Table of Contents
Introduction to Language Skill Handbook
Grammar and Usage
Back to Language Skills Handbook home page
Laboratory Reports & Technical Papers
Organization and Formatting Information
APA-style citations, quotations, and list of references
DOs and DON'Ts of Written Reports
Written Report Checklist
Oral Presentations
433 Words on Plagiarism
ETSU Resources
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Formal Written Reports

About this chapter

This chapter provides an overview of two styles of writing as well as the necessary organizational and stylistic components of laboratory reports and technical papers.  The next section contains organization information including comprehensive formatting information; word processor settings (e.g., margins, headers & footers, typefaces [a.k.a. "fonts"], etc.), tables, figures, and computer source code. The mechanics of APA-style citations, quotations, and list of references are then covered.  The chapter concludes with a list of DOs and DON'Ts and a checklist to help you determine the strengths and weaknesses of your lab reports and technical papers.

What separates an 'A' Paper from a 'D' or 'F' paper?

Basically...diligence, thought, effort, and practice. And, oh, yes, lots and lots of revisions.

Writing to Learn vs. Writing to Communicate

Writing is one of the most powerful skills you will develop during your educational experience. You are probably most familiar with the "writing to communicate" type of assignment: a four to five page term paper that, typically, will be read only by your instructor and counted as some percentage of your final grade. Although such writing assignments are frequently perceived as "busy work" by students, they should be a meaningful part of the learning experience.

Researching, organizing, and drafting papers are active processes that help you better understand the material and complement the experiences of classroom lectures and discussions. During this phase of the writing process, you are in a position of trying to explain the material only to yourself. This type of discovery writing, therefore, may be called "writing to learn." The basic concept is to first gather facts and ideas together and then begin a period of critical analysis. The end result of this analysis will be a draft paper with the major issues organized into some logical and understandable form.

It is later during the iterative revision process of reading, editing, and proofreading that you should change your focus and switch to the "writing to communicate" mode. The goal of writing to communicate is to involve a reader in his or her own process of discovery. As a writer, your responsibility shifts from gathering and organizing facts to presenting facts and inferences in the most efficient manner. When the communication is successful, you become a sincere authority on the subject matter. However, your sincerity and authority must extend far beyond a believable recitation of documented fact and reasonable inference; the details of grammar, usage, and style also become important. Readers expect a "reader friendly" document; deviations from standard English (grammar and usage, spelling, etc.) will diminish the communication effort.

Writing to learn and writing to communicate are both integral parts of the writing process. It is very hard to achieve excellence in the latter without putting forth major time and effort in the former. Experience with students has shown that when sufficient effort and time is invested in both types of writing, the quality of work will always be higher. The more you thoughtfully practice writing, the sharper your skills will become. This investment will yield rich rewards.

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Laboratory Reports
Technical Papers

Laboratory Reports vs. Technical Papers

Most of the university writing assignments you will have outside the core English composition classes will primarily be one of two types: laboratory reports or technical papers. What is the difference? It is basically one of format and length. The following sections provide standards for content and style for laboratory reports and technical papers submitted within the College of Applied Science and Technology.

It is important to note that various academic units outside the College have their own standards for content and style for both of these types of technical writing; it is the student's responsibility to ensure that they follow the appropriate rules.  Details of presentation and style not otherwise covered in this handbook may be found in references such as the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association or The Blair Handbook.

Remember the audience

A writer should never forget his or her audience. Reports and papers are written to be read. Above all, the student should identify an audience and develop the paper to reflect the needs of that audience. Such needs include: the level at which the material will be covered, the scope of the coverage, an appropriate writing style, a logical flow of ideas, consistency of form, and a basis in documented fact.

One good way a writer can ensure a document is "audience friendly" is to simply have the paper read out loud either by the writer or by a friend. Listen to the words as well as to the flow of words. Papers that do not "sound right" or that cause the reader to "stumble" over the words need more work. Well written reports and papers will not only sound correct but will be easily followed.

Laboratory reports

You may have heard this statement before from numerous instructors: "Laboratory assignments are an integral part of the learning experience." Why? There are two theories. The first is that students learn more in labs because they tend to stay awake. Or, more seriously, the hands-on nature of lab experiences reinforces theoretical foundations, thus making subject matter more interesting and understandable.

