Writing an Engineering technical report

Introduction to technical reports

One of the main forms of communication in engineering is the technical report. In the workplace, the report is a practical working document written by engineers for clients, managers, and other engineers.

This means every report has a purpose beyond the simple presentation of information. Some common purposes are:

  • To convince the reader of something. For example:
    • to convince a government agency of the effect of a particular course of action
    • to convince a client that your solution will fulfill their needs
    • to convince the public that a proposed project will bring benefits
  • To persuade the reader to do something. For example:
    • to persuade a government or council to adopt a particular course of action
    • to persuade a client to choose one design over another
    • to persuade an organisation to partner with your company on a project
  • To inform the reader about something (usually for a further purpose). For example:
    • to provide a government department with information they will base policy on
    • to instruct other engineers who will work from your plans
    • to present the outcomes of a project to stakeholders

When planning an assignment report, your first step is to clarify its purpose; that is, what you want it to achieve.

A technical report is meant to convey a specific message or to perform a particular function, rather than to ‘teach' the reader about the topic. Many student reports are written as if to inform the reader about what the student knows, rather than to persuade the reader that the solution presented is valid and viable.

While reports vary in purpose and in the type of information they present (e.g. site visits, environmental impact or assessments, industrial projects, investigative studies, or design projects), all are based on a similar structure and follow similar presentation conventions.

Reports are designed for:

so they use:

  • selective reading
  • sections with numbered headings and subheadings
  • quick and easy communication of information
  • figures and tables
  • bullet-point lists

This tutorial contains general engineering report writing guidelines only. For specific assignment, unit or departmental requirements, see your unit guide.

Basic report structure

Most reports contain the sections listed below. Where each report will differ is in the body; the sections you decide to include will depend on the type of report and the specific topic. You will usually be expected to decide on the structure of the body yourself. The best way is to put yourself in the place of the reader. Ask yourself:

  • What does the reader need to know first?
  • What is the most logical way to develop the story of the project?

A report usually has the following components. Click on the links below or use the navigation sidebar to learn more about each section.