Section 3: Writing for Transport Scotland Social Research – Contractor Instructions


Social Research (SR) commissioned by Transport Scotland (TS) is used to provide evidence to inform transport policy and delivery. Publications from these projects play an important role in ensuring that this information is used as widely as possible. For most projects we request that contractors produce a written final report and a short research summary document. The final report presents the research data collected by a project. We may also require other, shorter reports during the duration of a project. The research summary document outlines the findings of the research project and highlights the key messages. Such outputs should be written in a language and follow a style / layout which is clear, concise and jargon free, and suitable for a wide audience. Documents are then published on Transport Scotland's research webpage. Transport Scotland is keen that all research outputs are of the highest possible quality, and recognise that to achieve this every stage of the research process (including research design and analysis) must adhere to certain standards. These include following ethical and procedural principles, and also ensuring that the research project is both carried out and reported transparently and objectively. This guidance provides further information on writing and producing such documents.

Key stages in writing for Social Research

The process of thinking about end of project publications should begin on the day you sign the contract letter. Outlined below are the five key stages on writing for social research:

Step 1: Starting-up

The contract letter issued at the start of each project outlines what final research outputs will be required. On accepting this contract you should begin to consider how the information you collect will be reported in the outputs and discuss this in your inception meeting with the TS project manager. Considering the final research outputs right from the start, and how material will be organised will make the writing of the end of project documents easier.

Step 2: Doing the research

Throughout the project you should have regular discussions with the TS project manager on the final outputs and how they will be structured. Remember to organise the information / data as it is collected so that it can be readily reported.

Step 3: Submitting draft reports

As the project nears an end you should provide a draft copy of the final report to the research manager by the date indicated in the contract letter. This draft should be fully proof-checked, and of a publishable standard. The research manager will circulate the draft to the main clients of the work, and the Advisory Group members for comments. You should be aware that a number of drafts of final outputs may be required before approval is given for publication. Peer reviews of the outputs may also be carried out.

Step 4: Finalising reports

The TS project manager will collect together comments on the first draft which they will forward to you. Drawing upon these you will be responsible for making these changes to the report. The final versions of these research outputs should be submitted fully proof checked and ready for publication. You will usually be given up to 1 month to complete these amendments.

Step 5: Approving

Once the project manager is satisfied with the quality of reports they will forward these on to the Principal Researcher or their nominee, who will decide if the report(s) is of a publishable quality. The approver will assess the reports against a number of quality standards, including how well the methods are reported, the meaning of the research expressed in policy relevant terms, and the style and length. When approval is given final preparations for the publication of the reports will be made, and the final payment instalment will be made. Following approval, the documents are usually published by Transport Scotland within 6 -12 weeks. However there may be exceptions to this when for instance a publication is delayed due to linking it to a planned event (e.g. announcement of new policy, or major conference), or when it is agreed to ‘bundle' linked research and other analytical outputs together.

The next section highlights the house style of Transport Social Research publications, with information on writing reports and the Research Summary document.

Social Research House Style

Publication Templates

The text for both the reports and research summary must follow the house style as detailed below..

Plain English

Language used in both documents must be in plain English ( as many of the readers will not be experts in the subject area of the report, nor in the ‘technical' methods used in the research. Some Plain English Essentials we expect to be addressed in these outputs are outlined below:

Plain English Essentials

Avoid long and complex sentences and paragraphs to keep the content of the report clear and concise.

Bullet Points, Footnotes, Diagrams, Tables Charts And Illustrations can make the report clearer and emphasise main findings.

Avoid jargon - force yourself to look for an everyday term (e.g. use health, rather than ‘health status').

Tenses should be used consistently throughout the report. Information relating to methods and research findings are best presented in the past tense, highlighting the fact that the research has been carried out and what was found.

Ensure the style of writing is consistent throughout the report particularly if a number of writers have been involved with the drafting.

Abbreviations of terms or acronyms (e.g. SAC for Scottish Arts Council) should be made clear to the reader at the beginning of the report, and then the abbreviation or acronym referred to in text throughout the remainder of report.

