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Dr. Hawkins’ offers the following guidelines to students writing material for one of his classes. These guidelines will be updated on a regular basis and students should use the most recent version when preparing material for Dr. Hawkins.
Form and Style Guidelines/Information:
- Texas A&M University Writing Center
- TAMU Thesis and Dissertation Services web site, including link to the current TAMU Thesis and Dissertation Manual and other formatting/style links.
- Guidelines for the TRB Transportation Research Record contain formatting and style guidelines for TRB papers. These are good guidelines for almost any transportation document. The guidelines can be found at TRB Information for Authors.
Word Processing Suggestions:
- Learn the details of how to use a word processing program – particularly the advanced features. Word and WordPerfect are two of the most common, but are not the only ones. Each program provides many capabilities that will help you prepare and format a document with minimal effort.
- Learn how Word uses style templates to define formatting. It is much easier to format a document using the styles than to manhandle the formatting. Particularly if you have to change formatting later in the writing process.
- Learn how to set indents and hanging indents. Do not use tabs or spaces to indent the second and later lines of text in a paragraph. In other words, you should use the tab key only as the first keystroke at the beginning of a paragraph. You should not use the tab key within a paragraph.
- The default left and right margins for Word are 1.25 inches. You should change the default template to left and right margins of 1.0 inches. Few places use 1.25 for left and right margins.
- Dr. Hawkins recommends that students turn on the option to view formatting marks. This will help the student to make sure that text is properly formatted. This is particularly useful in making sure that you do not have too many spaces between words, are not inserting multiple tabs in a sentence, or are not inserting the tab code within a paragrah. (In Word, Tools=>Options=>View tab=>Formatting Marks=>All).
- Provide a Table of Contents, List of Figures, and List of Tables for a report. A paper may or may not benefit from these, depending upon the length. If you provide a TOC, LOF, and/or LOT, use dot leaders with page numbers so that readers will be able to find the item listed in the TOC/LOF/LOT.
- Divide content using chapters and/or headings so that readers can easily go to the part of the document that they are interested in.
- Dr. Hawkins recommends that you use 12 point Times New Roman as your default font throughout the document. Do not mix fonts or font sizes in the document (except you can use a smaller font size in a table). You can use a different font style if you want, but whichever font you choose, be sure to use it consistently.
- Provide page numbers on every page.
- Single space reports and papers. Use 1.5 or 2.0 spacing for a review draft. Note: theses and dissertations must use 1.5 or 2.0 line spacing.
- Footers and/or headers may be a useful means of providing a unique identity to your document and provide the readers with useful information.
- You must have at least two headings of a given level. For example, within a given first level heading, you cannot have just one second level heading. You must have at least two second level headings or you should not have any second level headings.
- You cannot have a heading followed immediately by another heading. You must have text between two consecutive headings.
- The chapter title is not a heading. The first level heading is within the text of a document, not the chapter title.
- While not a requirement, it is recommended that each chapter be numbered (i.e., Chapter 1: Introduction).
- Tables and figures may be numbered consecutively throughout the entire document or may be numbered within each chapter (i.e., Figure 4-1, Figure 4-2 for the first two figures in Chapter 4).
- Tables and figures in any appendix should be numbered with a letter corresponding to the appendix letter and the number of the table/figure (i.e., Table A-1, Table B-3).
- Table and figure captions should use the same font and font size as the text in the document.
- Do not split tables across a page, even in a draft document.
- The font size in a table may be smaller than the font size used for the regular text. It is common for the content of a table to be in 10 pt
- Put a box around all figures.
- Typical heading style (follows TRB Guidelines)
- 1st level – Uppercase bold: FIRST LEVEL HEADING
- 2nd level – Titlecase bold: Second Level Heading
- 3rd level – Titlecase italics: Third Level Heading
- If you provide metric units, make sure that they are SI units. (FYI, SI units do not include cm.)
- In general, you should not use symbol in the text (except for the dollar sign $). Specifically, do not use the percent symbol (%) or ampersand (&) in text – spell out the words “percent” and “and.” It is okay to use these and other symbols within a table.
- Use one space between words and two spaces between sentences.
- Use the equation editor to insert an equation. Do not type equations using regular text if it would require either the * or ^ symbols.
- Use left justification except where text is to be centered. Do not use full justification. Word does not use proportional font spacing in full justification. As a result, spacing in full justification is inconsistent and presents a poor appearance.
- Provide an overall (“big picture”) description at the beginning of a chapter. The first sentence of a paragraph should provide an indication of the overall content of the paragraph.
- In general, short sentences are better than long sentences.
