Reports (Rule 30)

© Tasmanian Parks and Wildlife Service
Report entitled Chinese export porcelain from the wreck of the Sydney Cove, published by the Australian Institute for Maritime Archaeology. This is an example of a report that focuses on a specific aspect of the excavation project and informs the scientific community and the interested public of the outcomes of the research project. The complete documentation of the research project has been compiled into a report of 15 hard cover volumes. In 2009, a book edition was published. Wrecked in 1797 while on a journey from Calcutta to Port Jackson, the Sydney Cove was the first merchant vessel lost after the establishment of the colony of New South Wales. Since its rediscovery in Tasmanian waters by divers in 1977, the Sydney Cove site has since been the subject of an extensive research project. While the Sydney Cove was a relatively small trading vessel of around 250 tons carrying cargo composed primarily of alcohol, foodstuffs, textiles, luxury goods and livestock, the archaeological and historical significance of the wreck is considerable.

Written reports should present the outcome of underwater archaeological projects. They are the core of archaeological knowledge production and its consolidation. Reports assemble original observations and evidence together with analysis and interpretation of project results. Reports strictly differentiate between facts or observations, inference and analysis. They present evidence in a way that allows external researchers to draw their own conclusions. The quality of the report and its information value define the credibility of the project, the team and the discipline on the whole. This therefore also determines the future of maritime archaeology as successive projects need to be able to build on previous results.

While this is obvious for larger projects and excavations that need to result in full publication, this is equally important for smaller interventions. Reporting is integral to project management. This is one of the reasons for choosing a project management approach. Moreover, whether the objective of a project is significance assessment, promotion of access, or consolidation, projects or activities directed at underwater cultural heritage will always include original observations and research. These observations need to be traceable and reported.

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Written reports

 

Interim reports

Interim reports are to be drafted regularly throughout the research process, according to a set time schedule. Such reports should register all data, describe the course of activities, give an up-to-date account of all progress that is made and outline the results. Besides informing sponsors and funding bodies, the interim report also serves to inform other professionals on the progress. It enables peers to develop an informed opinion and offer assistance and advice. Given that it may take considerable time to publish the final report, dedicated efforts need to be made on issuing detailed interim and special reports as soon as possible and in advance of the final report.

Final report

The final report builds on all interim reports and contains an analytical summary and interpretation of the results.

Variety of reports

Reports may vary in their purpose. There is, for instance, a difference between project reports informing the local community and financial reports. It follows that reports target different audiences, such as the scientific community, funding sources, authorities, or the general public. All reports, however, require a formal structure and careful planning. They should present their subject matter in a logical manner using clear and concise language. The manner of reporting, required content, and time schedule needs to be set out in the initial project design. It is important to remember that the process of data collection is shorter than the time needed for analysis. This problem can be overcome by allowing for reporting to take place in several stages. But reporting should be consistent throughout all stages of the process, and conducted in a way that is comprehensible for future users.

Dissemination of results

Results of underwater archaeological projects must be made available to the full range of potential users. Reports should therefore be elaborated and published within the shortest delay possible, following the completion of activities. Upon their completion, they must be submitted for archiving by the public institution indicated in the project design. Depositing of reports in a timely manner guarantees accessibility to important information and thereby allows for adequate future research to be carried out on the site in question. It is not for the archive only, however, that reports are produced. In addition, information can be publicized through a variety of means. These include publication of results in monographs and professional journals, and distribution of the report to libraries and technical clearinghouses. Reports can also be made available through the internet.

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Report planning

 

Reports make the most important components, descriptions and results of a project accessible. Their elaboration requires time and effort. Their success and usefulness depend on their systematic, logical and appropriate format.

The form

The form to be chosen for reporting must be precisely planned and defined prior to commencing any actual work. It should be set out in the project design. This guarantees that all vital information is registered according to a consistent method throughout all stages, and that professional standards are met. This means that the scope and form of reports need to be fixed, a schematic blueprint of the final report needs to be devised and decisions on how to archive and publish documentation need to be made.

Nature of the data

The nature of data constituting the basis of a report depends on the site from which it comes. It depends also on the type of intervention undertaken. Non-intrusive interventions produce other information than excavations, and equally important reports deal with the accidental discovery of an artefact or site. In each case, the methods of documentation and representation need to satisfy professional standards. In cases of rescue excavations, it may be necessary to choose less labour- and time-intensive documentation techniques. The most important features would, however, still demand detailed descriptions. Under pressure, it is important to determine priorities and make the right professional choices. What is documented will in one way or another continue to exist whereas what is not documented can never become part of our common memory. In other words, the conditions of a rescue intervention do not reduce the responsibility for proper exploration and documentation of the site.

 

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Stages of report writing

 

The following stages are involved in writing a report:

  • Clarification of purpose, terms of reference, objectives and audience 
  • Defining structure and content
  • Planning and division of labour (who does what when?)
  • Collection (and safe storage) of information
  • Organization and structuring of information
  • Writing the first draft
  • Checking and rewriting
  • Finalisation of manuscript

In report writing, there is no escaping some repetition. Small or large inconsistencies that had escaped notice will become apparent, and will have to be addressed. They will need attention and resolving. Organizing the report writing process in a structured way will avoid problems among the numerous contributors.

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