The next section provides some key issues to consider when drafting a final report.

Producing a Research Report

Research reports, particularly end of project reports are an important tool for presenting the research data collected, and also drawing out any relevant implications for policy makers. Writing a research report for a government agency is not the same as writing an article for an academic journal, or a consultancy report. It has a different objective, and it takes a different approach. Usually the early drafts of a report will be discussed by members of a research advisory group, who may be able to offer guidance on style and language, and what they find most useful.

Reports should be clear and accessible to the reader, and in general should be no longer than 50 pages (excluding annexes) when finalised in single spacing (some projects managers may request that the page limit is less - check the contract letter). The material contained in the annexes should also be formatted in the TS House Style. Annexes can be used to provide the results of detailed analyses, full description of research methods used (e.g. sampling strategies and response rates) and the research instruments used. If your report uses technical terms then a glossary should be included at the end of the document.

To take account of the views of the project manager, policy makers and the advisory group you may be required to produce more than one draft of the final report before a final draft is signed off. All of the drafts should be of a publishable, high professional standard, and the final version should be fully proof-checked and capable of withstanding peer review.

When drafting the report you should consider the following issues (CAR):

outline the policy issue or managerial problem the research was seeking to address, as well as the aims and objectives of the project. Refer back to these throughout the report, and also highlight if these were redefined at any point. Highlight earlier research and the contribution current research may make.
Outline your methods, including the design of the study, the sources of data and details on the sample, the response rate and analysis techniques. You should outline your approach as transparently as possible so that it can be scrutinised for quality / relevance / robustness. There should be clear documentation that the methods were implemented, along with a record of any changes. Describe how you worked with policymakers / decision makers on the project.
Summarise your results to show how they support the conclusions you have presented highlighting themes and messages. Conclusions should be drawn on the basis of the findings. However if they are inferred from external material / other sources then this should be made clear. Use graphs and tables if they will improve understanding.

Reports should begin with an Executive Summary, and should usually include a short research methods chapter. There should be summaries at the end of each chapters and clear signposting between and within each chapter.

Producing a Research Summary Document

The Research Summary document (4 pages in length) provides a summary of the research project and highlights the key messages from the project. It is a stand-alone document, although it complements the project's final report. There are two key sections to the document:

Front page - Main findings

The front page comprises a short paragraph which should set the context for the research and 8-10 bullet points on the main findings of the research. Where possible these bullets should be a clear statement of the main findings expressed in a way which will be of interest to policymakers. When drafting the main findings page consider your audience - who are they and what do they most need to know about what you have learned? You should not attempt to produce definitive recommendations from research that does not offer such recommendations.

Executive Summary

The remaining part of the Research Summary is the Executive Summary. These are your findings condensed to serve the needs of the policymaker / decision maker, who will want to know quickly whether the main report is likely to be useful. Each section of the paper must have a short explanatory heading. Start by outlining the issues you were looking at, then (very briefly) state the aims and objectives of the research and how you carried it out. Concentrate on getting the essence of your research across and summarise your findings clearly and succinctly. Where possible the Research Summary should highlight what particular contribution / added value the research has made to evidence / practice.

Other Research Reports

Throughout the research contract you may be requested to provide other types of research documents such as inception, progress and interim reports. The contract letter will provide further information on whether and when these reports are required. The TS project manager will be able to provide further advice on the content of these reports.

Other research reports

Inception Report - produced shortly after the project start and used to develop ideas and themes set out in the successful tender.
Progress Report - should be brief and contain information about the research process and describe any revisions to the project.
Interim Report - focuses on preliminary analyses and the research findings to date.

Further guidance

If you require further guidance on producing research reports and research findings document please discuss with the project manager.

Writing for Social Research Essentials

  • Start thinking about and discussing the end of project publications as soon as you are awarded the contract.
  • Use the downloadable document templates.
  • Where possible use plain English.
  • Do not exceed the maximum page length for reports.