Writing Restoration Reports
Revised February 8, 2001
Richard Hebda with suggestions from Don Eastman and David Polster
- The usual headings included in a report
- Abstract or executive summary
- Methods — What was done?
- Results and interpretation
- Discussion and recommendations
Written restoration reports are a requirement for most restoration projects and many courses in the Restoration of Natural Systems Program at the University of Victoria. They provide a clear and lasting way of communicating about restoration to clients, students and the public. Students search for past reports and build on the good work and effort you have put in. Clients use reports to judge progress and success of projects, justify approving or withholding payment, and make decisions about further steps. Community groups, government bodies and others often look to the raw data and recommendations in a report. In other words, it is important not only for your mark in a course, but society at large, that you learn how to write a good restoration report.
There is no widely accepted standard format for a restoration report, rather there are numerous models ranging from scientific papers, to consultant reports to essays. This brief guide suggests a structure for a restoration report derived largely from the model of a scientific paper. This model emphasizes the presentation of rigorously collected data followed by a clear analysis and explicit recommendations. The guide also provides advice on elements within the report based on the experience gained from marking of thousands of student reports.
This guide is not intended to teach you how to write. Several books with excellent advice on this topic are available in the RNS office library (Sedgewick C133). Examples include:
- The Chicago Manual of Style
- Scientific Style and Format
- How to Write and Publish a Scientific Paper
- The Elements of Style
- On Writing Well
(See references at end for full citations)
This outline is a guide only. Clients, such as government agencies often have specific formats that you must follow. However, the general points concerning content and style apply to all reports.
Restoration reports should be viewed as scientific reports in which data, collected in as “objective” manner as possible, are clearly presented and the basis and reasons for the recommendations are well explained. Content should be organized in a standard and predictable manner and written clearly. When writing, consider these important points.
- Clear thinking helps with clear writing. Sort out your data and ideas and how they relate, before beginning your report.
- Organize ideas into a logical sequence from observations to conclusions.
- Use a simple overall structure with short headings to help the reader follow your ideas.
- Use clear words and sentences. Complex ideas can be expressed clearly in words and by using diagrams and tables.
- Avoid unnecessarily flowery language; but punchy or interesting phrasing may bring a smile to a reader and reinforce their wandering attention.
- A report is NOT LITERATURE, but must be LITERATE.
Basic Steps of Research and Investigation
The following four basic stages of research will help you organize your work and report. Though these may more or less overlap in your mind, they must be presented separately in a report. Please remember to have a clear set of objectives before you begin the actual research and investigations of the project.
- Describe — what is seen, heard, and gathered by using tables, maps, illustrations, photos and words
- Relate — in context; how do the observations you made relate to the project and similar situations?
- Interpret — what do the observations mean to an individual, the environment, the landscape, or question at hand
- Apply — what to do, recommendations
Headings for a Report
The usual headings included in a report are:
Abstract or executive summary
Methods and materials
Results and interpretation
Discussion and recommendations
Use simple wording, avoid words such as “and & the” in a title. The place name should be in the title of a restoration report.
Abstract or executive summary
The abstract is a very important component of the report. It provides a concise overview of the project, its purpose, method, and findings. That is, it summarizes what was studied, why, how, and what were the findings and recommendations. Usually there should be one to three sentences each on the why and how of the study, followed by three to four sentences of summarized observations (=data) followed by two to four sentences of recommendations (about ¼ to ¾ of the abstract).
An abstract must be brief, but concise and comprehensive. In some cases, it is all that may be read of a report (in cases such as contract competitions); therefore it is important to be as clear and comprehensive as possible. Length should be about 250-300 words or about 1% of longer reports. Do not write the abstract as an introduction — these are separate sections. The abstract does not contain introductory details. It should not be a table of contents, but it should summarize the project. NOTE: Do not write “… will be discussed” or “… recommendations will follow” etc. Include a summary of the discussion and recommendations.
The introduction serves as a background and sets out the purpose of the report and should be:
- written in the present tense;
- define the nature and scope of the problem being investigated;
- give a general sense to the approach of the project;
- refer to other reports if pertinent , i.e., those that are similar in scope (topic, site) to this project (similar to a literature review);
- may include acknowledgements at the end of the introduction.
Methods — What was done?
- Use the first-person and past tense. Be objective.
- Clearly identify what approaches were used including how measurements were made, how identification of flora/fauna was carried out according to what published standards, what samples were taken and how.
- Include enough detail so that someone else could do the same work.
- Refer to standard methodology, which should be sound and reliable.
- Include notes on site assessment, use of professional consultants, consultations with experts, community members etc.
- Describe how physical and biotic data were collected, how public input and individual consultations carried out, and how the various types of information were gathered and by whom.
Results and interpretation
- Describe what you find and how it compares to other knowledge and sites.
- Describe representative or typical data and notable deviations from them.
- Describe the key or main elements of the results.
- Summarize high points Be concise, use tables, graphs, maps, site drawings, diagrams, photos, and lists (pertinent lists can be inserted here, others in the appendix).
- The results are NEW knowledge, or a NEW SYNTHESIS of old knowledge, upon which the recommendations are based.
- Use an appendix for material that may have been gathered that is not be directly used in the report. Such material may prove to be useful to others in the future. Or perhaps report readers may see trends or patterns that you did not. Your data provide a reference condition for future work at the site.
- Compare your results to data and models from other studies; are they same or different?
Discussion and recommendations
- Present an overview and discussion of the results and your interpretation.
- Identify strengths, weaknesses and gaps in your methodology or results.
- Explain the meaning of the results within the context of the report.
- Outline the steps to be taken towards meeting the objectives.
- Provide recommendations — these often appear under a separate heading.
- Present recommendations in chronological order — that is, in the order in which they should be taken.
- Always include how monitoring will be done.
Always give credit to those who have helped you.
These provide an acknowledgment of other people’s work, texts, publications, and ideas. They give the reader access to additional data and other information. Include scientific papers, identification books, descriptions of standard methods, other restoration reports pertinent to this site, data files, maps, photos etc. All material not collected or developed by you should be referenced here. Do not include references to publications not directly referred to in your report. Please use standard organization and format for references by following the examples in scholarly journals (Canadian Journal of Earth Sciences, Botany, Zoology, Restoration Ecology etc.) or use one of the style manuals as a guide.
- A restoration report should always include a map with place names mentioned in the text, latitude/ longitude, topographical map number or other reference, north arrow and a scale.
- Use tables to present or organize data in texts or Appendices.
- Use figures, schematic diagrams, plans, and illustrations of processes in ecosystem,
- climate diagrams, and representative diagrams. Sketches may be hand drawn, if this is the best way to make the point.
*Copies of student restoration reports are available in the RNS office for use as a reference.
Strunk, W. Jr., and E.B. White. 1979. The Elements of Style, 3rd edition. Allyn and Bacon, Toronto. 92 pp.
Style Manual Committee, Council of Biology Editors. 1994. Scientific Style and Format: The CBE manual for authors and publishers, 6th edition. Cambridge University Press, UK. 625 pp.
Zinsser, W. 1994. On Writing Well, 5th edition. Harper Collins, New York. 300 pp.