NOTES ON REPORT WRITING
The purpose of the reports is to get you to read widely and critically on each topic, to analyse your data and observations in the light of this reading, and to present your report in a concise, well-structured and neat manner.
1. Read as widely as you can on the topic – the textbooks are not specific enough, and the reference list is only a start! Conduct a proper literature search using all the library resources available – ask for help at the Information Desk if you don’t know how to go about it: it’s time you did! At this level you should be reading scientific papers, not relying on secondary sources (such as textbooks, dictionaries or encyclopaedia). We have provided many scientific papers for you in the ‘readings’ list, but you should also become competent in locating these independently, on-line or on the shelf.
2. Read critically! Don’t just accept what each author says – think about what they are saying and whether or not their conclusions are justified on the basis of the evidence presented in the article. Because this field is often interpretive, similar observations or measurements often are interpreted differently by different researchers – it’s up to you to decide whether the arguments are valid or not. The significance of the work you are reporting is defined by its relationship to previous work. No piece of work should be viewed in isolation. Use literature that is relevant; do not include everything that you have read irrespective of its usefulness in elucidating the subject i.e. be discerning in your choice of what to include and what to leave out. Make sure you begin reading before the fieldtrips. You will need plenty of time to absorb and understand what you have read and the fieldtrips are valuable for giving the ideas substance. You will need to read and re-read the important papers to really understand them.
3. The environmental context of the study must be established – always assume that your reader knows nothing about the location or the subject matter so tell them about those aspects which are RELEVANT
4. Allow time for revision and, if possible, get someone to read and critically appraise the report for you.
5. Use the simple Harvard or author/date referencing technique common to most scientific journals (e.g. Earth Surface Processes and Landforms). The main purpose of references is so that someone else can find the papers you have read. You need to give them the appropriate information:
Use a citation such as (Smith and Jones, 1989) (i.e. Author, date) in the text which refers the reader to an alphabetically listed reference in the bibliography.
Do not use footnotes, numbered references, ibid, op cit or any other method of citation or referencing.
You should use a citation in every case where you have borrowed a quote, fact, idea or figure from elsewhere. That may mean more than one citation per sentence. Don’t save them up for the end of the paragraph.
It is your job to remove any ambiguity about the origin of any statement and you will need to modify your sentences to make your job easier and avoid multiple identical citations.
Citations vary according to the number of authors, i.e. (Smith,1989) for a single author, (Smith and Jones, 1989) for two authors and (Smith et al., 1989) for three or more authors (et al. is an abbreviation of the latin ‘et alia‘, ‘and others’, so is written in italics and with a full stop after al.). [The citations may also be written Smith (1989), Smith and Jones (1989) Smith et al. (1989) depending on the sentence structure.]
List all references actually used in the essay (not necessarily everything you have read!) in ALPHABETICAL ORDER BY AUTHOR’S SURNAME (i.e. Aarons to Zambolt) in a bibliography at the end of the essay, using the reference list in this unit outline as a guide to the appropriate style.
In the bibliography it is important to list all the authors, do not use ‘et al.’.
Avoid using direct quotes, but if their use is unavoidable, they should be accompanied by the author’s surname, year of publication, and the page number from which the quote is taken. Quotations longer than 3 lines should be indented on both sides in a separate paragraph.
In the case of Web sites and materials, you must observe the same requirements as for hardcopy materials; you need to give enough information to allow the reader to locate the material and you must give the author’s (including organisation) details, year of publication, publisher/ organisation, and a title. You should also add ‘Consulted 5/6/06’, for example, in case the site has been updated. If this information is not available the information in it is unlikely to be suitable for inclusion in your learned report!
Failure to provide adequate referencing is possibly one form of plagiarism. Read the section on plagiarism above and make sure that you understand your responsibilities.
6. Use word processing software(such as Word) to produce your final copy for submission. Set up the page to A4 size, leaving a margin on the left side of at least 2 cm and make sure the text is double or one-and-a-half spaced. PROOFREAD AND CORRECT your work before submitting it! Spellchecking is a good idea, if only to prevent the marker getting annoyed with multiple spelling mistakes. Grammar checkers are not recommended, they are often wrong, inappropriate (i.e. encourage informal colloquialisms and ‘active voice’) and require a high level of understanding to be used well. Likewise, never use automatic hyphenation.
