U.S. Department of Transportation
Federal Highway Administration
1200 New Jersey Avenue, SE
Washington, DC 20590

Skip to content U.S. Department of Transportation/Federal Highway AdministrationU.S. Department of Transportation/Federal Highway Administration

Federal Highway Administration Research and Technology
Coordinating, Developing, and Delivering Highway Transportation Innovations

This report is an archived publication and may contain dated technical, contact, and link information
Publication Number: FHWA-RD-03-074

Communications Reference Guide

Chapter 5—Preparing a Research Report

Research Reports

Figure. Report cover. This is a figure of a Federal Highway Administration report cover. Figure. Report cover. This is a figure of a Federal Highway Administration report cover. Figure. Report cover. This is a figure of a Federal Highway Administration report cover.


To communicate the full details of an experiment or research project, its results, data collected from analysis, or findings and recommendations.


Transportation technical staff.


  • Usually more than 30 pages.

  • One-color cover (appropriate color indicates the FHWA RD&T team that generated the research and report) prepared by HRTM with a standard cover design graphically depicting the area of research. HRTM uses 12 different woodcuts to represent different areas of research: Environment, Human Factors, International, ITS, Motor Carrier/Freight, Pavement, Planning, Policy, Right-of-Way, Safety, Structural/Bridges, and Training.

Format for Research Reports

Standard research reports must follow the guidance in this CRG regarding formatting and font, type size, symbols, margins, page numbering, bullets, columns, and other elements as the preferred style. The report must be consistent throughout in format and style. The author of a research report should adhere to these preferences unless there is a clear, compelling reason to deviate. Any deviation from the specified standards must be accompanied by a written explanation that specifies the reason that a format requirement was not followed. (An author may need to reformat a document if the HRTM Communications and Outreach Team determines that the standard format or style is preferred.)

All reports are to be submitted as a Microsoft Word file, and the document will be printed in black ink unless otherwise specified. Should a report need to be printed in color, FHWA must receive a justification in writing indicating why color is necessary. After special permission, the author must layout the document in an acceptable graphic format.

Order of Elements in Reports

As discussed earlier, documentation adheres to both GPO Style Manual standards and FHWA-specific style requirements as outlined in this guide. All of the components of a document are listed in this section in the order in which they should appear. However, please note that it is not necessary to use all elements in all reports. (For example, if a report does not contain references, there would be no need for a reference section in the report.)



Front Cover
Inside Front Cover (R&D Foreword and Disclaimer Notice)[1]

Front Matter


Technical Report Documentation Page (Form DOT F 1700.7)
Preface (if any)
Metric Conversion Chart
Table of Contents
List of Figures (including equations)
List of Tables
List of Abbreviations and Symbols

Body of Report


Page 1
Main text separated into chapters

Back Matter

Appendices (Use consecutive pagination, do not use A-1, etc.) Glossary

Back Covers

Cover 3 (blank)
Cover 4 (blank)

Note: Contractors' names may not appear in the report, except in block 9 of the Technical Report Documentation Page (form DOT F 1700.7). Contractor logos may not appear at all. Paid consultants should not be acknowledged anywhere else in FHWA publications.

If an acknowledgement page must be used, it must be part of the appendix; however, it should not contain contractor, author, or company names. See appendix I for a sample.

The Foreword

Publications containing technical material must have a foreword on the inside front cover. The foreword, signed by the office director, should contain information useful to readers:

  • Purpose of the report, manual, or study.

  • Content summary.

  • Interested audience.

  • Previous printings of the publication.

  • Publication status: preliminary, interim, or final.

Every FHWA report must contain the standard disclaimer notice and quality assurance statement below:


This document is disseminated under the sponsorship of the U.S. Department of Transportation in the interest of information exchange. The U.S. Government assumes no liability for the use of the information contained in this document.

The U.S. Government does not endorse products or manufacturers. Trademarks or manufacturers' names appear in this report only because they are considered essential to the objective of the document.

Quality Assurance Statement

The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) provides high-quality information to serve Government, industry, and the public in a manner that promotes public understanding. Standards and policies are used to ensure and maximize the quality, objectivity, utility, and integrity of its information. FHWA periodically reviews quality issues and adjusts its programs and processes to ensure continuous quality improvement.

Type Arrangement and Typefaces

  • The preferred font is Times New Roman, sized at 12 point for both headings and text.

  • Type styles in the text must match those in the front matter and table of contents for all headings and subheadings. This includes font, capitalization, punctuation, bolding, italics, and other attributes.

  • Margins must be at least 25 mm (1 inch) on all sides, including on pages with figures and tables.

