5. What are the appropriate language conventions for project reports?

Project reports usually adopt an academic writing style, even though their format, content and presentation may vary for different subjects and disciplines. Academic writing, as well as science and technical writing, require conciseness and clarity . It is important to keep your language simple , accurate and objective when you express ideas (McMillan & Weyers, 2011).

Please refer to table 4 in the Appendix for a list of the most common verbs for university assignments and exams.

5.1 Demonstrating objectivity by using impersonal language

The main ways to establish objectivity are as follows:

  • Avoid first- and second-personal pronouns ‘I/me/one, you’, and ‘we/us’;
  • Use structures like ‘It is…’, ‘There is/are…’ to introduce sentences, using the appropriate tense;
  • Use structures like ‘This (NOUN) is…’ or ‘These (NOUN) are…’ for more specific points with a clear reference to the noun phrases appearing in the previous statements. The appropriate tense should be used. For example:
  • [1] In Zhu and Zhao (2015)’s literature, they studied the origin and the development of “Polluterpays” principle (PPP). […] This literature also specifically discussed the PPP and waste management in Hong Kong […]
  • Use the passive instead of active voice, in order to focus on the action but not the actor who performed the action. It is better to maintain a good distribution and a reasonable number of passive constructions, so as to avoid distracting your readers (ELC, 2018).

5.2 Using appropriate verb tense and form

Table 3 summarizes the appropriate verb tense or forms for different moves in project reports.

Table 3: The use of verb tense and form for the moves or functions in project reports


Suggested tense/form

Describing procedures and techniques of the research

Past tense


Describing results (of both the author’s and other scholars’ research)

Describing established knowledge and existing situations

Present tense


Describing answers to the research question

Describing illustrations

Describing morphological geological and geographical features (for scientific-style reports)

Describing theoretical background

Giving recommendations

Conditional, subjunctive, imperative forms

Stating procedures or a set of instructions

Imperative form

Describing future events or in the Material and Methods section

Future tense

Adapted from Silyn-Roberts (2013).

5.3 Hedging and assertive language

When you are not sure how correct your explanations, inferences or implications are, or there is more than one possible factor or variable, you should avoid being direct and definite. This is called hedging. The following are some ways of hedging:

  • The use of modals like may/might/would/could + V
  • … choosing a site to build new landfills may take a long time to the Hong Kong government and to the worse situation, nobody would support building program if it is harmful to their benefit.
  • The use of verbs like seem, appear, suggest, indicate
  • The use of adjectives and adverbs like possible/possibly, probable/probably
  • .

5.4 Using appropriate vocabulary

Various categories of expressions are listed below for your reference:



Useful Expressions

Stating the project objective

·      aim at/to, attempt, discuss, examine, figure out, focus on, provide, reduce, review

Defining a technical or key term

·      BE + known as/caused by, refer (to)


This disease is known as

Head and neck cancers are caused by


Providing a context for later discussion:

·      will/would + BE + V(pp),


verbs (V): analyse, discuss, include, study


After the discussion, there will be a comparison between these three policies and recommendation would also be included.


In this paper, solid waste management in other countries will be discussed


Literature review


Useful Expressions

Indicating/describing/comparing and contrasting ideas in related previous studies and scholars’ chief contributions:


·    compare, confirm, discuss, prove, remind, state, study, suggest, think



·         compare(-d) to/with

·         On the contrary… / ... contrary to



Useful Expressions

Describing and explaining the methods employed:

·  adopt, analyse, apply, attempt, calculate, conduct, construct, define, derive, indicate, investigate, perform, select, show, use


Data analysis, Findings and Results


Useful Expressions

Describing and reporting textual and graphic information

·         indicate, plot, represent, show


Describing the analytical processes

·  carry out, calculate, capture, eliminate, investigate, retain

Describing trends:


Describing the degree of movement:

·  drop, decrease, decline, increase, level off, reach, reduce, remain,


slow(ly), gradual(ly), steady(-ily), dramatic(ally), sudden(ly), sharp(ly)

Describing the cause and effect of the experiments

·      account for, cause, result from



Making comparisons

·      compare(-d) to/with

·      On the contrary… / ... contrary to

·      X is more/higher/faster/smaller than Y

·      … between X and Y


-        comparatives

 The box plot shows that number of births on weekdays were higher than on weekends.


-        superlatives

The most significant trend seen in the box plot is that most births took place during weekdays, with the highest mean on Tuesdays.

Discussions and Recommendations


Useful Expressions

Evaluating the properties/development/needs of the topic, or the advantages and disadvantages of factors affecting the topic

The biggest benefit brought from incinerators is that it can deal [with] part of garbage immediately…


…the success of the policies adopted by Japan, South Korea and Taiwan will never be achieved without public education …


Suggesting possible solutions and making recommendations for action:

·         can/could/would/may/should + V

(V: absorb, act, adopt, apply, conduct, consider, discuss, establish, introduce, learn, mimic, plan)


Hong Kong government can consider to combine these two ideas…



·   BE + V-ed (V: encourage, recommend, suggest)


… it is recommended to provide a set of garbage bags for free …


Citizens are encouraged to…


It is suggested+that-CLAUSE …




Useful Expressions

Summarizing all important findings in the report

·         BE + ADJ/N;


The capital fee is just a deterrence … reduc[ing] waste is the main objective …


... both strategies towards the reduction of solid waste generation … are essential.


Stating personal thoughts and making recommendations for further research on the topic

·  BE + suggested, should + V (V: enforce, rethink, consider, take (initiative), pay (attention))


Citizens/Hongkongers should rethink … / take initiative to …/ are encouraged to


... For further research purpose, it is suggested that …


About this website

EWRite is an open access online literacy platform for PolyU community that has two major objectives:

  • to support PolyU students’ literacy development within and across the disciplines
  • to support subject and language teachers to implement system-level measures for integrating literacy-sensitive pedagogies across the university

This platform provides access to generic genre guides representing typical university assignments as well as links to subjects offered by faculties with specific disciplinary genres and relevant support materials.

The materials can be retrieved by students by choosing the genres that interest them on the landing page. Each set of materials includes a genre guide, genre video, and a genre checklist. The genre guide and video are to summarize the genres in two different ways (i.e. textual and dynamic) to fit different learning styles. The genre checklist is for students to self-regulate their writing process. The genre guide and checklist include links to various ELC resources that can provide further explanation to language items (e.g. hedging and academic vocabulary).

The platform also acts as a one-stop-shop for writing resources for students, language teachers and subject leaders. Information about the English Writing Requirement policy can also be found on this platform. There are training materials for new colleagues joining the EWR Liaison Team.