Basic Format Guide

Format Guide

Prefaces: This format guide describes some general formal rules of scientific writing and is in this form sufficient for undergraduate laboratory or project reports etc. 

Different disciplines may use slightly different formal rules, e.g. for referencing. So do not be surprised if you find minor differences between this guide and other papers. However, this guide is to be considered as standard for any HKE documentation.

1 Style of writing

The main purpose of writing a report is to communicate clearly and simply what you have done, why you have done it, and what the results mean.

Writing style is very important. Think before you write and group related ideas together in a logical sequence. Use the third person singular, past tense in such writing.

Clearly distinguish between logic and facts, information of other sources (e.g. literature) and your own point of view. All those types of information are allowed and welcome if they help to answer a research question, but the reader must be made aware which type of information you are dealing with. The most frequent mistake of this type is to postulate an own opinion in a style that it appears as a fact to the reader. Do not write "The hot weather was fatiguing the subjects" if this is just your thinking and you do not have any evidence for this statement. Better write "It cannot be excluded that the hot weather had an additional impact to the subjects." if you want to point the reader's attention to the hot temperatures.

Write the report as if it is to be read by an intelligent and very sceptical peer. Do not make unsupported assertions. Don't hide behind jargon if you use a technical term new to you include a brief explanation.

The ten Commandments of Good Writing (according to Howard G. Knuttgen):

  1. Each pronoun should agree with their antecedent.
  2. Just between you and I, case is important.
  3. A preposition is a poor word to end a sentence with.
  4. Verbs has to agree with their subjects.
  5. Don't use no double negatives.
  6. A writer mustn't shift the readers point of view
  7. When dangling, don't use participles.
  8. Join clauses good, like a conjunction should.
  9. Don't write a run on sentence because it is difficult when you got to punctuate it so it makes sense when the reader reads what you wrote.
  10. About sentence fragments.

2 Structure of scientific papers and assignments

Scientific papers and assignments take many forms.

They can be short or long, empirical (data are gathered) or literature research, and they can be structured or non structured. The following will help you prepare your report to suit these various formats.

a) Structured Assignments

These are assignments in which specific questions are asked or specific requirements are to be met. The easiest way to deal with this is sequentially, with a clear labelling of your responses to the questions or requirements. The report should have a Title Page (see section 3.1), and should you employ references, use the prescribed format (see section 3.5). In summary, the structure of the assignments will dictate the format of the report.

b) Unstructured Assignments and project reports

These are assignments for which there is no specific structure, as it is also the case for any type of reports. Where the structure is not completely specified use one of the following formats.

2.1 Literature Research

Both short and long literature research projects should be presented in sections appropriate to the topic. These sections might progress from the specific towards the general, or they might simply be representative of the various aspects of the topic. Regardless what the content is, the ideas should combine and flow logically to present a complete picture of the topic. The report should have a Title Page (see section 3.1) and all references should follow the prescribed format (see section 7.3.5).

Long literature research projects should also have an Abstract then a Table of Contents following the Title Page. The Abstract is a very short (~200 words) summary of the research.

2.2 Short Reports of Empirical Data Collection

Laboratory or experimental project reports should contain the following information, in this order:

Title Page

See section 3.1.


Briefly spell out why you did the project (what were you trying to discover), introducing the reader to the topic addressed.

Review of Literature

A logically sequenced discussion of directly and indirectly related topics.
Often you will need to refer to someone else's work to justify something you are saying (see section 3.5).


Detail how data collection was conducted (in case of assignments only if it was not specified in an assignment, or if it differed from that specified in the assignment).
Specify equipment used and data collected.


Present all results in summary form (or other appropriate statistics) as Tables or Figures (see section 0) and written summaries in order to make a results section more meaningful.


Use this section to discuss the results found as well as to relate the results to reviewed literature.
This section of a report is probably the most important. It is here that one discusses the results obtained i.e. give possible reasons for one’s findings substantiated by findings from the relevant literature.