OK, so what's the purpose of lab reports? Again, there are two theories. The first is to prove you were in class. The second is to help you learn effective and efficient communication methods for data collection, analysis, and presentation; determination and execution of procedures; development of requirements definitions; etc. Mastering these skills is no trivial task and that is what makes a lab report basically a wonderful vehicle of guided self-instruction.  That and the fact that professors are quieter during labs and we know that's a also good thing.

Lab reports force you to communicate a problem or task, bring to light any problems you had, and announce any discoveries you made to the technical community. A lab report may therefore be defined as a brief yet formal mechanism for reporting facts and/or demonstrating some form of technical competency in a particular field of practice. Common examples of laboratory reports that most students will encounter during their academic career include:

  • Scientific experimentation or observation (e.g., chemistry and physics lab reports)
  • Computer lab assignments
  • Procedural instructions (AKA step-by-step or "cookbook" type of documents)
  • A mixture of any or all of the above.

In a technical environment (a.k.a. your real job), this same report format is how you will most likely communicate with your employer or customers.  Often, you will be asked to creat technical proposals, status reports, product evaluations, or operating instructions;  all of which use the same basic skills as, you guessed it, your lab reports.  You should therefore write your lab reports as if your instructor is your employer and your pay, promotions, and overall happiness depended on his of her impression of your performance. How will your instructor form an impression of you? Through your writing!

Laboratory reports may include any or all of the following:

  • Problem statement or purpose
  • Descriptions of equipment and/or materials used
  • Schematic diagrams of hardware and/or software flowcharts, state tables, algorithms, etc.
  • Procedures for experimentation and analysis
  • Sample numeric calculations that are not intuitive. If repeated calculations are performed, you may give a sample of a typical set of calculations.
  • Tables of data
  • Figures, charts, and other graphical elements
  • Results and/or conclusions
  • Computer source code, sample output, object code listing files, etc. as appropriate.

Musts, Must Nots, and Suggestions for Lab Reports

The following is a list of some "musts", "must nots", and suggestions for your basic lab reports.


  • Lab reports must  be neat, well organized, and complete as these qualities will directly correspond to your overall lab and course grade.
  • Unless otherwise specified by the instructor, all lab reports must be computer generated to ensure legibility. An additional benefit to using a computer is that once you've written your first report, subsequent reports may be developed by using previous reports as templates.  If you do not have personal access to a computer and appropriate software, the D.P.Culp Computer Lab and many departmental labs have word processing, spreadsheet, basic drawing and charting software available.
  • All tables and figures must be able to "stand alone."   By this, we mean that if any figure or table is removed from the document (e.g., is copied or becomes separated), the rader must be able to tell from what document it orginally came from, who generated the data, what eperiment it came from, what eqiupment was used, etc.
  • You must use a table format to present data. It helps to organize the information and makes it easier to find a specific piece of data.

Must Nots (a.k.a. Dont's):

  • Don't use fancy fonts.  If your word processor allows you to modify the font you are using, select a typeface similar to "Times Roman" at a with a font size of 11 or 12 and normal weight (i.e., not bolded). For computer program source code, use a typeface similar to "Courier."
  • Don't simply staple a summary to the end of your lab instructions and hand write your discussions within the lab instruction handout. The lab instructions are just that, instructions, and are not a substitute for a lab report.
  • Don't simply "fill in the blanks" for your lab instructions. Include all information which was pertinent to the completion of the lab.
  • Don't assume that the instructor will not take off points because an important item was not specifically asked to be put in the report.  Often, part of the process of developing lab reports is to train yourself to generate appropriate questions and to make observations on your own. Freshman-level cookbook-style  chemistry and physics experiments should not be your primary lab report role models.
  • Don't print your report with a fading ribbon, near empty ink or toner cartridges.


  • In writing, it is very important to make an effective use of "white space".   Text is difficult to read when crammed together in long paragraphs without any visual breaks or spacing.
  • Turn off "right" or "full" justification. "Ragged" margins are easier to read than straight right-hand margins except for reports submitted in a multiple column, newsletter format. See the alignment portion of the settings section below.
  • Allow plenty of time to organize your data, create tables, and, heaven forbid, make revisions. It also helps to write the lab report soon after the lab has been completed while the procedures are still fresh in your mind.
  • Use a CAD drafting package or word processor drawing program to generate your drawings and schematics.
  • Put to use word processor spelling and grammar checkers prior to printing, but do not, however, depend on them to catch all mistakes.

