Want to keep learning?

This content is taken from the The University of Sheffield's online course, Technical Report Writing for Engineers. Join the course to learn more.
A technician immerses a sample in liquid nitrogen

Looking professional

Throughout this course, you have been introduced to the standard elements of a technical engineering report. These are elements such as figure numbers, section headings and references. When you start to use these elements, you need to decide on a style of typesetting for each element - and apply it consistently throughout your report.

When we talk about typesetting, we are referring to aspects of the presentation such as the typeface, the font size, the indentation, the alignment on the page or any attribute that dictates how the element appears.

In a technical engineering report, there should be distinct typesetting for each type item and it should be applied consistently for every instance of the same type of item.

For example, if a figure caption is set to bold, 11pt centre aligned, this should be different from the body text and applied to every figure caption in the report.

The items that will need a specific typesetting include:

  • Section, subsection and below numbers and headers
  • References and citations
  • Figure and table numbers and captions
  • Equations numbers
  • Body text
  • Footnotes
  • Page numbers
  • Body text
  • Technical terms in the body text
  • Emphasis in the body text
  • Page margins

There are two reasons why engineers do this:

  1. The reader needs to know what type of item they are reading. For example, if a subsection header looks the same as the body text or looks different to all the other subsection headers, the reader won’t easily understand that it is a subsection header.

  2. Inconsistent typesetting produces a messy, poorly presented report that reflects badly on the author.

Problems of consistency often occur when several authors work on the same report or when one author doesn’t pay attention to setting up a consistent set of styles.

The key to avoiding mess is to identify the different layout elements that have been created within the document and check for consistency. Once the document is finished, run through the whole report, identify when each of these elements occur and ensure the font, typeface, size, alignment…etc is distinctive and has been applied consistently.

While the typesetting should make the text of each of the report items distinctive so they can be identified from the body text, avoid using too many different sizes and fonts. This can make the document look a little childish.


Why do you think global formatting is important?

Share this article:

This article is from the free online course:

Technical Report Writing for Engineers

The University of Sheffield