7. Illustrations (eg maps, graphs, tables, photos, drawings) are encouraged and must be relevant and informative. A good principle is to ensure that each figure/diagram is understandable on its own. Check that all maps/figures have scales, north arrows, etc, and that axes/titles are clearly labelled for all graphs. Illustrations must be located in the body of the report as close as possible to the primary reference (i.e. where you first refer to them), and what they illustrate must be explained in the legend eg “Fig 1 shows an earthflow on shale near Picton. The high L/D ratio can be clearly seen” (and make sure that what you say can be seen CAN be seen!!). The illustrations must be numbered consecutively and the primary source of the illustration must be acknowledged i.e. where you got it from, under the illustration, not in the text.
8. Some good references to aid your writing include:
i) An English dictionary, a dictionary of Physical Geography or Earth Sciences, and a thesaurus.
ii) Partridge E (1973) Usage and abusage: a Guide to Good English. Penguin.
Anderson JBH, Durston & Poole N (1970) Thesis and assignment writing. Wiley.
Hay, I. (1996) Communicating in Geography and the Environmental Sciences. Oxford University Press, Melbourne (PE1478.C65).
9. Each report has a specific structure which you should follow.
Field report 1 has a defined structure outlined in the unit guide and below. Each section is of a fixed length.
For the second field report you should follow the standard structure for a scientific report (below). Consult scientific papers and journals to observe how others have done it.
Field Report 1Field Report 2Title Introduction Geomorphic map (acting to help explain regional setting and methods) Regional setting, experimental design and methods Results (separate sections for each site) Discussion (may include brief conclusion) ReferencesTitle Abstract Introduction Regional Setting Methods Results Discussion Conclusions References
Title: You must give a title which describes the content of the report. (i.e. not just ‘Field Report’ or ‘Macdonald River Fieldtrip’. In the case of the first report the topic/question is the title (so use it). For the second field report where you have developed your own project you must choose your own descriptive title which hints at the main question and significance.
Abstract: This is a summary of the entire project, including the major findings of the study (i.e. it is not an introduction). Generally it is written last and then added to the front. References, and literature review are NOT included and the aims and methods are dealt with very briefly (methods not at all?). The word length should not exceed 200 words or 5 % of the total number of words in the paper, whichever is smaller.
Introduction: This is often the critical part of a report, alerting the reader to whether the author understands what they are doing. This should clearly and concisely state the aims of the report, set the report in the context of previous work on the problem in hand (i.e. briefly review relevant literature), and identify the field area. Essentially this provides the context for what is to come; outlining the significance of the topic and the contribution to knowledge that this work will make (i.e. specifying why any reader should be interested in reading it). Results are not included.
A template for an introduction might be:
Paragraph 1 – General description of the topic (no site names; don’t state your research question or hypothesis directly) and its significance.
Paragraph 2 – History of research on this topic – in the world, in this region but not concentrating on this site. Identify a knowledge gap and the significance of closing that gap.
Paragraph 3 – History of /knowledge of research on tis topic at this site. What makes this site suitable to investigate this topic?
Paragraph 4 – Study aims and hypothesis/es (which flow from the previous paragraphs).
Any piece of science is based on background work reported in the scientific literature, and it is imperative that this be read clearly and critically, and summarised elegantly. You should restrict the scope of your review to issues directly at hand, ensuring that you have covered the ground that you make reference to later (i.e. in the discussion section). Reviewing the literature does not mean statements like ‘papers by Smith (1999), Jones (2000) and Bloggs (in press) were read for this essay’. Tell the reader what they said! E.g. ‘Smith (1999) found that vegetation removal from sand dunes quickly resulted in the formation of blowouts’.