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Technical papers

A technical paper is defined for the purposes of this handbook as a formal, multi-page, primarily text-based document used to present facts or concepts to an identified reader. The most familiar example of a technical paper would be the basic five to ten page double-spaced research paper required for a particular class. Realistically, students may define a technical paper as any "long" writing assignment.

All technical papers should have the following features:

  • Focused introduction
  • Purposeful organization
  • Appropriate conclusion
  • Meaningful content
  • Attention to grammar

Preparation and planning go a long way towards ensuring that any technical paper succeeds in its mission: guarantee communication. The following sections cover many topics of interest to a writer.

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Order of the pages
Page Layout and Formatting Information
Tables and Figures
Computer Source Code


Many students report that a major problem encountered in the writing process is the organization of material. Organization is an important step that requires conscientious planning. If done properly, it helps balance critical elements in the paper and provides readers with what they need to know in the proper sequence. Poor organization usually leads to other writing problems such as lack of clarity and conciseness.

Paper organization consists of a title page, abstract, table of contents, body, and references. The abstract and table of contents are optional for shorter papers. Content and style should follow accepted standards described in the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association, Fourth Edition; The Blair Handbook, section 61d; or a standard specified by your instructor. Consistent style will reinforce the organization of a report and must therefore be used throughout the paper. Details of the format are given in a following section.

All papers submitted as course assignments must, at a minimum, be typed or printed from a word processor in a "letter quality" mode. Final copy of formal reports cannot be handwritten. Of course, many students find that during any number of phases in the writing process, they prefer to develop their thoughts using pen and paper. Such a writing style may be most suitable to contemplative writers who find that they best use their time organizing their thoughts within before putting them down on paper. Others may simply sit down in front of a computer and start typing.

No matter what the writing style, most writers find that by using a particular methodology of writing, they are able to maximize their efforts. Such a method typically consists of

  • Some degree of research
  • Generating ideas as to how material would best be covered
  • Combining and refining these ideas into some sort of dynamic outline format
  • Filling in the body of the paper
  • Repeatedly editing the paper for organizational consistency, flow of ideas, grammar, and readability.

Good writing is an iterative process of writing, reviewing, editing, and revising. Outlines can be extremely helpful during the writing process. Writing is not usually a "sequential" process. Starting a paper based around a dynamic outline will help keep the paper flowing in a logical progression.

The use of a computer is not just highly recommended; it is expected. In fact, you should learn to use a computer or dedicated word processor very early in your educational career. A word processor should not be viewed as a mere productivity aid. Effective communication requires quality. Writers seldom, if ever, simply sit down and create a quality report. The quality of a report is reflected in the number of revisions a writer is willing to make. Using a word processor will greatly increase the number of revisions in a given period of time, thus increasing the quality of a report. Additionally, word processing skills are now expected by employers. Without such skills, a student will be at a competitive disadvantage when seeking employment.

Order of the Pages

The following sequence of pages is to be used for papers submitted as course assignments within the College. However, an instructor may modify the options to meet specific course or paper requirements. For example, a very short paper may not require a table of contents. Similarly, book reviews and abstracts may follow some other format suitable for the article or book being reviewed.

The title page includes the title, the author, and the author's affiliation. The title is centered on the page and typed in mixed-case letters with the first letter of each significant word in the title capitalized. If the title is more than one line, it should be double-spaced.

The name of the author is typed in uppercase and lower-case letters, centered on the page, one double-spaced line below the title. Centered near the bottom of the page is the department and course number, East Tennessee State University, and the date of submission.

An abstract is optional as determined by instructor and, if used, is a brief, comprehensive survey of the paper's contents. The abstract states the problem, describes the procedures used, and states the main results or conclusions of the investigation. The abstract must not exceed one page. The maximum length of the abstract can vary from 150 words (APA) to 250 (ETSU Graduate School).

A table of contents is optional as determined by the instructor and is ordinarily used only with papers longer than 20 pages. The table of contents is placed immediately after the abstract and contains a listing of all the materials that follow. All entries and page citations must correspond exactly with the text.