In laboratory exercises there may be a “COMMENTARY” in which you are asked certain questions about what you found. These questions should be addressed under this heading, but should not be dealt with in merely a question/answer form. The questions are there to guide your thinking.


Draw conclusions based on the results found

3 General formats

3.1 Page format

25 mm top margin,
25-35 mm left margin (depending on how much space is required for binding),
25 mm right margin and
30 mm bottom margin (page number centred)

Figure 1: Title page layout (text in squared brackets: fill in the appropriate information).

A MS-Word template can be downloaded here.

3.2 Text format

Use ARIAL font 12pt size and a line spacing of 1.5 as standard.

3.3 Figures, tables and equations

Each figure should have a numbered caption at the bottom that concisely describes the figure.
Each table should have a numbered caption at the top that tells concisely just what it contains. As an option, roman numbers might be used for tables (if applied consistently throughout the paper).
Equations are numbered in parenthesis right to the equation and referenced accordingly. Example:
A + B = C (eq. 1)
Equations do not have a caption or heading.

3.4 Appendices

In an appendix or appendices any material supportive should be included which would interfere with the flow of the report if contained within the body of the report, such as:
- raw data
- lists of items too lengthy to include in results
- supportive letters
- ancillary information
Each new type of material should be contained within its own appendix. Label Appendix A / Appendix B etc.

3.5 Referencing

General rules

  • ALL references used must be included in the report / documentation
  • References must be listed in ALPHABETICAL ORDER
  • Do NOT number the references

Referencing in the text

Some examples:

"It has been identified (De Vries, 1980 ) that ..."
"Astrand and Rodahl (1977) point out that ..."
"One experiment (Gordon et al., 1983) ....."
"It is widely accepted (De Vries, 1980; Astrand and Rodahl, 1977; Gordon et al., 1983) that ......"

Note that et al., must be in italics (or bold) with only one full stop (after “al.”).

Listing primary sources

Generally, list all authors and mark book names and journal titles italics (or bold). In the following, examples of different sources are outlined.


Spencer RF and Johnson GT (1999). Applied Physiology. Second Edition. Cape Town: Harper and Collins Publishers.

Chapters in edited volumes:

Spencer RF and Johnson GT (1997). The basic principles of Applied Physiology. In T Cohen and R Godman (eds): Early Studies Into Work Physiology. New York: Harper and Row Publishers, pp. 120-125.

Journal Articles:

Cann RL and Brown W (1991). Acceleration and speed as factors in human performance. American Journal of Sports Medicine, 21(1): 120-125.

Conference proceedings:

Scott PA and Charteris J (1995). Lifting in South African Industry. Proceedings: Joint IEA World Conference and 2nd South African Congress. Cape Town, 12-20 July 2000. 500-520.

Departmental notes and material:

Department of Human Kinetics and Ergonomics (2001). First Year Practical and Tutorial Manual. Grahamstown: Rhodes University.

World wide web:

Christie CJ (2001). Case Study: Aerobic Capacity. URL: Last accessed: 17 August 2008.

Referencing secondary sources

Secondary sources are references which were not directly consulted, but only gathered (re-cited) from primary sources. Wherever possible, go to the original reference rather than someone else's interpretation of the reference. But you are allowed to use secondary sources if you indicate this correctly.

If you are using a secondary source in your work, you must use the following format:

Within the text you acknowledge the Author/s and date of the secondary source alike a primary source, e.g. "MacKinnon (1997) states that ......".

In the reference section, directly below the header, you place the following note:

Note: Asterisked Citations * are secondary sources. These were not directly consulted and are referenced as fully as primary sources, indicated in brackets, permit.

In the reference list you then both references, but add an asterisk before the secondary source and refer to the primary source in brackets at the end. For example:

*MacKinnon S (1997). Perceived stress and the impact on EMG, Applied Ergonomics, 23(1): 120-123. (see Stevens, 2000).

Stevens F (2000). EMG activity and work related stress. Ergonomics, 11(1): 1200-1211.

Last Modified: Wed, 28 Nov 2012 13:10:34 SAST