- Write economically! Use as few words as possible to convey a concept. Do not use 10 words to convey a thought when you can do it with 5.
- Use figures and tables to communicate information. Many readers will just browse a document and will get valuable information from looking at the figures and tables.
- Use bullet points to summarize/list key items.
- Write in active voice. Avoid passive voice.
- Pay attention to the organization of your sentences, paragraphs, sections, and chapters.
- Use transitions between the key elements (sentences, paragraphs, sections, and chapters).
- Use adjectives and adverbs carefully. Do not embellish.
- Do not use the word “dangerous” in engineering writing.
- Do not write negatively about your work or others’ work unless you carefully consider what you are saying and are convinced that the wording is appropriate.
- Make sure you use the correct tense. Proposals are typically written in the future tense and reports/papers/theses/dissertations in the past tense, although there may be exceptions for some cases or sentences. If you cut-and-paste text from the proposal to the thesis/dissertation, make sure you change the tense. Consistent use of improper tense indicates a lack of proofreading and may lead to the proposal or thesis being returned to the student for editing without being read for technical content.
- Students should make sure they understand the rules for using commas. Improper use or lack of use of commas is a common deficiency. Improper use of commas may require additional review time for Dr. Hawkins’ thesis/dissertation review. Dr. Hawkins prefers that a comma be used after the next-to-last item in a list (before the and).
- The word data is plural.
- You must have a space between a number and the unit of measure. In the last couple of years, students have been showing numbers and units with no space between them. This type of error may lead to the proposal or thesis being returned for revision without being read for technical content. Examples: 4ft is not correct, 4 ft is, 35mph is not correct, 35 mph is. The rule applies regardless of whether you are using English or metric units.
- The Table of Contents, List of Figures, and List of Tables are three separate lists. Each should have the heading/caption and use dot leaders (……….) to connect the heading/caption to the page number that is right aligned.
General Organization for an Engineering Document (Report or Paper):
- This outline will change depending upon the topic and level of detail needed in the document.
- In some cases, these headings will be sections, in larger documents, they will be chapters.
- This structure may not work for all documents. In some cases, you may want to deal with data collection, analysis, and results all together instead of splitting them up as described below.
- The primary guiding principle in writing is to know your audience. Write in a manner that will make your intended audience get the most out of the document. If you are trying to write for multiple audiences, you should prepare different documents or you need to recognize that the document you prepare may not meet the needs of some of your audience.
- The following presents a general outline for the sections/chapters that can make up an engineering document.
I. Abstract – generally, a 250 word or less description of what you did, what you found, and what you recommend. This should be the last item in the document to be written. For a report, there may be a need for an executive summary (generally less than 2 pages).
II. Introduction – a view of the topic from 10,000 ft altitude. The introduction provides a generalized description of what the document is addressing without getting into details. It must be well written to generate the reader’s interest. It should also provide a framework for the rest of the document so that a reader can read only the introduction and one other section/chapter and have a pretty good idea of what it means. The content of the introduction will change depending upon the type of document, but generally includes:
B. Problem description
C. General description of problem solving approach
D. Structure of document.
III. Background Information – depending on the type of document, this may provide detailed information about what others have done related to this subject, explanations of how critical pieces fit together, or other material that will help the reader to get to the same level so that they can understand and appreciate the remainder of the document.
IV. Problem Solving Approach – describe the method you used to solve the problem. This probably means outlining how you decided what data you needed, the procedures you used to collect the data, and the procedures you used to analyze the data.
A. Description of data related to the issue and how you decided what data to use in the analysis
B. Description of how you collected the data.
C. Describe the procedure you used to analyze the data. This is where you may need to give the theoretical basis for the analysis.
V. Analysis and Results/Findings – this is where you describe what data is and what the analysis results are.
Data – indicate the details of the data you collected. This is where you summarize the raw data that goes into the analysis. The raw data itself probably belongs in the appendix.
Describe the data analysis and results
VI. Conclusions and Recommendations – Many executives will read only this section/chapter. It needs to be written so that it sufficiently summarizes the efforts and tells the decision maker what to do.
Summarize what was done and how it was done
Summarize the findings
Describe what the findings mean – this is the interpretation of the results
Identify what changes should be made in response to the findings.
VII. References – this generally applies to research documents, but may be appropriate for technical reports to indicate the sources of information.
VIII. Appendices – this is where you may want to put the data details. Unless there is a need to put the data in the report, put it in the appendix. You may want to divide it into several appendices.
Common Writing Mistakes that Students Make in Writing Papers and Reports (list is in no specific order)
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