Writing Guidelines
for Engineering and Science Students

Design Reports

Design reports are written to introduce and document engineering and scientific designs. In general, these reports have two audiences. One audience includes other engineers and scientists interested in how the design works and how effective the design is. Another audience includes management interested in the application and effectiveness of the design. This web page presents a commonly used organization for design reports:

Although this organization serves a wide variety of design reports, your instructor may very well modify this organization to serve your particular audience and purpose.


The summary, sometimes labeled the abstract or executive summary, is a concise synopsis of the design itself, the motivation for having the design, and the design's effectiveness. The author should assume that the reader has some knowledge of the subject, but has not read the report. For that reason, the summary should provide enough background that it stands on its own. Note that if the summary is called an abstract, you are usually expected to target a technical audience in the summary. Likewise, if an executive summary is requested, you should target a management audience in the summary. For an example summary, see the following "Executive Summary."


The "Introduction" of a design report identifies the design problem, the objectives of the design, the assumptions for the design, the design alternatives, and the selection of the design being reported. Also included for transition is a mapping of the entire report. Note that in longer reports, the selection of design is often a separate section. For an example, see the following "Introduction."


The discussion presents the design itself, the theory behind the design, the problems encountered (or anticipated) in producing the design, how those problems were (or could be) overcome, and the results of any tests on the design. Note that this part usually consists of two, three, or four main headings. In regards to the actual names of these headings, pay close attention to what your instructor requests. Also consider what would be a logical division for your particular design. For an example section, see the following "discussion."


The "Conclusions" section summarizes the design and testing work completed and assesses how well the design meets the objectives presented in the "Introduction." Note that if the design does not meet the objectives, you should analyze why the design did not succeed and what could be modified to make the design a success. Besides summarizing the work and analyzing whether the objectives were met, the "Conclusions" section also gives a future perspective for how the design will be used in the future. For an example, see the following "Conclusions."


In a design report, appendices often are included. One type of appendix that appears in design reports presents information that is too detailed to be placed into the report's text. For example, if you had a long table giving voltage-current measurements for an RLC circuit, you might place this tabular information in an appendix and include a graph of the data in the report's text. Another type of appendix that often appears in design reports presents tangential information that does not directly concern the design's objectives.

If the appendix is "formal," it should contain a beginning, middle, and ending. For example, if the appendix contains tables of test data, the appendix should not only contain the tabular data, but also formally introduce those tables, discuss why they have been included, and explain the unusual aspects that might confuse the reader. Because of time constraints, your instructor might allow you to include "informal" appendices with calculations and supplemental information. For such "informal" situations, having a clear beginning, middle, and ending is not necessary. However, you should still title the appendix, place a heading on each table, place a caption beneath each figure, and insert comments necessary for reader understanding.

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Content Editor: Michael Alley