  • Single-spacing is preferred if superscript and subscript do not touch the next line of type. Use the superscript and subscript features in Microsoft Word.(sample superscript)

  • Paragraphs are not indented. There should be two returns (i.e., one blank line) between paragraphs.

  • Right margins should not be justified because type with ragged margins is easier to read and edit.

  • Use a laser or letter-quality printer.

  • Ensure that words are correctly divided, mathematical symbols or formulas are not divided between lines, and spacing is not excessive or erratic.

  • Widows and orphans should be avoided. Please do not leave a single line of text at the top or bottom of a page.

Note: When using special math or scientific fonts in equations and formulas, create a .jpg, .bmp, or .gif graphic file of the equation and insert it into the document as a figure. Not all computers, printers, and operating systems can interpret special math and scientific fonts.

Volume Format

Volume designates an individually bound book. When a report exceeds 400 pages of reproduction copy (including figures, tables, appendices, and front matter), it should be divided into two or more individual volumes, with each containing a separate publication number and Roman numeral (Volume I, Volume II, etc.) as part of the subtitle. It should also be listed on the Technical Report Documentation Page (form DOT F 1700.7) in the abstract portion of the form. Indicate the following information within the abstract:

This volume is the first in a series. The other volume in the series is:
FHWA-HRT-##-### Volume II: Name of Publication

References and Bibliography

  • References and citations in the text should use superscript numbers enclosed in parentheses or brackets. Place them after the end punctuation. If there is more than one reference, separate them with commas, but no spaces. Example:

    "This guide contains many references. (1,5,7) "

    For more than three references, use a separate sentence in parentheses. Example:

    "This guide contains many references. (See references 1, 5, 7, and 18.)"

  • In the list of references in the appendix and in the bibliography, any style may be used as long as it is consistent and all reference elements are included (authors, title, publication number, publisher's name and city, publication date).

  • References must be consistent in punctuation, the order of elements, and the amount of information supplied. When chapters or articles in larger volumes are referenced, please be mindful to provide inclusive page numbers, which can shorten the time it takes a reader to track down a particular reference. If the editors find that the reference style in the document is inconsistent, FHWA's standard style will be required.

  • Use a single series of Arabic numbers beginning with 1 and continuing through the document and appendices.

  • Each reference must be cited. Materials not cited may be listed in a bibliography placed at the end of the volume on the page(s) following the references.


  • The Technical Report Documentation Page (form DOT F 1700.7) is always unnumbered page i. (See sample form in appendix D.)

  • Include front matter in the page count in the number of pages (block 21) of the form 1700.7.

  • Front matter should use lower case Roman numerals such as ii, iii, etc. Start numbering with Arabic "1" at the introduction or, if there is no introduction, at the start of chapter 1.

  • Use only one series of Arabic numbers from the first page of the report to the last. Do not number appendix pages as A-l, B-l, etc.

  • Decimal numbers, hyphenated numbers, or numbers combined with letters for chapters, sections, or subsections should not be used as page numbers. Minimize the use of paragraph and subparagraph numbers.

  • Page numbers should be centered 12.7 mm (0.5 inches) up from the bottom edge of each page and should stand alone with no dash on either side of the number. Page numbers are centered for consistent appearance in single- and double-sided printing.

  • Chapters must begin on the right-hand page (i.e., an odd-numbered page). Insert blank pages to achieve this effect. Blank pages are counted in the page number sequence, but no number is printed on the page. Do not label "this page intentionally left blank" when adding a blank page to start a new chapter on a right-hand page. Individual chapters, appendices, etc., should not have title pages.

Table of Contents

  • A table of contents is useful in most reports of more than 10 pages and is required in all reports of 30 or more pages.

  • At a minimum, chapter headings and first level headings should be included in the table of contents, and the text and punctuation in the table of contents must reflect the exact text used in the body of the document. The idea is to create a section that is useful to the reader. See the table of contents sample in appendix F.

  • Do not list front matter on the table of contents. List only the body of the text from page 1 through the appendices.

  • Type styles in the table of contents should match those used in the report. Like the headings in text, each level of subordination must consistently use a particular type treatment, such as all capitals, bold, etc.


  • To delineate different parts of a lengthy document, material is separated into chapters, and lengthy chapters are separated internally with subheadings. Because the titles of chapters and the next level of heading will be presented in the table of contents, it is important to use headings that will be most useful to readers.

  • Do not number subheadings. There are four levels of headings; each is a subset of the level above it. See the following box for preferred heading styles.


