Report-writing guidelines

Every author has his or her own style. But there are guidelines that should be followed when writing a report. A report is not a novel, but just like a novel it needs to be readable. Readers will generally consult individual sections, rather than reading it cover to cover, which they might quickly do once. This needs to be accommodated. Each section should be more or less self-contained. A matter-of-fact style is the most practical. Complicated constructions, wordy clauses and passive voice should be avoided. A narrative on how things were done may include personal considerations. It should not be swamped with sophisticated, lengthy sentences. Factual descriptions should avoid adjectives that are subjective in nature. It is also more relevant to state actual size and condition than to state that something is big, overwhelming or beautiful. If such adjectives are used at all, they should be in comparison to something else. It is essential that the reader can quickly distinguish what is factual information, what – rightly or wrongly – are basic assumptions, and what are interpretations that follow from structured analysis. Personal opinions should therefore be recognizable as such. If they are given at all, they should be revealed in the interpretations. They should not be concealed in bluff like: “it is obvious that…”.

Usually, if the writing is selective, accurate, objective, concise, clear and consistent, it will also be simple. It is essential to keep the audience in mind and to keep asking whether they will be able to follow the logic of the report.


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All in all, the following recommendations should be kept in mind.

  • Write clearly and concisely, and make appropriate, consistent, and economical use of other methods of data presentation such as tables, plans or photographs. Innovative presentation methods may increase publication costs, but improve comprehensiveness or attractiveness. The format should be adapted to the audience targeted with the report.
  • Present information about what was found in a well-balanced, logical, accessible, and structured way. It should be immediately understandable to those who know nothing about the site. It should reflect the importance of the results of the project and deal adequately with the site's social, political, and historical context.
  • Specialist reports and their supporting data should be given proper place and value. Specialist contributors must be involved in or informed of editorial decisions affecting the presentation of their work in print.
  • Deliver accurate and verifiable information. Justify the interpretation of the site with evidence. Ambiguities in the data should be discussed, and where more than one interpretation is possible, the alternatives should be presented.
  • Explain the extent to which the objectives of the project have been fulfilled and evaluate the methodologies employed.
  • Make sure that chapters, paragraphs, figures, photos, and specialist reports are adequately cross-referenced. Readers should be able to find their way through the report without difficulty.
  • Draw attention to potential areas of future study that could not be fully explored in the context of the agreed project design.
  • Standardize abbreviations and carefully choose expressions to convey subtleties of meaning.

For scientific reports, peer reviewing is recommended, to ensure state-of-the-art levels of quality.

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Reporting must be carried out by a team of researchers composed of specialists representing various branches of science. It is important to ensure collaboration and exchange. The reporting must be performed by those who were directly involved in the collection of data. The final responsibility lies with the research director. It is a substantial responsibility. The history of archaeology has seen many instances of directors who deferred reporting until much more could be known, after many more years of excavation, with the aim of then writing the ultimate, authoritative publication. Unfortunately also, many died before this ever happened. Managing projects of limited scope to their completion has therefore become the norm. Follow-up projects can be planned later, but only after completion of earlier reports. It is therefore suggested that timely completion and submission of research reports should be a condition for future appointments as research director of a project.

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