Tips for Research Project Report Writing
Follow the format of the type of research you are doing: Those of you who are actually gathering original data from interviews, observations, samples of prose, or surveys, at least should consider reporting your project's results in some form of a scientific article format, though you can negotiate with me to adapt its format to a more MLA style format if you're more comfortable with MLA. However, you should know that the scientific format (CBE style) will simplify some important parts of a complex report by allowing you to park your information in some pre-designed sections of the paper without having to write transition between them. This advantage is intended to speed the communication between scientists and their colleagues, and it also guarantees that you'll attend to all the necessary details of representing your project's data gathering and analysis. Click here for an introduction to "Types of Natural Sciences Writing," and click here for a "cookbook" approach to "How to Write a Scientific Article." Any of the groups can decide to adapt the scientific report's "chapter"-style presentation to make writing collaboratively more efficient and coherent. We can negotiate about how much transitional logic you need to provide. Just remember that transitions between big units of writing are where new ideas and insights come from!
Decide how to distribute the burden of writing: Depending on the kind of project you are doing, you may decide that the writing, itself, may need to be "collaborative" in that you may have to write part or all of it together. This can be very successful, or very stressful, depending on how maturely and sensitively you conduct those writing events, and how carefully you plan what you are attempting to do. Other ways to produce the report may involve the following organizational decisions:
Divide the report into sections and distribute them among the group based on interest, expertise, time available and writing ability. Make time for a final "editorial conference" in which you read through the final draft for logical and stylistic consistency, but also consider putting all the sections through a conversationally improved second draft in which you let insights from each section inform the others.
After a group brainstorming session which generates a consensus about what your evidence means, divide the writing stages into a first draft composition which is assigned to one or two members, and a revision draft which the other members produce. (A final draft editorial conference also is recommended for this method, as well.)
Always budget time for a stylistic and grammatical revision: This is different from making sure the parts are arranged logically, the pronoun-choice is consistent (I, we, or 3rd person), and the tense is consistent (present vs. past vs. future). Even the very best writers will make more mistakes in spelling, punctuation, syntax and word choice when they are working with very difficult ideas, large amounts of evidence, complicated production strategies, or tight deadlines. Just getting something done should be your first, not your last objective. When you plan how you will complete the writing, set aside several days for each member of the group to re-read the report alone, and then meet to fix errors and to improve the paper's style.
Decide how you want the product to be evaluated: Once you've chosen your composition method, think through whether you can consider the results a completely homogeneous product of everyone in the group. If you chose a production process which divided responsibility for separate parts, perhaps they should be evaluated separately, assigning authors to each. You also can assign separate responsibility for qualitative and quantitative analysis.
Decide what ancillary materials to include: Research sometimes generates a number of important supporting documents which may be essential to your readers' understanding of your findings, or which may help following groups make more rapid progress in following the path you have pioneered. In the sciences, data tables routinely are provided to allow colleagues to check conclusions against the raw evidence. Charts and graphs are used to help us see trends, etc. Illustrations can help us visualize specific situations, apparatus, and attributes of your evidence which are crucial to your conclusions. If you use a survey or interview form to gather evidence, include the form. If you are collecting suggestions or responses from a specific population, consider excerpting the most important ones in an "appendix" at the end of the report (another form of "raw data").
Other things the report can become or do: Though English 221 is an academic course at Goucher College, its interests extend into a wide range of other domains, and your report may lead you deeper into one or more of them. Reports can generate proposals to change the way things are done, to do something which has not yet been done, or to do away with something that currently is being done. Reports can become web sites or add to existing web sites if their results can be usefully accessed in that form. Reports can become proposals for senior honors theses or independent studies in English or other disciplines. Reports can become writing samples for graduate or professional schools. Reports can become proposals for grant-funded research at Goucher or outside it. Reports can be used to train faculty, tutors, or writers. Reports can change the world, a little bit or a lot--it's your choice.