Regional Setting: This should be a brief overview of the area being studied, covering aspects relevant to the study and those aspects mentioned later in the report. These may include geology, climate, vegetation, land use, etc. where relevant. By this stage you must have said where the site is and included at least one location map. It is all too easy to waffle on about irrelevancies here; don’t distract the reader from the main aim, but also don’t leave out stuff they need to know (e.g. waves, winds and storms if you are writing about coasts; rain and floods if you are writing about rivers).
Methods: A clear and concise statement of all methods is required, including reconnaissance methods (map and air photo interpretation). There is no need to describe in detail common procedure (eg surveying with a dumpy level or clinometer) – just mention how they were used – but it is necessary to clearly explain techniques where there are several different methods that could be used (eg grain size analysis). Refer to papers rather than explain the technique in detail, unless the source is difficult to obtain (eg an unpublished thesis or report). If your technique is new, however, you must report it in detail, so that others can readily duplicate it. N.B. In the field sciences it is sometimes best to think of Methods as the Approach or Strategy behind the research. In other words explain how you selected your sites and sampling methods. A map on which each of your sites / sampling locations is visible must be included here or in the results section.
Results: Present, describe and explain the results clearly and concisely. Graphs, tables, maps and diagrams MUST be accompanied by description and explanation which links them in to the overall theme of the report and be given informative titles or captions and clear legends. Your report is not an account of your fieldtrip, so you must link all the results you show to the question and aims of the report, not as a diary or record of the day in the field.
Discussion: Analyse the results and draw conclusions. Discussion should include comparison of results or findings with previous work (ie link with the literature), tests of hypotheses, discussion of unusual or anomalous data, evaluation of trends and patterns. Not only must you point all these things out, you must explain them. The logic of your arguments must be clear. It is not uncommon for the new results to be discussed in the ‘results’ section and the ‘discussion’ section to be reserved for the wider implications. You should adjust the content of each section so the information is not divided artificially.
Conclusions: The conclusions of the discussion are re-stated. No new information, analyses, references or arguments are included. You are drawing together several conclusions which may otherwise have been lost in the detail of the discussion. Bland statements which simply state that ‘the objective was achieved’ should never be included.
Keeping a field notebook
It is important that you get into the habit of writing thorough, accurate and legible notes at the outset. The main point of keeping a notebook is to record information that you will inevitably forget. No matter how vivid the impression seems at the time, after a while and after a dozen more sites, your memory will become corrupted. Your notebook is the ultimate aide-de-memoir to which you can refer back. Think of it as being intended for someone who has not visited the site and needs to be able to understand it and what you have done there.
In addition, it is good professional practice: if you are an expert witness for some environmental issue, your notebook can be tendered as evidence in legal proceedings, either in the Land and Environment court or at a Commission of Inquiry.
What you should record in your notebook
To start with, write your personal details on the first page, and a table of contents inside the front cover.
Get into the practice of structuring your notebook at the start of each exercise and continually taking notes. Use only ball-point pen: felt tip pen will run in wet weather and pencil will smudge or rip wet paper.
Do not depend on others, unless prescribed roles are allocated and this is one of the designated tasks. Even then, you should make sure you somehow get a copy of your team-members notes either by transcribing them or an electronic copy or photocopy.
This is a checklist of some things which you could well include at each site:
Location (name and GPS) always
project title/ purpose of site visit always
map of the site (approx scale; orientation) almost certainly
topographic cross-section (approx scale; orientation) probably
stratigraphic/ soil profile (scaled, labelled) probably
data table or list (e.g. clast counts) as necessary
graphs (sketched; axes labelled) as necessary
conceptual diagram explaining site/data as necessary
list of samples taken (keyed to map and section) as necessary
photographs (numbers, subjects) as necessary
weather (especially if affecting observations, e.g storm) as necessary
interpretation (text): summary of your understanding almost certainly
After the fieldwork you should photocopy or scan your book as a backup in case you later lose it.
Nobody is expecting works of art but your writing and diagrams should be clearly legible to another person. Use scales (e.g. 1 line = 1 metre) when drawing maps and sections. Use grids to help draw maps and sections to scale. Use as many pages as necessary: the more you record now, the more you will appreciate it later.
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