Guidelines for Writing the Progress Report


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Guidelines for Writing the Progress Report* EDC-SQ 2006



The Progress Report: Overview

The progress report should be project-centered, not syllabus- or assignment-centered. In other words, the progress report is a concise outline of your team findings and decisions. It is designed to give your supervisors a complete overview of your project work in as efficient a fashion as possible.
This means that the progress report itself will be relatively short—so a two-page progress report may cover months of work and introduce tens of pages of appendices. Only the most significant findings and decisions should be included in the progress report. Research that informed the team’s decisions but is not central to the meeting should be included as an appendix (see below).
Space in the progress report is allotted according to the relevance of each point to the team meeting and the progress of the project—not according to how much time you spent on it. So you may find that you spent twenty hours on background research that yielded only one relevant finding (it happens). Only that one finding will be included in the progress report. A digest of your research may, however, be included as an appendix.

Your progress report should use sketches, photos, graphs, charts, etc. as appropriate to illustrate its claims. All should be of high quality and reflect the professional nature of the document (per the EDC textbook 243-258). Remember to:

  • Provide numbers and titles for your figures, tables, etc.

  • Provide a key for your graphs and charts.

  • Provide dimensions for your graphics.
  • Cite sources for your data and illustrations. If a member of your team took photos, he or she should be given a photo credit.

  • Refer to the figure in the text of the progress report.

Finally, it is to your benefit to make your progress reports as complete and polished as possible, since much of the material you develop for the progress reports can be used (with a few changes) in your team’s final proposal.

The Introduction (EDC textbook, 191-192)

The introduction should be short—roughly 4-5 sentences. It gives your reader four pieces of information: 1) The project / time period the report covers; 2) Where the design (or the preliminary design work) stands now; 3) What your team has planned to move the project forward; and 4) What the report will discuss overall (including any possible obstacles to future progress). That’s it—no more, no less. Do not provide excessive detail about the sources of your research or your findings. Do not reference appendices in the introduction. Do remember to give some indication of how you plan to move forward with your project.

Design Status / Research and Key Findings / Next Steps
These sections of your report should be broken into distinct blocks of information introduced by individual boldfaced headings and sub-headings.
Do NOT simply use these generic headings. Instead, customize your headings so that they immediately orient the reader to the kind of information that he/she may expect to find in the section or sub-section. For example, if your team is in the final stages of designing a restraint system for wheelchair athletes, your full heading for the design status section might read “Design Status: Prototype (The ‘Hook and Ladder’).”

  • Design Status (192-194)—This section tells your supervisors just how far your team has gotten in the design process and includes succinct explanations of how you’ve gotten there. The section may include the reasoning behind your selection of preliminary design directions, how you may interpret your client’s problem/requests, the key features or benefits of your proposed prototype(s), how you plan to meet user requirements, design questions that have yet to be answered and obstacles your team has encountered or anticipates. Sub-headings may include, but are not limited to, the following: “Team Decisions,” “Proposed Solutions,” “Rationale for Prototype Selection,” etc.

  • Research and Key Findings (194-201)—Note that this section includes only the key findings—the research that will actually drive your design decisions—in addition to a brief summary of your research methods. You should note where you found your information in a brief sentence or list of bullet points that directs your reader to relevant appendices. Generally, however, it is more effective to organize this section according to the type of information you found (e.g. information on materials) rather than according to your source (client interview, Internet, etc).

  • Next Steps (200-201)—This is the last section of the body of the progress report. This section is essential to your report—it gives your supervisors an idea of how you plan to move forward on your project so that they may make suggestions, approve requests, or simply ask for clarification. Each step listed should include a tentative time frame for the step’s completion.

References (202)
Here you should list the sources (in accord with a standard citation style) that your team actually used to help your thinking about the design. You may include sources that prompted design ideas that were eventually discarded but do not list sources that turned out to be wholly irrelevant. It is generally a good idea to annotate your list of references, noting sources that were especially valuable or may need to be handled with care.

Appendices (202-203)

Appendices are included in order to facilitate team meetings. Sometimes during a team meeting a question will arise that requires more detail than is available in the body of the report. The appendices are included to provide backup for assertions made in the progress report itself. For example, if a team were to assert in their progress report that the price of the average infant car-seat was $100, the team might include a chart showing the prices of various brands and models as an appendix. That way, should a supervisor ask how the team arrived at that figure, the information would be readily available.

Every appendix should be referenced at some appropriate point in the body of the progress report. That way when a question arises, everybody in the meeting knows where to look for the answers. The precise format for appendices is explained in more detail in the EDC textbook.

