8.5 Writing a project report
Finally, you write up your project report. It is important to recognise that this will go through several drafts. You can't just sit down and write a report on this sort of scale quickly or easily. You will have gathered far too much material for that. And it may take you a little while really to get into the writing. Towards the end of the research phase, as you face up to writing proper, you may reach a kind of plateau where nothing much seems to be going on. The excitement of the planning and discovery stages are behind you. You may have become so familiar with your topic that it seems trivial, and your findings insignificant. But push on. Once you are fully engaged in writing you will rediscover your enthusiasm in the intensity of the experience. Talking about your work with other students and friends helps at every stage, and especially now when you are really having to sort things out in your mind.
Try to achieve different things at each draft stage. For the first full draft aim just to get everything down on paper, even if you are dissatisfied with parts of it as you write. Writing a project report involves a lot more than producing a description of your work. You have to:
explain the rationale for what you have done, outlining the background from which your question arose so that your readers can see its significance;
explain your choice of research methods;
plot a coherent line of argument for your report that takes you towards your conclusions, explaining yourself clearly and justifying your judgements.
So it is quite enough just to get things down somehow at this first stage.
As you work towards the second draft you can go back over the unsatisfactory parts of the report. Concentrate on the structure of your argument, making sure that ideas are adequately linked and sections follow on one from the other towards your conclusions. Then reorganise and prune your writing until it is closer to the required length. As we saw, the difficulty with writing on this kind of scale is keeping the forward momentum of argument going while at each stage adequately explaining your ideas and introducing appropriate illustrative material and evidence. So, to enable the reader to follow you, you must keep ‘signposting’ the direction your argument is taking. Finally, for the third draft, you will need to check that the meaning of each sentence is clear and polish up the report. Your writing is the means through which your ideas exist, so care lavished on expression is not an optional extra.
If you are using a word-processor these draft stages may not be as distinct as my account suggests. But it is very important not to try to do everything at once. So it is still worth behaving as if you were producing several separate drafts: at particular points going through your work with these different aims in mind.