The chapter headings are all caps, bold, and centered. Chapter numbers, when used, may be Arabic or Roman and may be followed by a period and one or two spaces (please be consistent throughout all chapter heads). There should be three returns (i.e., two blank lines) after a chapter heading.


All caps, bold, and flush left (i.e., at the left margin). No numbering is required. There are only two returns (i.e., only one blank line) after this and all subordinate headings.

Second Level Heading

Initial caps, bold, and flush left. Follow with two returns.

Third Level Heading

Initial caps, bold, italics, and flush left. Follow with two returns.

Fourth Level Heading: Initial caps, bold, followed by a colon, and flush left. Follow with two returns. This subhead level is not often required.

Figures and Tables

A figure is a non-text visual element shown as a graph, photo, formula, equation, chart, diagram, illustration, etc. Each visual element must be separate and must have its own figure number and caption. Do not combine multiple graphic elements into one large figure. In addition, text elements should not be grouped as part of the figure. See figure 1  .

Figure 1. Unacceptable graphic within a report. It shows a sample of table combined with a photo that is depicted within Microsoft® Word® as part of the graphic.
Figure 1. Unacceptable graphic. Sample of table depicted as part of the graphic.

Merriam-Webster's Dictionary defines a table as "a systematic arrangement of data usually in rows and columns for ready reference."(3) Do not incorporate a table and table information into a figure (picture). A table should be depicted in a Microsoft Word or Excel text table format rather than as part of a figure or graphic. See table 2 and figure 2 below.

Text such as notes or tables should be included in the body as text rather than as part of a figure. For example, figure 1 and the combination of table 2 and figure 2 look similar, however, when an user clicks on figure 1 in Microsoft Word, it shows that the table and photograph are combined into a single figure. Instead, the figure and the table should be separate—one as a Microsoft Word table, and the other as a graphic (picture) as shown in table 2 and figure 2. (The easiest way to determine if a table or text is formatted correctly is to try to change information. A Microsoft Word table or text will allow someone to change information, while a picture format will not.)

Table 2. Sample of separate table.

Table Heading

Table Heading





Figure 2. Photo. This sample shows the same photo as in figure 1, except the table has been separated into a text table. (See table 2 for the table portion of the graphic that was originally depicted in figure 1.)
Figure 2. Photo. Sample of separate graphic.

Do not combine more than one graphic element such as a photo, an illustration, and graph. Each element must be separated with its own figure number and caption. For example, do not do this:

Figure 3. Multiple elements. This sample shows two photos, a drawing, and a table all clumped together into one figure in a picture format. Do not merge multiple items into one figure.
Figure 3. Multiple elements. Do not merge multiple elements as one figure.

The correct method to depict multiple elements is as separate figures, each with its own figure number and caption as in these examples:

Figure 4. Photo. This figure shows the correct format for one of the figures, which was incorrectly merged in "figure 1."
Figure 4. Photo.
Correct format 1.
Figure 5. Photo. This figure shows the correct format for the second figure, which was incorrectly merged in "figure 1."
Figure 5. Photo.
Correct format 2.
Figure 6. Chart. Sample of correct chart, which was incorrectly merged in "figure 1."
Figure 6. Chart. Sample of correct chart.


Table 3. Correct way to depict table from figure 3.

Bold Symbol Signs

  • W1-1 - Turn

  • W1-2 - Curve

  • W1-3 - Reverse Turn

  • W1-5 - Winding Road

  • W3-2a - Yield Ahead

  • W3-3 - Signal Ahead

  • W4-3 - Added Lane

  • W6-1 - Divided Highway Begins

  • Every table must have a unique caption centered at the top. All tables must be numbered in a single sequence from the beginning of the volume through the appendices. Use this format for writing, punctuating, capitalizing, and centering table captions:

    Table 1. [Insert caption for table.]

  • All captions must be in the same type style and font size.

  • A figure or table should be placed near the first mention in the text.

  • Spacing before and after captions should be consistent throughout the document.

  • For reports of 30 pages or more, lists of figures and tables are required and are placed immediately following the table of contents. Lists of figures and tables can be on the same page if both fit completely.

  • Entries in the list of figures and the list of tables (in the front matter) must match the captions within the document, exactly (i.e., same wording, capitalization, punctuation, and type style).

  • Every figure must have a unique caption centered at the bottom. All figures must be numbered in a single sequence from the beginning of the volume through the appendices. Figures include graphs, photos, formulas, equations, charts, etc. Use this format for writing, punctuating, capitalizing, and centering figure captions:

    Figure 1. Graph. [Insert caption for graph.]
    Figure 2. Photo. [Insert caption for photo.]
    Figure 3. Formula. [Insert caption for formula.]
    Figure 4. Chart. [Insert caption for chart.]
    Figure 5. Equation. [Insert caption for equation.]