The body of the paper then follows. The organization of the body is very important. For most technical papers, an Introduction-Topics-Conclusion format is probably best. The introduction must be an overview of the entire paper and must gain the reader's attention and lead smoothly into the statement of the problem. The problem statement must be included in the introduction and must state clearly the purpose of the paper. The body must be structured with appropriately organized topics and must lead to a definite conclusion. Tables, figures, and graphical images should be incorporated into the body of the document immediately after they are referenced. The stylistic details are covered below.

Optional appendices may be used in long technical papers for presenting additional information not appropriate for inclusion in the body of the paper. This includes items such as source code listings for computer programs, presentation of "raw" data, etc. Each appendix should be sequentially labeled using uppercase letters (e.g., Appendix A) and given a brief descriptive title.

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Settings for word processing or typing
Acceptable Typefaces (Fonts)
Acceptable Typeface/Font Sizes
Using Different Typeface Weights

Page Layout and Formatting Information

The following page layout and formatting conventions are to be used for all technical papers submitted as course assignments within the College of Applied Science and Technology. The instructor, however, may modify the options to meet specific course or paper requirements. Similarly, other groups (departments outside the College of Applied Science and Technology, the School of Graduate Studies, etc.) may dictate other format criteria for submitted work. When in doubt, ask your instructor.


The paper should be neat with no ragged edges, on heavy (20 lb.) white bond paper 8 1/2 x 11 inch using one side only. Do not use onion skin or erasable paper as they tend to tear or smear when handled.

The pages should be stapled in the upper left corner. Binders or folders are unnecessary. Do not use blank pages to separate sections. Use a cover sheet unless your instructor states otherwise.

Settings for word processors and typewriters

The following settings should be used for written reports. Note that some of these settings are applicable for word processors only.

Margins: All margins (left, right, top, and bottom) should be set to one (1) inch. For reports that will either be bound or punched for three ring binders, use a 1.5 inch left hand margin.

Line Length or Alignment: Left justify only. Turn off Full Justify or Right Justify for an uneven, or ragged, right margin. This will provide a much more readable document.  The only time fully justified paragraphs are necessary is in newletter-type documents with two or more columns of text.

Line Spacing: All technical papers should be double spaced (or Line Spacing = 2). Leave one full-size blank line between each line of type on the page. Some word processors use the term leading to specify the line spacing in point sizes. If so, add 2 to the point size and multiply that sum by 2 to get the appropriate value. (Example: for 12 point text, (12 + 2 ) x 2 = 28 points)

Hyphenation: As a rule, do not divide words at the end of a line, or hyphenate. If using a word processor, turn the hyphenation function off. Naturally hyphenated words such as self-limiting may break across lines.

Page Headers: (Optional) A short, descriptive running head in the upper right hand corner may be used. This header should be physically located approximately 0.5 inches from the top of the page and follow the left and right hand page margins.

Page Footers: (Optional) For long reports (typically over five pages), center page numbers on the bottom of each page beginning with second page of text. The footer should be physically located approximately 0.5 inches from the bottom of the page and centered within the margins. Use ordinal numbers (e.g., 1, 2, 3, etc.) for the body of the paper, references, and appendices. Use lower case Roman numerals (e.g., i, ii, iii, iv, etc.) for the abstract's and the table of contents' page numbers .

Typefaces [commonly called "Fonts"]

Be consistent in your use of typefaces. For short reports, choose only one typeface for use throughout the body of the paper. For longer reports with section headers, you may use one or two typefaces, one for the body text and either a heavier weight (i.e., bold) or a contrasting typeface for the section headers. For most web-browsers, the default proportional typeface is a version of Times Roman). 

Acceptable typefaces

Use a typeface that is similar to one of the three following types:   (a) proportionally-spaced, serif typeface [Times Roman or Roman]; (b) proportionally-spaced, sans-serif [Helvetica or Arial]; or (c) monospaced [Courier].

