This final chapter on the mechanics of report writing is a catchall in that it encompasses all parts of a report not previously discussed: concluding section, Summary, Abstract, title, appendixes, and references.
The concluding section is where you tell your readers what you have told them. It is also the section usually examined first by the prospective reader with limited available time. The Summary and Abstract are concise recapitulations of the report content. The title is the "punch line" and is most effective when short and informative. Each of these parts is important because of its potential to reach a different group of readers. Each should be written clearly and concisely.
It is common practice in NASA reports to end the main text with a concluding section. In spite of skillful writing the reader may become confused or overwhelmed by the large number of details in a complicated report. Clearly the writer needs to bring out the most important facts and discuss their significance. Many busy people read the concluding section of a report first. On the strength of this reading they may become interested in the details, or they may discard the entire report. Therefore, the concluding section must be self-contained and independent of the main body of the report. Preferably it should be so worded that a person not completely familiar with that particular branch of science can understand what was learned from the investigation.
"Summary of Results," "Conclusions," and sometimes "Concluding Remarks" are the common headings for this section. These headings connote somewhat different contents distinguished by the degree of generality and certainty of the material included in them. Since statements made in this section are often quoted by other investigators, each statement should be critically evaluated for accuracy and clarity. A useful stage-setting approach to the concluding section is to briefly state the purpose and scope of your work.
A few ground rules should be observed in writing the concluding section:
The Summary of Results is the most straightforward concluding section. It simply restates the major findings of the investigation. All of the material presented must have appeared in the main body of the report. A frequently used method is to itemize the main factual results, usually in single sentences. The facts given are supplied from experimentation or theory—but not from any reasoning (i.e., they are not deduced).
A Conclusions section allows the inclusion of "deductions." The usual form of reasoning in reports is to draw a conclusion from a series of facts. Conclusions should be general: They should not depend on the particular apparatus or conditions of the report. If more than one conclusion is drawn, present them in the order of importance.
After the conclusions are written, examine every word and sentence critically to ensure that it means what you intended it to mean. Do not "conclude" already known facts. Do not confuse conclusions with results.
When it is not possible to draw adequate, clear-cut conclusions, a Concluding Remarks section may be used. With this approach you are not constrained by the connotations of the headings "Summary of Results" and "Conclusions." You are free to give opinions, to evaluate, and to recommend. Of course the views you express should be based on the information provided by your investigation.
Sometimes both a Concluding Remarks section and a Summary of Results section are used. Dual concluding sections allow a concise summary of the major results as well as speculation or recommendations. When both sections are used, the Concluding Remarks usually precedes the Summary of Results as a "further discussion" of the results.
The Summary is the first main section in a NASA report. (Although this section appears first, it is usually written last.) In many respects the Summary is an abstract of the Introduction and the concluding section. The Summary is limited to 200 words. The concluding-section ground rules also apply to the Summary, which must be written so that it can be read independently of the report. It should be a concise recapitulation of the report content.
No specific format is prescribed for the Summary. Consider including the purpose and scope of your work (noting whether it is experimental, theoretical, or both), the range of variables, any limitations, and the major findings. Obviously results and conclusions given in the Summary should be consistent with those in the concluding section.
All NASA reports must contain a brief Abstract. It appears on the report documentation page (RDP), which faces the back cover, and in library abstracting services such as Scientific and Technical Aerospace Reports (STAR). Abstracts are retrievable by technical automated online systems such as RECON, the CASI Technical Report Server, and the Glenn Technical Report Server (GLTRS). The Abstract must be understandable independently of the text and should be no longer than 200 words. But if you can tell your story in 50 or 100 words, do not use 200. The Abstract should briefly state the main features of the report such as the purpose, scope, and major findings. It is a condensed form of the Summary. Because the Abstract and Summary are used for different purposes, repetition in these two sections is acceptable. The Abstract of a classified report must be unclassified.
Many readers are first informed of your report through abstracting services. In fact, the Abstract usually receives wider circulation than the report. Therefore take the time to word the Abstract carefully so that the true nature and content of your report are described.
Webster says the title is "the distinguishing name of a written, printed, or filmed production." Clearly this statement is appropriate to titles of technical publications. Much abstracting and indexing is based on the title. "An improperly titled paper may be virtually lost and never reach the audience for which it was intended" (ref. 2). For this reason alone the title must be carefully thought out and worded to convey the most information in the fewest words (maximum length, 120 characters including spaces).
Identify the basic area of effort and, if possible, convey either explicitly or implicitly whether the work covered was primarily experimental or theoretical. But avoid starting your title with, for example, "Study of . . ." or "Research on . . ." Do not use part numbers in titles (e.g., I, II, etc.) unless at least the first two parts can be published concurrently or nearly so.
If a report has been published in some other form, include that information on your rough draft. Depending on the type of publication, this information will be presented as a footnote on page 1 or in block 11 of the report documentation page. For example,
*Published in part in the Welding Journal, vol. 43, no. 9, Sept. 1985, and presented at the October 1984 Meeting of the American Welding Society.
