General Formatting Guidelines

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Preparing a Report

General Formatting Guidelines

Here are some general formatting guidelines that apply to the entire report:

  • Use 2.5 or 3 cm margins for all four margins of the report. You might want to use a 2.5 cm margin at the top and 2 cm margins for the left, right, and bottom.

  • Use a 2.5- 3cm left margin if your binding uses a lot of space (for example, some binders that require 2- or 3-hole punch).

  • Generally use doublespaced typing except in those areas where singlespacing is shown (for example, in the descriptive abstract, figure titles, short vertical lists, and items in the information-sources list).

  • Use one side of the paper only.

Formal Reports: Component by Component

This section examines each component of the formal report and points out the key requirements in terms of content, design, and format. Remember that these are requirements, or "specifications." Much of the work that professional technical writers do is governed by specifications. Just as an electric component should be built according to certain design specifications, so must most technical documents such as instructions manuals etc. Your job, like any technical writer's, is to stay as close to the specifications as you possibly can. The first section is the cover, table of contents and list of figures

Section1: Covers and label.

Your final report should use some sort of cover and label.


  • The best is the plastic spiral binding that you can have done at most copy shops. It uses only a quarter-inch of the left margin, and the bound report lies flat when open. ( Use when presenting a report to a client)

  • The least expensive binding is the type for which you punch holes in the left margin and fix the pages in the folder with brads.

  • Loose-leaf, ring binders are generally too large and bulky-also the pages tear.

  • C
    Report cover with label (the label can be photocopied onto the cover).
    opy shops offer other kinds of binding that work well also. However, avoid the clear or colored plastic ones with the plastic sleeve that fits on the left side-not only is it grade-schoolish, it's aggravating to use.


  • With the label, the best option is to design your own and print it out on an ordinary sheet of paper, then take it to the copy shop and have it copied onto the cover of your choice or include under a clear cover

  • Adhesive labels are okay-but you have to buy hundreds of them and then find a printer that will take them

Title page and descriptive abstract.

At the bottom of the title page is the descriptive abstract.
Title page and descriptive abstract. This is the first "official" page in the report. No page number is displayed on this page (but it is "i").

Descriptive abstract: The descriptive abstract provides a description of the report's main topic and purpose as well an overview of its contents. It is very short—usually a brief one- or two-sentence paragraph. In this report design, it appears on the title page. You may have noticed something similar to this type of abstract at the beginning of journal articles.

In this type of abstract, you don't summarize any of the facts or conclusions of the report. For example:

This report provides conclusions and recommendations on the grammar-checking software that is currently available.

The descriptive abstract is a little like a program teaser. Or, to use a different analogy, it like major first-level headings of the table of contents that have been rewritten in paragraph format.

Table of contents.

The table of contents (TOC) lists the headings from the body of the report and the page numbers on which they occur. It is not required to list all headings. This TOC could have excluded all third-level headings and fit on one page.

Notice the use of Sentence Case and Upper Case as well as the use of right alignment on the Arabic and Roman numerals. Use Upper case sparingly however.

No page number is displayed on this page (but it is "ii").

Second page of the table of contents.
Notice the format if you have more than one section in the appendix.

List of figures.

In the list of figures, you list all of the titles for figures and tables in your report. If any title is too long, trim it to a meaningful portion. In this example, notice that instead of having a separate list of tables, the tables (Figures 13 and 14) are included here.

List of figures page. Notice that the page number would be "iii" if the table of contents had been only one page long.

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