In this blog I am pleased to welcome William Stevenson as a guest writer.
Industrial research managers often require their personnel to provide them with quarterly reports on their progress. This is most common when the manager himself is required to turn in progress reports to a funding agency and needs to present summaries to a third party. The quarterly reports not only summarize the experiments carried out and discuss the results, but give more or less detailed data to support the findings. For in-house funded work, quarterly reports are less common and in academic research they are seldom used.
Nevertheless, a few professors do require their students to write quarterly reports on their research. Graduate students hate writing these reports, reasoning that this takes up time they could use to do research and what’s the point of writing up the results twice—once in a quarterly report and again in a thesis? But I think the professors have the right idea. The quarterly report is a powerful tool: it can speed up the progress of research and make writing publications easier.
Organization and Motivation
The quarterly report helps to organize a research project. It’s a milestone that must be met. Consciously or subconsciously the graduate student will set up a plan to achieve enough results to make the report impressive. No one wants to turn in a progress report with no progress. There are few workers so self motivated that a deadline does not make them pick up their pace.
Publication Made Easier
The documentation within a quarterly report will also speed up the eventual publication of the research results, so long as the report is well written. When preparing the report, the graduate student must think about why he did the experiments and explain the results in a coherent fashion. This provides the groundwork for the body of the eventual paper—introduction, results, discussion. Just as important are the details of the experimental work—synthetic procedures, analysis, all the relevant data. This should be written up in the same manner as a research paper, with tabulated data and copies of spectra. The best quarterly reports are close to a research publication, albeit of a work in progress.
Doctoral Dissertations Made Easier
Graduate students may gripe about the chore of writing quarterly reports, but talk to one after he’s turned in his thesis and he’ll sing a different tune. He will grudgingly admit that his collection of quarterly reports saved him a lot of time. True, all of the information he needed was in his lab notebooks and files—but where? Hunting down the scattered notes and assembling and transcribing the sloppy writing into elegant language would have taken far longer than abstracting the information from the quarterly reports.
The quarterly report is a powerful tool, one that more researchers should use.
This post was written by William Stevenson, an English editor with Enago based out of the USA.