Judicious use of footnotes may be made in the text, but remember that footnotes are disruptive to readers and decrease their comprehension. Bibliographic references must not be given as footnotes. (See the section on references.)
Prepare a list of several tentative titles as you write the report, but make the selection only after all writing has been completed. By that time you will have had to ponder all aspects of your work and will be in the strongest position to choose a representative title.
Significant contributions directly related to the substantive content or preparation of a NASA technical report by individuals other than the authors shall be suitably acknowledged. When an acknowledgment of contribution is warranted, it is included in a paragraph on the back of the title page.
An appendix should be regarded as the place for material that is important, but not essential, to the complete development of the report. Examine the main parts of your report for unusually long and detailed sections. Frequently, the report can be improved by relocating some material from these sections to an appendix. Particularly appropriate for appendixes are
Appendixes must have titles. If there is more than one appendix, identify them by capital letters (A, B, C, etc.) in the order of their mention in the report. (Each appendix should be referred to at some point in the main body of the report.) If the symbol list is an appendix, make it either the first or last appendix. Numbering of figures and tables mentioned for the first time in the appendixes is a continuation of the numbering in the main text. Equations are usually numbered according to the appendix in which they appear (e.g., (Cl), (C2), etc.) but may be a continuation of the equation numbers in the main text.
Appendixes may be written by authors other than those of the report. Appendixes having independent authors are mentioned in the Introduction in the following manner:
Appendix B by John Z. Doe describes the computer program used in the analysis.
An author and affiliation line, as applicable, also appear under the appendix title.
References are citations of work related to points brought out in the report and are given as sources of additional information for the reader. The question of whether a reference is needed can only be answered with experience. A reference may be appropriate
Reports, books, papers, and other publications referred to in NASA reports are listed in the References section at the end of the text, after any appendixes but before tables or figures appearing at the back of the report.
References are generally put into established NASA style and listed by number in the order of mention in the text, tables, and figures consecutively. But the style and format of the reference list may follow accepted practice in the discipline of the report.
If you prefer, you may use the name (date) style of citation (e.g., Anders (1971, 1972); Smith (1974)). This style allows you to revise your manuscript without searching for and changing all reference numbers. This type of reference list is alphabetized by the last name of the first author. Multiple publications by the same author (or authors) are listed in chronological order from oldest to most recent. Documents by the same author in the same year are cited by author, year, and letter (e.g., Robinson (1970a,b)). Documents having no personal author may be cited in the text by using an abbreviated title.
If a bibliography is presented in addition to or in place of the References section, the publications in it are neither numbered nor cited in the text and are either listed alphabetically according to author, listed chronologically, or grouped according to subject.
Only material that you have seen should be referenced. If you cannot obtain the original material, you must list the secondary source, but you may mention the original source in parentheses.
When surveying the literature for source material, check its availability. Do not use material that is not readily obtainable. Personal communications and papers "to be published" may not be included in the reference list of NASA reports but may be acknowledged with a parenthetical note in the text. In the note give the author's name, the date, the company name and location, and the status of the information (e.g., J.C. Jones, 1985, Acme Co., Philadelphia, PA, personal communication; P.D. Smith, 1986, J. Phys. Chem., to be published). Not-yet-published Glenn reports may be cited in the reference lists of published NASA reports if they have received the division chief's approval for final processing as NASA publications and have been assigned a NASA report number.
Limited-distribution documents, unclassified reports whose availability is restricted by Government regulations concerning the export of technology, should not be referenced unless absolutely necessary. If you use such references in a report with unlimited distribution, you will need to provide the name of the division, branch or office that controls the distribution of the report. (See refs. 11 and 12 for more information.)
Copyrighted material may be referenced without permission from the copyright holder, but you must obtain permission for direct quotation or reproduction of any part of such material. To avoid delaying the report, ask the NASA Glenn Library to contact the copyright holder as soon as you decide to use the material.
Documents of higher classification than the report may be cited in the reference list both as an acknowledgment of the contributions of others and as a courtesy to those with access to these documents. But neither the document title nor material or data from the referenced document may be quoted or discussed if they are classified higher than your report.
Correct citation of a reference is an important responsibility of the author. Double check the final draft of your report to make certain no errors have crept into the reference list.
The last left-hand page facing the back cover of all NASA publications except those in the Special Publications series is the report documentation page (RDP). This standard form includes the title and authors (including information on how to contact them), the Abstract, the key words, and information on the report's distribution as well as the funding number. When you bring your report to the Publishing Services Coordination Office, you will be asked to provide the information necessary to complete this form. Key words are terms or short phrases that identify the principal subjects covered in the report. The NASA Thesaurus (ref. 8 or online version) contains the subject terms by which documents in the NASA Scientific and Technical Information System are indexed and retrieved. Therefore, all key words should be chosen from the thesaurus, which is also the primary guide for spelling. For samples of the information contained in the report documentation page, see the Glenn Technical Report Server (GLTRS).Questions on policies and procedures should be directed to Natalie Henrich, (216) 433-5301.
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