Times Roman or Roman-this is a proportionally spaced typeface found in most "typeset" material such as newspapers and books. This handbook uses a variant of Times Roman for the body text. Each character has an appropriate width (i.e., an i takes up much less space than an M ). The little features found on the ends of each letter (called serifs) tie the characters together into words; this provides a flow to the printed page and makes the words more quickly recognized. Times Roman-style typefaces are very legible; they are the preferred typeface for the body of a paper, especially for long documents. Verify that the printed typeface is suitably supported by the printer you will be using. For laser, ink jet, and 24-pin printers, this typeface should not be a problem. For 9-pin dot matrix printers, a test printing will be required to ensure legibility.

Helvetica or Arial-this is a proportionally spaced typeface with a clean, modern look. Each character has an appropriate width (i.e., an i takes up much less space than an M ). As this is a sans-serif typeface, it is a bit harder to read a body of text printed in this typeface than an identically sized one printed in Times Roman. However, because of their large, open look, sans-serif typefaces make excellent figure captions and chapter and section "headers" if a mix of typefaces is allowed in the report. This handbook uses a variant of Helvetica for the chapter and section headers. As with the Times Roman typeface, make sure this kind of typeface will be legible when printed.

Courier-This monospaced typeface--found on most standard 
typewriters--is acceptable for most work.  Each character 
takes up an equal width (i.e., an 'i' has the same width 
as an 'M').  Courier is an ideal typeface for computer 
program source code as characters will line up easily. 
Most printers will print Courier very legibly.

In HTML-formatted (Web-published) documents, the mono-
spaced typeface is called "preformatted text" and line 
breaks are hard coded into the document.  Because the 
web browser's automatic word-wrapping capability is 
turned off with preformatted text, these paragraphs may 
appear much shorter than all the others on computer 
displays wider than 640 pixels.  It is not a big deal if 
you understand the limitations.  However, if you don't, 
web-readers will be cursing your inconsiderate oversight 
as they continually have to use the horizontal scroll bars.  
You've been warned, don't play cute.

Unacceptable Typefaces

Compressed Sans-Serif: Do not use any of the compressed or narrow typefaces (e.g., Arial Narrow, Huxley Vertical, etc.); they are very hard to read when used as body text. This is especially true for documents when paragraphs are wide and long.

Headline typefaces: Do not use any of the "headline typefaces" (e.g., Bodoni, Umbra, BedRock, etc.) or cute looking typefaces (e.g., Technical, Corsiva, etc.) in a formal report. Such typefaces are either illegible when used in small sizes or hard to read as body text. Consequently, they are never appropriate.

Acceptable Typeface Pitches (or Font) Sizes

Word processors: For body text, set the default text size to either 11 or 12 points; section headers may use point sizes between 11 or 14 point size depending upon the body text. In general, use the default character and word spacing of the word processor. Do not use any text size below 10 points.

Typewriters only: Pica (10 characters per inch)

Using Different Character Weights

Normal or "middle" weights should be used for text in the body of a document; section headers may use either a normal or bold weight. When required to show emphasis, appropriate use of bold or bold italic character weights is allowed. However, such weights should be used very sparingly to avoid distraction.

Underlining vs. Italic

Basically, do not underline text.  Prior to the widespread use of word processors, most manuscripts were typed. Accordingly, typists used underlining to indicate type that was to be typeset using italics. As underlined text is harder to read, it is preferable to use italics in the final document if the printer adequately supports italic print.

When using a word processor, use either bold or bold italic weights to show emphasis; do not use underlined or italicized text.

Symbol Typefaces

Appropriate use of symbols is expected, especially in technical reports. Type all the special characters using available system typefaces or special elements. When using a word processor, use either the system's extended character set or the special symbol typefaces. Other special characters and symbols may be found either in an application's documentation or via an operating system utility (e.g., the Windows Character Map application found in the Accessories group).

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Figures and other graphical images

Tables and Figures

Tables and figures should be used when words alone are inadequate to efficiently transmit information. Tables and figures also serve to break up the endless flow of text and add "white space" to a document. This serves to make the document more readable. However, too many inappropriate tables and figures will serve to "clutter" a page and hinder comprehension.

When a table or figure will not cover an entire page, place it appropriately at the top, center, or bottom of the page and fill in text above or below as required. Do not break tables or figures across pages unless absolutely necessary. If a table must be broken, make sure subsequent pages include the table's title as well as appropriate row and column headers.


