Style Tips for Writing Reports
Editorial Help Desk
Office of Global Access Technology
Montgomery County Public Schools
• Editing is a process whereby • Also, the “little things” like
information created, and probably sentence structure, spelling,
revised, by one or more writers is capitalization, and punctuation
reviewed and evaluated before it is must be checked to make sure they
conform to standards for
American English, so the audience
• Writers may have a hard time can understand the information.
recognizing inconsistencies in
their work, because they are so
involved in it or close to it. • And, most important, an editor
must ensure that there is
• The editor’s job is to make sure consistency throughout the
that the information is accurate, so document/publication.
as not to mislead the audience; and
the document must be organized
so that the information is both
easy to find and logical.
Before you write…
• Know your audience. Put yourself in
their place. Write so they will
• • Use your dictionary (preferably
Webster’s) whenever you’re not sure
whether a word is correct, or whether it
should be capitalized, hyphenated, or not
used at all in a particular context.
• • Be consistent in your use of a style
throughout the article. For example, if
you use cancelled in a sentence, do not
use canceled further on in the article.
• • Watch out for the random use of
different terms that mean the same thing.
• • Run spellcheck
Ten Tips for Producing
a Sound Report
1. MAKE LIST FORMATS
If you introduce a specific number of items in
a list, itemize them with numbers, not bullets.
The participants identified three reasons for the
breakdown in communication:
1. The lack of English reading skills.
2. Lack of training in cultural diversity.
3. General disinterest in the issues.
Bulleted and Numbered Lists
The following guidelines relate to both bulleted and numbered lists in all MCPS documents:
Ideally, bulleted lists should have a minimum of two items, each displayed on a
separate line. There is no firm rule about the maximum number of items in a
list. Tip: Readers can lose track in a long list.
Indent bullets five spaces from the margin.
In a bulleted list, introduced by a full sentence, where the bullets are verb
phrases or incomplete sentences, if any of the bulleted phrases contains a
punctuation mark (comma, semicolon, colon) then all the listed items should
end with a period.
Example of bulleted list beginning with verb phrases:
The main responsibilities of the foreign office are as follows:
Assisting with legal problems.
Assisting with financial, medical, and cultural problems.
Assisting with search and rescue operations.
Bulleted and numbered lists (cont.)
When a bulleted list is introduced with a complete sentence,
the text in each bulleted item must be grammatically parallel to
the other bulleted items in the list. If one item is a complete
sentence, they all should be a complete sentence. If one item is
written in the second person, the others should match.
Use an initial capital on the first word in each bulleted
End each bulleted item with a period, a comma, or no
If one item in the bulleted list is a complete sentence (and
therefore must end with a period) all the other items
must end with a period to make the list consistent.
Bulleted and numbered lists (cont.)
When a list is introduced by an incomplete sentence, each bulleted
item should end with a comma, and the final item should end with a
period. Also, the bullet (sentence fragment) does not begin with an
initial capital letter.
Example of bulleted list beginning with an incomplete sentence.
If you want to work with young children, you should—
develop a sense of humor,
be prepared for the unexpected, and
expect to be rewarded by their giggles and smiles.
Eliminate line spacing between bulleted items.
2. MAKE TABLE FORMATS CONSISTENT
The two types of tables that occur in a technical publication
are text tables and annex tables.
1. Text tables are relatively small and are referred to and
are part of the text.
2. Annex tables occur at the end of the publication (in the
appendices) or at the end of the chapter. They are
generally page length or longer.
Text tables usually contain data that are too long, too
complicated, or too diverse to illustrate in a chart.
The general rules for tables hold for all types:
• Make sure your table has a number and a title
• Make sure all columns are labeled
• Make sure every cell contains data, even if it’s n.a., which signifies
• Make sure all symbols are explained in notes at the bottom of the
table. Symbol indicators include n.a. and the em dash.
Formatting bar charts
Bar charts are perhaps the most versatile kind of chart, since
they can replace almost any other kind of chart (i.e., line
chart, pie chart, and scatter chart).
Anatomy of a Table
3. ACRONYMS AND ABBREVIATIONS
Explain acronyms and abbreviations at first
mention in the document and/or in each chapter.
The key is to be consistent in whatever style you
choose to follow.
4. SPECIAL USE OF WORDS
Make a list of any words for which you have
made a special choice for usage. For example,
any words with the following idiosyncrasies:
a. Special hyphenation
b. Special capitalization
c. Special technical words/jargon used in the
d. Special style for table or figures
5. CONTENTS OF A REPORT
Most reports will contain some or all of the following
sections, in this order:
Abstract or summary
Method or Methodology or Procedures
Discussion or interpretation
References and/or bibliography
6. MATCH HEADS WITH CONTENTS
Make sure heads in text match table of
7. MAKE YOUR POINT
Shorten and clarify excessively long sentences
8. ENSURE ACCURACY
Ensure accuracy and consistency of all
9. COMPARED WITH
OR COMPARED TO?
Compare with—the more everyday term, is used when things or
concepts are placed side by side to examine their differences and
“Students received an average grade of 90%, an improvement,
compared with the testing in 2002, in which their average grade was
Compare to—puts like things in the same category to create an
“The students’ successful completion of the test could be compared to
bright sunshine after the rain.”
10. ALPHABETICAL ORDER
Try to list categories in alphabetical order, unless
there is a technical reason for ordering them