Editing the Progress Report: Guidelines and Examples (263-276)

By this time most of you should be familiar with many of EDC’s guidelines for report and proposal writing:

  • Bullet-point and use boldfaced text to break up long paragraphs (especially those that describe a list of steps or options).

  • Avoid “telling the story” of your research (stick to describing the key findings and outcomes, not the details of the process).

Below are four “Before and After” examples of edited selections from a number of different progress reports. The examples are typical of many first drafts of progress reports and have been chosen to illustrate the three guidelines above.

Example 1

As a result of the interview, we got the impression that we were not necessarily expected to design an electrical system that would either be placed inside the baby monitor or attached to the outside but instead possibly a warning label or publicity that would inform the users about the hazardous consequences of overheating in baby monitors. One possibility the client suggested is not to redesign the monitor but make the public aware of the problem and look for a UL (Underwriters Laboratories) or other mark which certifies that the product has been tested for safety, ‘this would involve coming up with standards to test for safety’. As team __ we couldn’t figure out if we have to built up a system as a solution or base our project only on research and create publicity. We have been told by the client that the last incident happened because of overheating of a baby monitor was back in 1990’s which made us doubt whether overheating is still a problem or not. If this is not a problem, then what is the solution and what is our role going to be in this project. We have considered several possible solutions which are listed below but would like your advice because of our uncertainty.

Edited Version

Our research findings and client interview suggest that the overheating of baby monitors has not been a significant problem in the past. Nevertheless it could be a problem in the future. Our client seems uncertain about the extent of the problem and how she wishes us to address it. Below are three possible approaches to our client’s concerns:

  • Design an electrical system that would either be placed inside the baby monitor or attached to the outside (not necessarily the client’s first choice).

  • Design a warning label or publicity campaign that would inform the users about the hazardous consequences of overheating in baby monitors. The client suggested recommending that new parents look for a UL (Underwriters Laboratories) or other mark that certifies that the product has been tested for safety.

  • Develop standards to test for safety. Our client suggested that these standards could support a publicity campaign.

We are proceeding by seeking additional recommendations as to how we should define the problem and best address our client’s concerns.

Example 2

In three weeks, our goal is to have a working mock-up of our design that may not be customizable yet, but is still a working product. In order to reach that goal, our team is going to spend this week (April 11th through 15th) doing further research and generate ideas by brainstorming. After grouping these ideas, we will spend April 18th through 22nd generating alternative solutions to our design problem using the brainstorming ideas and the requirements from our design document. That week we will also plan the mock-ups we are going to build. The following week, April 25th through the 29th, we will finish building our mockups. Finally, we will set up a date the following week to meet with client and test our mockups.

Edited Version

In three weeks, our goal is to have a working mock-up of our design that may not yet be customizable, but is still a working product. In order to reach that goal, our team will take the following steps:

  • Conduct additional research and brainstorming (April 11th through 15th)

  • Generate alternative solutions / Plan mock-ups (April 18th through 22nd)

  • Build mock-ups (April 25th through the 29th)

  • Set date to meet with client and test mock-ups (…)

Example 3

Our client discussed her position at Underwriters Laboratories (UL) and her involvement with Kids in Danger and how her work pertained to this project. We found out that UL is a non-profit organization that tests many different products to make sure that they meet safety standards. Such testing is strictly voluntary in order to market any product, which is one of the reasons that so many harmful products make it into the market. We found out that although UL tests the power adaptors that come with baby monitors, they do not and never have tested any actual baby monitors to ensure their safety.

Edited Version

Our client is an employee of Underwriter Laboratories, a non-profit organization that conducts safety testing on many different products. No companies are required to submit their products to UL—such testing is strictly voluntary. Consequently, many harmful products make it onto the market. Although UL tests the power adapters that come with baby monitors, they do not and never have tested any actual baby monitors to ensure their safety.

Our client is also involved with Kids in Danger in a ____________ capacity [elaborate on how her involvement pertains to this project].

Example 4

Client Interview

  1. He showed us websites of wire frames and bases where parents snap on and off the infant seats. This seemed very useful because we will use that kind of feature in our final design.

Edited Version

Client Interview: Findings

  • Snap-on/off frames: Common designs use wire frames and bases that allow parents to snap the infant seats on and off. This feature will likely be included in our final design.

* This guide is intended as a supplement to (not a replacement for) information found in Engineering Design and Communication: Principles and Practice (2006). Issues raised in this guide are discussed in greater depth in textbook chapters 19, 21 and 23.


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