starts with a leading capital it ends with a full stop. If you use small case then finish with a ; not a full stop.
- Do not change case or tense through a list of bullet points.
- Do not use one-sentence paragraphs as this is journalese.
- Use an extra white space between paragraphs.
- Do not number every paragraph in the text.
- Do not put a heading at the bottom of the page and text on the next! Or use : at the bottom of a page. Always check print preview before the paper is printed off to check that it looks good.
Any number ten or less should be written in full in text, eg ten.
Acronyms – once used stick to them eg WHO, etc. As long as it is not in a heading abbreviations should be used at the first opportunity. Select edit function and then use find and replace to locate first use. If an abbreviation is used in the executive summary make sure it is repeated in the main paper because the summary must stand alone.
White space – the look of a paper can often be improved with better use of blank or “white” space. Do not cram things in – try and space it out so it looks good. Too much white space can slow the reader down and unnecessarily use more in paper. In a text book a new chapter always starts with a new page. However, if your sections are short there is no need to start a new page. For the executive summary, contents, acknowledgements, references and appendices always start a new page.
Page numbers – do not forget to number the pages.
Use of leading capitals in text. If you talk about an organisation or a department then use all small case. If you refer to the Department use a leading capital for Department eg NSW Health..
Use of commas: There is no comma before “and” or after “including”. There is always a comma after however when it used at the start of a sentence. There should be a comma before “which”.
The difference in use between : and ; must be observed. The latter is for a string of clauses in text. The “:” is to make something stand out. Most mistakes seem to be made from not holding the shift key down.
Plural has no apostrophe. Plural ie more than one, which usually only requires an “s” at the end eg doctors or some variation eg communities. Do not use an apostrophe eg its GPs not GP’s.
Possessive case – This is an unusual error but becoming more common and students put the apostrophe all over the place. Possessive case refers to something or someone belonging to another eg “the child’s mother” ie it could be reworded to “the child of the mother”. Another example: “this country’s health care system” which could be reworded to “the health care system of this country”. If in doubt reword! The best bet is to avoid using the possessive case altogether. It is not generally used in report format.
3.1 Addressing nerves: do your homework and thoroughly too. You must be able to field questions and talk confidently about the topic. If you are nervous slow breathing down, breathe more deeply. Move away from the projector so the audience looks at the overheads not at you.
- Use recent references– nothing over five years old unless you justify it during the talk.
- Acknowledge sources just as you would in a written paper- it is still plagiarism not to do so. Put author, year and page numbers on all overheads with quotes, charts etc.
- Give an introduction: introduce yourself and then say the topic and where you are taking the discussion. Eg background information will firstly be covered with key data and findings as well as the rationale for studying this topic. I will then look at…., evaluate the proposal and offer recommendations for future action at the conclusion.
- Put less on the overhead than you will say- ie talk to the key points- do not put everything on the overhead. Write notes on your set of overheads then you do not have to read from notes.
- Do not just put what is on your handout on overheads.
- Make it interesting: find some data – graphs, pie charts etc and some pictures or cartoons.
- Make sure that you critically analyse the information presented– do not just describe the topic but comment on it eg limitations, advantages, gaps in knowledge, conflicting findings etc. This can be the difference between a passing and credit grade.
- CHECK THE MARKING CRITERIA TO MAKE SURE YOU HAVE ANSWERED THE QUESTION AND COVERED WHAT IS REQUIRED.
3.3 Presentations skills
- Reading from notes is so boring. You need to maintain eye contact and engage with the audience. Make sure you are very familiar with the topic so you can just talk to points on the overheads. Many students make the mistake of putting too much content onto power points which is why they have to read from them. If you are nervous read out the introduction or definitions from a notes or cards and have the same information on an overhead and then you will probably relax. Do not forget you will probably know more about the topic than any other student (or even the lecturer) so relax- you are the expert here- if you are well prepared.
- ALWAYS take a set of overheads in case something goes wrong with power point.
- Time yourself.
- Audience participation– depending on how long you have got this is a good idea eg ask questions, do a quiz. Write answers on the white board.
3.4 Overheads and Power Point:
- Use font 18-22 for all overheads and do not make the excuse that the print was too small in the web site or text page- use the enlargement facility on a copy machine!
- Do not read your overhead while it’s on the projector- it’s bad for your eyes and likely to give you a headache. Always print off a copy for yourself of all your overheads.
- Do not read from the projection because you are turning your back to the audience and talking to the wall.
A good idea to use so students retain the information presented and the lecturer has a reminder of what was covered. Check the marking criteria- they will have a page limit eg two pages. You do use report format ie numbered headings but no ES or CP because it’s a short doc. Also use formal language and references are marked. References on the power points or overheads may also be marked.
 Like this- but be careful- the font may be rather small like this. You can increase font size to 12 which is easier to read.
 Op. cit: Smith and Jones (2006), p. 242 or Op. cit: Smith and Jones (2006: 242). The latter is easier to type!