Franklin & Marshall College Franklin & Marshall College

Written Report Instructions

This page includes instructions for both the progress report, which is written at the end of the first semester by students pursuing two semesters of independent study, and to the final report, which is written by all independent study students.  Note that there is no difference in written reports for students who are candidates for honors in biology.

Standardized Title Page (use for both Progress Report and Final Report)

The title page must include:

  • Informative title
  • Full name of student
  • Department to which the paper is being submitted
  • Name of adviser
  • Name of course
  • Indication if the paper is for departmental honors
  • Date paper was submitted
  • Expected graduation date

The Progress Report

The Progress Report, submitted on the first day of exams of the first semester of a two-semester project, is a concise statement of the project at midstream. Although brief, it serves as a significant part of the first-semester grade, since staff members other than the adviser rely almost solely upon this statement as a basis for evaluating the student's performance.  How well the progress report is written is as important as the results it may contain.  It is strongly advised that preliminary drafts of the report be perused carefully by student and adviser before the final version is prepared.  The following specifications should be explicitly followed:

The text of the report should be no more than six pages, double-spaced. The six pages do not include the title page.  In addition, space is allowed for a list of references cited in the text, and three pages for figures and tables.  Note that tables and figures are not inserted into the text.  If desired, a bibliography of literature read but not cited can be prepared as an appendix, but this normally is not expected. These length restrictions are meant to enforce conciseness, clarity, and careful choice of material to be included.


  • Introduction (purpose and brief background)
  • Methods and Results to Date
  • Discussion and Future Plans
  • Literature Cited

As its name implies, the report should be both backward- and forward-looking.

Margins should allow for written comments:

  • Left:  1-1/2 inches
  • Right:  1 inch
  • Top/Bottom:  1 inch

Other aspects of text style, including the mode of reference citation in the text and the form of the bibliography, should follow the guidelines for biology papers in A Short Guide to Writing About Biology by Jan A. Pechenik.  In addition, grammar and sentence structure must be correct and ideas must be expressed clearly.

Figures and tables.
Figures should be carefully prepared, axes should be labeled, and a caption and explanatory legend provided.  The student should consider carefully how a given set of data should best be graphed, and consult with the adviser if uncertain whether points should be connected, curves smoothed, etc.  Tables should be provided with an explanatory legend.  All figures and tables should be referred to in the text, but should be specifically labeled.  Please see A Short Guide to Writing About Biology by Jan A. Pechenik.

The Final Report

The preparation and guidelines for the final report are identical for one- or two-semester projects.  There is no limit on length, but the contents should be subdivided under appropriate headings.  The final report should contain:

  • Abstract
  • Introduction
  • Materials and Methods
  • Results
  • Discussion
  • Literature Cited
  • Acknowledgments

In addition, the guidelines (above) should be followed with regard to the style of the text, and the figures and tables of the final report.  Preparation of the final report is as important as the research itself.  Adequate time should be reserved for the writing of the report, including drafts to be reviewed by the adviser.  In the case of one-semester projects, the expectations of the student in terms of the final report's quality remain the same.  Please see A Short Guide to Writing About Biology by Jan A. Pechenik for advice and formatting information.