Tables are typically used to present text or numeric data in a user-friendly, efficient format. However, a well designed table is not easily generated and will require additional effort. Every table should have the following elements:

  • Table number (format: Table 1, Table 2, etc.) and a brief descriptive title. These should be placed either above or below the table (be consistent!).
  • Column and row headers. "Spanners"-headers that span multiple columns or rows-should be used as required.
  • The table body

Additionally, the following elements may be used in any table where appropriate:

  • Notes-delimited using superscripted letters (e.g., a, b, etc.)
  • Grid lines as desired to enhance readability and understanding.

For specific information regarding tables, see the appropriate section in the APA Publication Manual.

Figures and other graphical images

Figures are used to present data in a graphical format. The five most familiar forms of figures are graphs, charts, drawings, diagrams, and photographs. Like a table, a well-designed figure is not easily generated and will require additional effort. Remember that poor graphical images may not only distract the reader but may cause more confusion.

Graphs and charts are used to more clearly illustrate relationships and trends among data. Each axis of a graph or chart needs to have a well defined label with units clearly specified. Graduated axes should have appropriately spaced "tick marks." Grid lines may be used as desired to enhance readability and understanding.

Drawings and diagrams are used to enhance reader visualization of a part or process. Photographs can help with reader visualization if they are in focus and have suitable contrast. If you are preparing a single paper, you can simply secure photographs directly on the page. If, however, the paper is to be reproduced, a halftone image of the photograph needs to be made before it is incorporated into the document.

Every figure should have the a figure number (format: Figure 1, Figure 2, etc.) and a brief descriptive title located either above or below individual figures (be consistent!). As in tables, notes can be added to items in a figure delimited using superscripted letters (e.g., a, b, etc.).

For specific information regarding figures, see the appropriate section in the APA Publication Manual.

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Computer Source Code

Many of the students in the College of Applied Science and Technology must write computer programs as a part of their learning experience. Each programming language has its own "style standards" to enhance readability and maintainability. A few of the more common elements of good programming style have been collected below. Obviously, each language, class, and/or instructor will have unique style requirements; use the following as guides unless otherwise noted:

  • Use a monospaced typeface-To enhance the readability of on-screen and paper output, use a monospaced or non-proportionally spaced typeface such as Courier. This is typically not an issue with text-based systems (e.g., DOS and ASCII text editors). For graphical user interface environments (e.g., Windows and Macs) with many available typefaces, the use of a non-proportionally-spaced typeface helps to spread out the letters and line things up. This helps to increase readability, especially if others will be working with your original (and long forgotten) code.
  • Use tabs instead of spaces-Use the [Tab] key instead of the [Space] bar to indent or align text. This will help readability and speed subsequent editing. Also, ensure the text editor you use keeps tabs as tabs and does not replace them with spaces. The DOS EDIT.COM editor, for instance, is not one of these "user friendly" editors.
  • Use a "tight" default tab spacing-Most text editors/word processors allow the user to change the default tab spacing. Take advantage of this ability and change the default tab spacing to three or four characters for monospaced typefaces or 3/16 to 1/2 inch for non-proportionally spaced typefaces. Such settings will allow you to maintain appropriate indentions to highlight program structure while conserving column width.
  • Use descriptive names-Most programming languages accept variable, label, function, procedure, and subroutine names longer than eight characters. Take advantage of this feature by making names as descriptive as possible. "Self-commenting" code eases all phases of programming-designing, coding, debugging, and maintenance.
  • Comment appropriately-Moderation is everything. If under-commented code is cryptic, then over-commented code can be too cluttered to understand. By using descriptive names, the need for superfluous commenting is greatly reduced. Comments obviously assist in helping someone understand code they did not write themselves; comments can also help during the early stages of the programming process including designing, coding, and debugging. It will also assist the reader if you standardize where and how you comment so that the printed or on screen document has a consistent "look and feel."
  • Use commented headers-A special and appropriate use of comments is to completely and exactly define the scope of each programming module, (i.e., a function, procedure, or subroutine). Such information may include, but not be limited to (see Figure 1):
    • a general description of the module's purpose;
    • special requirements (e.g., compiler switches), global variables, registers, inputs, port addresses used, etc.;
    • all other called modules (not in the standard libraries);
    • all possible return values and their meaning(s).

/* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * */
Function: iPrintFile()
Purpose: Prints a specified file to LPT1 using fprintf()
Inputs: char *pFilename Name of file to be printed 
        int iTabValue Value for TAB spacing Min 2 Max 10
Calls: iGetPrinterStatus() 
Returns: 0 if successful 1 if not successful
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * */

Figure 1: Example of a Commented Header for a C Program Module

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APA-style References

APA-style Citations, Quotes, and List of References

The Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association is a popular style guide for authors.  The faculty of the College of Applied Science and   Technology (CAST) has chosen to use the APA format as its default format for citations and references in papers and reports.  If you are independently wealthy, the complete manual may be purchased at the university bookstore.  If you have Internet access, a summarized version of the APA manual is available on-line at PSYCHOLOGY WITH STYLE:  A Hypertext Writing Guide.  The three most important sections of the APA sytle guide dealing with citations, quotations, and references follow.

Please note that at times, individual CAST instructors may--in the interest of "academic freedom"--require that another style (e.g., Chicago, Campbell's, etc.) be used for their classes.  (Typically, it will be the style they used in their dissertation as the terminal degree process burned such stylistic nuances deep into their psyches).  If that is the case, then defer to your instructor's wishes, don't argue, and use the specified style.  You've been warned.  Don't play cute.

APA-style Citations

Citations of references in the text should follow the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association (APA) guidelines. APA publications use the author-date method of citation; that is, the last name of the author and the year of publication are inserted in the text at the appropriate point, with the last name and the date, separated by a comma, in parentheses. For example:

In a recent study of health care benefits (Jones, 1991)....

If the name of the author appears as part of the text, for example, only the year of publication is enclosed in the parentheses:

Brown (1990) compared levels of consistency....

In cases of references with two authors, always use both names: shown by Sharpe and Browne (1994).

For works with three to five authors, cite all authors in the first citation; for subsequent references use the first author's surname followed by "et al." For example:

Boyd, Dewey, Chettum, and Howe (1993) demonstrated .... [first citation in text]

Boyd et al. (1993)....[subsequent citations-omit date if used again within the same paragraph]

For groups that serve as authors (e.g., corporations, government agencies, etc.) spell out the name in full within the text. For well known names, the name may be spelled out completely for the first citation with the abbreviation in brackets; subsequent citations would use only the abbreviation. For example:

First text citation:
(International Business Machines [IBM], 1995)

Subsequent citations:
(IBM, 1995)

Always use the full name in the Reference List.

APA-style Direct Quotations

For direct quotes, place the name, the date, and the page number of the quotation, each separated by commas, in parentheses:

Manually maintaining engineering documentation is "...usually slow, inconsistent, subject to inaccuracy, and highly labor intensive" (Stovicek, 1988, 46).

Direct quotations of less than forty (40) words should be included in the main body of the text without any special formatting other than quotation marks and the citation.   For quotations of more than 40 words, indent the quotation (both left and right) approximately 1/2 inch. 

The APA manual should be consulted for guidance in citing references whenever a question of style or form arises.

APA-style List of References

The reference section contains full citations, listed alphabetically, of all materials referenced in the text. Old style APA references use a "hanging indent" (outdent) format, the latest APA style uses a standard indented format.

The following are examples of the most commonly used types of references. Pay careful attention to punctuation and form of these examples. Consult the APA manual (print or on-line) or your instructor for further assistance.

Italics have been used where applicable instead of underlining.
If you are using a word processor that supports legible italic
typefaces use them; otherwise use underlining.

  • Periodical (journal, magazine, etc.), general form:

Author, A. A., & Author, B. B. (1994). Title of article: Subtitle. Title of periodical. vol (no), page-page.

  • Periodical, one author:

Bickman, L. (1971). The effects of social status on the honesty of others. Journal of Social Psychology, 85, 87-92.

  • Periodical, two authors:

Bersheid, E., & Walster, E. (1972). Beauty and the best. Psychology Today, 5, 42-46, 74.

  • Book, general form:

Author, A. A., & Author, B. B. (1994). Title of work. Location: Publisher.

  • Book, one author:

Stanton, G.C. (1988) Numerical control programming: Manual CNC and APT/Compact II. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Regents/Prentice-Hall.

