Hints for Writing a Professional Research Report (National Institute)

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The original content for this article was contributed by The National Institute for Genealogical Studies in June 2012. It is an excerpt from their course Methodology - Part 1: Getting Started, Methodology - Part 2: Organizing and Skillbuilding, Methodology - Part 3: More Strategies, Methodology - Part 4: Effective Searching and Recording, Methodology - Part 5: How To Prove It, and Methodology - Part 6: Professional Preparation and Practice  by Louise St Denis, Brenda Dougall Merriman and Dr. Penelope Christensen. The Institute offers over 200 comprehensive genealogy courses for a fee ($).

Technical and Other Hints

Try to have a Style Guide at your side until you are totally familiar with usage of grammar, punctuation, language and the personal style you want to develop. The Canadian Style or Chicago Manual of Style are extremely valuable reference works if you are unsure of punctuation, grammar, syntax and all the small details that polish your language and expression. A university style guide is also useful.


Think about and experiment with the format of your reports until you are comfortable with your own style. The layout or format of your report is a personal choice. Suggestions are available in The BCG Genealogical Standards Manual and Professional Genealogy.

  • With clients, do not use abbreviations or short forms which are familiar to you but may have no meaning for a distant or uninformed recipient. “NA” or “NL” or “NARA” mean National Archives, National Library, National Archives (Washington, DC) to you, but a client in Alaska or Auckland might immediately get lost.
  • Number your pages.
  • The accepted usage now in word processing is to make one space after a period, not two.
  • Use good quality paper, preferably acid-free.
  • Your own name, address and contact information—you may choose to develop your own special letterhead for all reports, or create either a template in your word processing program, or customize the same information in headers or footers.
  • Creating headings and sub-headings, using your bold or underline keys, is a way to organize and emphasize your findings. In the text, for example, are you going to capitalize all surnames, or make them bold? Or not? If you do capitalize surnames, use a slightly smaller font than your regular text. Remember that italics are reserved for book or journal titles, and author’s emphasis. Different type fonts (not too many in one report) can also customize your report. Use indented paragraphs for transcriptions, abstracts and long quotations. Leave adequate margins for an uncluttered look. When you achieve the look you want, make your own “style sheet” for future reference―which fonts, margins, headings, justification, etc. did you use?
  • Whichever word processing program you use, it has any number of interesting and helpful features such as making running headers or footers, tables or columns, bullets and a selection of symbols to mark points. You might wish to develop a blank template which can be used for each report, with your pre-written headings for the report itself and recurring sources you commonly consult. It should have enough flexibility that you can add additional sources as needed, or eliminate some, to accommodate each individual client’s case.
  • Developing “boiler plate” paragraphs is another time-saver, when an explanatory paragraph about a particular record source is needed.
  • A hallmark of a professional is the completeness of each citation and consistency in marking/placing those citations on your enclosed documents and photocopies. One suggestion is: when photocopying or printing from microfilm, arrange the page so that there is adequate space—somewhere on it—to add your citation. Other professionals advocate the use of small stick-on labels to give that consistent look (this is under debate, since labels may eventually peel off). Your word processing program probably has a “labels” feature where you can make your typed citations fit the appropriate size.
  • When transcribing or abstracting a document or source: never change the spelling, the sequence, the wording/phrasing. For example, we strongly recommend the usage of day-month-year (8 January 1852) in our reporting and summarizing of results, for writing consistency and avoidance of misinterpretation. However, we must be carefully accurate about copying what the source itself says.

Reviewing Your Report

  • Always proofread! Sloppy writing or typographical errors could suggest sloppy research as well. It may be a good idea to let the report sit for a day or so before you send it, so you can view it with a fresh eye before mailing.
  • Is your report constructed so that anyone reading it knows when, why and how it was created?
  • Be aware of your grammar and syntax and that you have created full sentences.
  • Copies of documents are always listed, appended, cited and labelled in such a way that the client understands the references exactly. Mills’ Evidence! is the reigning authority for good genealogical citations.

Rules of Thumb

These are very general, not at all rigid rules, but offer some guidance to new professionals:

one hour of research = one hour of reporting
one hour of research = one page of report


Information in this Wiki page is excerpted from the online courses Methodology - Part 1: Getting Started, Methodology - Part 2: Organizing and Skillbuilding, Methodology - Part 3: More Strategies, Methodology - Part 4: Effective Searching and Recording, Methodology - Part 5: How To Prove It, and Methodology - Part 6: Professional Preparation and Practice offered by The National Institute for Genealogical Studies. To learn more about these courses or other courses available from the Institute, see our website. We can be contacted at wiki@genealogicalstudies.com

We welcome updates and additions to this Wiki page.