How to Write an Environmental Report

Scientific writing must be accurate, clear and concise, with the meaning of each word coherent and obvious to the reader. Excessive use of technical jargon diminishes readability. Even complex multidisciplinary reports should have clearly stated objectives, methods of evaluation, analytical results and summary and conclusions. Technological and scientific advances will be wasted unless the author focuses on preparing a scientific report that is accurate, concise, understandable and timely.

Select a good report title. Ideally, the title should be brief but definitive. In essence, the title is a concise description of the subject of the report, and as such, has to convey to the reader the content of the report.

Prepare topical and annotated outlines. For the topical outline, provide major and minor headings that reflect the title and organization of the report. For the annotated outline, write a sentence or paragraph for each heading in the topical outline. The annotated outline is an expanded version of the topical outline.

Write the introduction. Begin with a brief statement of the problem and proceed by expanding on the problem. Provide any background information pertinent to the study.

Divide the introduction into separate subsections. In lengthy reports, subheadings are appropriate such as purpose and scope, description of study area, previous studies and acknowledgments. The purpose should reflect the title and main headings; the scope should tell the reader what was done to carry out the purpose. The description of study area should cover topics such as the geographic setting, climate and physical features. Previous studies should cite earlier research or work that is applicable to the current study.

Acknowledgments should endorse those who assisted in the research or study.

Compose a methods or approach section. Include methods and techniques that were used in the study. The approach is optional and only desirable in complex multidisciplinary reports. If used, present the rationale behind the study and the manner in which the study was performed. Do not include any results in the methods or approach section.

Write the body of the report as a technical discussion of the results. Develop the points made in the introduction and purpose and scope. Write strong topic sentences. Devote the rest of the paragraph to supporting and developing the points addressed in the topic sentence. Focus on one point at a time. End each body paragraph by making a reference back to the topic sentence to tie the sentences in the paragraph altogether. Showcase your results in illustrations and tables.

Write a concluding discussion. Summarize and briefly reiterate the principal conclusions of the study developed in the discussion in the body of the report. Provide solutions to the problem proposed in the introduction.

Cite references listed in the report. All references in the report must appear in the reference list at the back of the report.

Write the abstract. Touch on all principal findings that appear in the body of the report. Be informative rather than figurative. State what the report tells and not what the report is about. Report the results or findings in order of decreasing importance. Do not present new material.

  • Write the non-interpretive sections of the report first, followed by the interpretive sections.
  • Emphasize key words that reflect the report title and the major body headings in the report.
  • All subdivided material should have at least two subheadings.
  • Each paragraph in the body should contain three transitional elements: unity, development and coherence.
  • Prepare the abstract last, and keep the total word count to 250 words or less, if possible.
About the Author

Since 1977, Rhonda Howard has been writing and editing scientific manuscripts for the U.S. Geological Survey. The Survey publishes earth science manuscripts related to the hydrology, geology, and biology disciplines. Rhonda presently serves as the Publishing Service Center Chief for Florida and the Caribbean and oversees all publishing activities including editing, graphics, layout, visual identity/508 compliance, printing, and Web preparation and posting.

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