  • Book, two or more authors:

Boyd, P.M., Dewey, D., Chettum, A.M. & Howe, A.H. (1995). CERCLA & the superfund: An insider's guide to the comprehensive, endless revenue campaign for lawyers act. Cambridge, MA: Fair City Press

  • Published proceedings of meetings and symposia:

McGregor, B. & Pacheco, J. (1995). Manufacturing resources on the internet. In Conference Proceedings: Vol 1. Autofact '95 (pp. 394-401). Dearborn, MI: Society of Manufacturing Engineers.

  • Report from a private organization:

International Business Machines. (1989). Computer integrated manufacturing: The CIM enterprise (Doc. No. G320-9802-00). White Plains, NY: Author.

  • Unpublished master's thesis or doctoral dissertation:

Tarnoff, D.L. (1991). A decision support tool for preliminary system design. Unpublished master's thesis, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University.

  • Government or corporate document without an author/editor:

Department of Defense. (1985). Military standard: Specification practices. (MIL-STD-490A). Washington, DC: Author.

  • Government or corporate document with author/editor:

Claire, C.N. (1968). State plane coordinates by automatic data processing. (U.S. Department of Commerce Publication 62-4) Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office.

Hannah, M.J. (1996). HTML Reference Manual [On-line]. Available URL:
Note: Put the appropriate media type in brackets (e.g., [CD ROM], [On-line], [DVD], [Videotape], etc.).

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The DOs and DON'Ts for Written Reports

The following are some "DO"s and "DON'T"s for good written reports:


  • Allow plenty of time for research, drafts, and multiple revisions.
  • Use a word processor or a "smart" typewriter to realize significant time savings.
  • Use the Introduction-Body-Conclusion format for most documents.
  • State all main ideas at the beginning of the document, sections, and paragraphs.
  • Integrate relevant, supportive, and attractive graphics elements into your document.
  • Use words that express your ideas clearly.
  • Remember the audience-use an audience analysis form to "fine tune" the document.
  • Display enthusiasm and genuine concern for your subject.
  • Use transitional devices, words, and phrases coherently.
  • Anticipate and answer questions credibly.
  • Use correct grammar, spelling, punctuation, and clear and concise sentence and paragraph structure.
  • Use appropriate references.
  • Ensure the paper is neat and orderly with no typographical errors or other problems.
  • Use a spell and grammar checker prior to printing.
  • Check printer output to ensure the page is readable.


  • Don't submit your first (or even your second) draft as a "finished" product-plan on making multiple, small revisions.
  • Don't wait until the last moment to start your paper-but, of course, you already knew that.
  • Don't use flush right hand margins-keep right hand margins "ragged." A ragged right hand margin makes the document significantly more readable.
  • Don't forget to cite all sources.
  • Don't rely on the spell checker or the grammar checker to catch all errors; do you sea all for of the the errors hear?
  • Don't use more than two typefaces.
  • Don't be a complete eco-warrior. Plan on wasting a few sheets of paper getting your document into its final form. If this thought bothers you, plant a tree each term.
  • Don't use a dead ribbon or an empty ink cartridge.  Leave the invisible ink to the professionals at the CIA.

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Checklist for Written Reports

The following is an example checklist that might be used when evaluating student papers. The student should consider such basic criteria when preparing written communications.
Note: A single sheet version of this Written Report Checklist in PDF format is available for downloading and printing.




Organization (30%):




The introduction gains the reader's attention and leads smoothly to the thesis.






The introduction includes a satisfactory purpose or thesis statement.






The body is structured and organized appropriately (weighted 2X).






There are adequate transitions between paragraphs and from topic to topic.






There is a definite conclusion and/or action statement.






Content and Sources (35%):  
The subject is appropriate, significant, and is presented in an interesting way (weighted 2X).






There is sufficient supporting material to adequately develop and clarify the subject (2X).






Each sub-topic or paragraph is adequately developed.






Material from sources is smoothly integrated with original commentary.






Sources are appropriately documented.






Grammar & Layout (35%):  
The work is free from errors in spelling (2X).






The work is free from errors in grammar (2X).






The work is free from errors in punctuation.






The paper is neat and orderly with correct margins, typefaces, figures, tables, etc. (2X)






Total score out of a possible 100 points:



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Last updated Sept. 4, 2009 by Bill Hemphill