20 – Recommendation Reports

Formatting a Technical Report

Kalani Pattison; Matt McKinney; Nicole Hagstrom-Schmidt; David McMurrey; Annemarie Hamlin; Chris Rubio; Michele DeSilva; and Claire Carly-Miles

While formatting may seem to be of lesser importance than content, the way that something looks conveys the first impression your reader has of your work. Making sure that your formatting is clear, logical, and consistent can be compared to dressing professionally for a job interview. You want your first impression to be a strong one. Use formatting to ensure that your reader knows you are serious about and proud of your work: you care enough about your own ideas to make sure that they are easy to navigate, that they are ordered logically, and that they are polished visually.

Page Numbering

Page numbering (or pagination) is an expectation for any major written source that uses pages. Depending on your style, you may use a combination of Roman numerals (i, ii, iii…) and Arabic numbers (1, 2, 3). Below are key points to remember when paginating your document:

  • All pages in the report (within but excluding the front and back covers) are numbered, but on some pages, the numbers are not displayed. Microsoft Word and Google Docs allow you to present the page numbers in this way, but other word processors may require you to compose the report’s parts in different documents, save them as PDFs, and then combine the PDFs.
  • On special pages, such as the title page, page numbers are not displayed.
  • In the contemporary design format, all pages throughout the document use Arabic numerals; in the traditional design format, all pages before the introduction (or the first page of the body of the report) use lowercase Roman numerals.
  • Page numbers can be placed in one of several areas on the page. Usually, the best and easiest choice is to place page numbers at the bottom center of the page. (Remember to hide or remove them on special pages!)


In all but the shortest reports (two pages or less, and often even then), use headings to distinguish the different topics and subtopics covered. Headings are an important feature of professional and technical writing: they alert readers to upcoming topics and subtopics, help readers find their way around in long reports and skip what they are not interested in, and break up long stretches of text.

Headings are also useful for writers. They keep you organized and focused on the topic. Indeed, headings are like the parts of an outline that have been pasted into the actual pages of the document. When you begin using headings, your impulse may be to add in the headings after you’ve written the rough draft. Instead, visualize the headings before you start the rough draft, and incorporate them as you write.

Here are a number of helpful tips for ensuring your headings are as clear and useful as possible for your readers:

  • Make the phrasing of headings self-explanatory. Instead of “Background” or “Technical Information,” use a more descriptive title, such as “Physics of Fiber Optics.”
  • Make headings parallel in phrasing. That is, use the same syntax and word forms for each heading. Parallelism sends readers important clues as to whether the section is similar in nature to the preceding ones. For example, take a moment to notice the first word of each bullet point in this list:  Make, Make, Make, Avoid, Avoid, Avoid, etc. These words are all imperative verbs and thus parallel in phrasing.
  • Make headings indicate the range of topic coverage in the section. For example, if the section covers the design and operation of a pressurized water reactor, the heading “Pressurized Water Reactor Design” would be incomplete and misleading.
  • Avoid “lone headings.” That is, avoid only including one subheading in a section. This is the same concept as having an “A” without a “B” or a “1” without a “2” in outlines.  It is also the same as having a bullet-point list with only one bullet point. These are all cases where the format indicates that there is more than one of something (headings, bullet points, etc.).
  • Avoid “stacked” headings. This occurs when there are any two consecutive headings without intervening text.  For example, if you have the Level 1 heading Methods and a Level 2 heading (Task 1: Researching Physics of Fiber Optics) immediately below it, make sure to include some introductory text after the Level 1 heading and before the Level 2 heading.
  • Avoid pronoun reference to headings. For example, if you have a heading “Torque,” don’t begin the sentence following it with something like this: “This is a physics principle…”  Reiterate the main idea first so that pronouns clearly have a noun (or antecedent) to refer back to.
  • Omit articles from the beginning of headings, when possible. For example, “The Pressurized Water Reactor” can easily be changed to “Pressurized Water Reactor” or, better yet, “Pressurized Water Reactors.”
  • Don’t use headings as lead-ins to lists or as figure titles. Headings are for sections of text. Lists and figures should be integrated into their appropriate section and should not stand alone. For example, if you have the Level 1 heading “Task Schedule,” do not immediately follow that heading with the actual task schedule.  Instead, introduce the task schedule before inserting it.
  • Avoid “orphan” headings. An orphan heading occurs at the bottom of a page and the text it introduces starts at the top of the next page. To fix, insert a page break before the heading; this will move the heading onto the next page.

If you manually format each individual heading using the guidelines presented in the preceding list, you’ll find you’re doing quite a lot of repetitive work. The styles provided by Microsoft Word, Open Office Writer, Google Docs, Pages, and other software save you this effort. You simply select Heading 1, Heading 2, Heading 3, and so on. You’ll notice the format and style are different from what is presented here. However, you can design your own styles for headings. See Chapter 7: Design for more information about headings.

Information Sources and Documentation

Documenting your information sources is all about establishing, maintaining, and protecting your credibility in the profession. You must cite (or “document”) borrowed information regardless of how you present it. Whether you directly quote it, paraphrase it, or summarize it, that information is still borrowed information. Whether it comes from a book, an article, a diagram, a table, a webpage, a product brochure, or an expert whom you interview in person, it’s still borrowed information. Typically, citing outside information requires you to include an in-text citation and a corresponding bibliographic entry in a References, Works Cited, or Bibliography section.

Documentation systems vary according to professionals and fields. For a technical writing class in college, you may be using either MLA or APA style. See Chapter 12: Avoiding Plagiarism and Citing Sources Properly for APA and MLA citation formatting guidance.

This text was derived from

Gross, Allison, Annemarie Hamlin, Billy Merck, Chris Rubio, Jodi Naas, Megan Savage, and Michele DeSilva. Technical Writing. Open Oregon Educational Materials, n.d. https://openoregon.pressbooks.pub/technicalwriting/. Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

McMurrey, David. Online Technical Writing. n.d. https://www.prismnet.com/~hcexres/textbook/. Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.




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Howdy or Hello? Technical and Professional Communication Copyright © 2022 by Kalani Pattison; Matt McKinney; Nicole Hagstrom-Schmidt; David McMurrey; Annemarie Hamlin; Chris Rubio; Michele DeSilva; and Claire Carly-Miles is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.