Note: Do not use special symbol, math, or scientific fonts for equations. Instead, insert an equation as a figure (.jpg format) and number the equation as a figure, instead of at the right-hand side as in older report formats.

Notice the similarity between the abbreviated figure captions and the 508 captions (text for non-text elements). The only difference between the two is the additional description of the figure.

Equations and Formulas

When using special symbol, math, or scientific fonts in equations and formulas, create a .jpg graphic file of the equation and insert it into the document as a graphic/picture. Keep in mind that not all computers, printers, and operating systems can interpret special math and scientific fonts. All equations must be numbered and captioned as a figure. See the following example:

Figure 7. Equation. PR subscript LH. This equation was included in the document to show how to add an equation into a document as a figure in jpeg (.jpg) format.

Figure 7. Equation. PR subscript LH.

Notice that the equation was created as a graphic object (figure) and pasted into this document as a picture. It was not created as "text" or a "text box" using a special font through Microsoft Word. The caption above shows the normal equation and caption, which would be reflected in a report.

On the other hand, the 508 caption for the above equation would show the exact same information, but it would be more detailed than simply providing the name of the type of figure depicted and the name of the equation. The 508 caption (which would be deliverable in a separate Microsoft Word file) would be the following:

Figure 7. Equation. PR subscript LH. PR subscript LH equals the sum of the following: 8 days times 24 hours per day minus T subscript driving minus T subscript home minus T subscript load/unload minus T subscript shipper/receiver, end of sum, that sum divided by T subscript driving, to that quotient add the quotient of 5 minutes divided by 60 minutes, the sum of which equals 0.7833.


Lists should be bulleted unless the sequence of items is critical; in which case Arabic (1, 2, 3, etc.) numerals followed by periods and one space may be substituted for bullets. In either case:

  • Place a colon at the end of the text sentence preceding the list.

  • Use the standard (Microsoft Word) round bullets.

  • Use parallel rhetorical and grammatical structure, as in this list. Begin each entry with a verb.

  • Begin each entry with a capital letter.

  • End each entry with a period even if it does not form a complete sentence.

  • Do not end the next-to-last item with "and" or "or."

  • Put two returns (i.e., one blank line) after the bulleted list. Short bulleted items (words, phrases, sentences) should be followed by a single return. Long bulleted items (paragraphs) should be followed by two returns.


  • Use superscript figures without parentheses or brackets for footnote references (see GPO Style Manual).

  • In each chapter, footnotes to text are numbered starting with "1" (see GPO Style Manual). Footnotes to tables or figures begin with 1 for each table or figure. Use superscript numbers (see GPO Style Manual).

  • Footnotes must begin on the page carrying the footnote number. Avoid breaking a footnote between pages (see GPO Style Manual).

  • Footnotes should be single-spaced. Indent the first line of each footnote four spaces.

  • Asterisks, daggers, or italic superior letters may be used only when a numeral in a table or figure might cause confusion, such as being mistaken for an exponent (see GPO Style Manual).

Table 4. Research report—what to submit.

Black/White Print

Two- or Four-Color Print
(.doc and .qxd)

Web Site Only

Deliverables for Research Reports




HRTM Service Request Form




Microsoft Word file of report and printed copy of report




Microsoft Word file of 508 captions and printed copy of captions




Completed Form DOT F 1700.7 (Technical Report Documentation Page)




Metric chart




Foreword (signed by office director) and Disclaimer




FWHA Distribution Form and either labels or a Microsoft Excel file with names and complete addresses




Tables, charts, graphs in separate native file formats (Microsoft Excel files for tables and .jpg or .tif files for graphic and computer-aided design (CAD) files)




Illustrations, equations, photos, figures in .jpg or .bmp file format




GPO Form 952 (if you provide graphic layout of any files)




PDF file of the document after final edit




Adobe® Quark,® Adobe Illustrator,TM or Adobe PageMaker® file after the files have been edited. Include all text, font files, graphic files

Do not submit second-generation or previously printed materials as graphics. Do not use correction fluid, tape, photocopies, or artwork that is fuzzy, dark, or faded. Refer to "Attachment 3—Designing and Formatting Your FHWA Publication," in the FWHA Publications and Printing Handbook. Do not submit CAD drawings; export them to a .jpg or .tif format.

[1] Use the statement shown on the inside front cover of this guide in all research reports.

Chapter 4—Guidelines and Styles for All Publications
United States Department of Transportation - Federal Highway Administration