Technical reports are organized around a central idea, one that addresses a specific problem or context. The flow of information, likewise, should follow a pattern of movement from general to specific. For example, the prefatory matter (i.e., objectives and summary) contains general information; the body of the report is the discussion or more specific information (i.e., theory, sample calculations, and recommendations); and the end matter of the report (i.e., the appendices and the documentation) is the most specific information. This flow of information should be evident from well-unified, coherent paragraphs as well as from the section headings, which highlight the most important information in a section and work to connect the parts to the whole.

Unity, Coherence, and Cohesion

A document, your report, is unified when all of the information presented clearly relates to the topic. The reader does not question why or how the information presented addresses the paper's topic. Unity may be strengthened by coherence, usually demonstrated by strong paragraphs with clear topic sentences and supporting details connected by cohesive devices. Cohesion results from using transition words (for example, '"therefore," "however," "so that," etc., words that help the reader follow the writer's train of thought), repeating key words (in this case, "unity," coherence," "cohesion"), maintaining a consistent style (for example, using the same tense, point of view, etc.), and using parallel structure (for example, this sentence: "using transition words. . . repeating key words. . . maintaining a consistent style . . . using parallel structure").

"Paragraph unity requires that all sentences in the paragraph support a single controlling idea; coherence requires that it be clear, logical, and readily obvious to the reader how each sentence supports that idea" (Dr. Charles Glover, Professor of Chemical Engineering).

For more about paragraph unity, coherence, and cohesion, see the University Writing Center's article on Paragraph Construction.

Headings and Sub-Headings

Headings and sub-headings help to unify a document while helping your readers quickly find the information they need. Headings and sub-headings are also markers to show how you arrange the material. Thus, your headings and sub-headings should clearly denote the content of the sections they are announcing.

Additionally, each section of the report has a general-to-specific pattern of organization within its own context, and the heading and subsequent sub-headings illustrate this pattern of organization for your readers.

Example

1st-level heading Sample Calculations
2nd-level or subheadings Calculation of Reynolds number

 

(1st-level heading) Sample Calculations

(2nd-level or sub-headings) Calculation of Reynolds number - Trial I Data

Calculation of Prandtl number - Trial I Data

Well-Organized Paragraphs and Sentences

A good guideline to remember when composing paragraphs or even a single sentence is that a general-to-specific pattern of organization usually works well both in the whole report and in the individual report sections.

For example, begin a paragraph with a topic sentence; then support that topic sentence with your main points of development. Conclude the paragraph, and, if necessary, create a transition into the next paragraph or section of the report. When writing sentences, try to begin with a subject and a concrete verb. Writing this way helps your reader see your ideas clearly without having to hunt for your meaning.