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Report Writing


Writing survey reports

Once you have started your SRP project you may find that you quickly gather together a lot of information about your site or sites and wonder what to do with it all! If you have undertaken map-based and documentary research, a very effective way of presenting your findings is in a timeline, where you summarise what was happening at your site at particular dates. If your project covers a wide geographical area or includes several different sites you may wish to pull your findings together into a survey report. This will give you an opportunity to discuss your results in some detail, analyse any similarities or differences that you observe between your sites and identify any notable trends about an area's local and landscape history. These notes will give you ideas and advice about how to compile a good survey report. Both survey reports and timelines can be uploaded to your SRP site records via the online recording form.


A good survey report should be clear, informative and interesting - this document gives you advice on how to achieve this. Before starting, have a look at some examples - NOSAS (the North of Scotland Archaeological Society) and RCAHMS both produce very good survey reports. Many of the NOSAS reports are available on their website http://www.nosas.co.uk/. RCAHMS reports are only available in hard copy - good examples include Glenesslin, Nithsdale: an archaeological survey (1994); Southdean, Borders: an archaeological survey (1994); Braes of Doune: an archaeological survey (1994); Mar Lodge Estate, Grampian: an archaeological survey (1995); Forts, Farms and Furnaces: archaeology in the Central Scotland Forest (1998); The Historic Landscape of Loch Lomond and the Trossachs (2000), The Historic Landscape of the Cairngorms (2001), The Historic Land-use Assessment of Wester Ross (2003), In the Shadow of Bennachie. A Field Archaeology of Donside, Aberdeenshire (2007), Well Sheltered and Watered: Menstrie Glen, A Farming Landscape Near Stirling (reprint 2008). Some of these reports are quite long, but this is not a requirement of a good report - short ones are just as good!


Getting the structure of your report right is key, so think carefully about what you want to say and how you are going to say it. Break your findings into manageable sections and arrange them in a logical way. The following list contains all of the key sections which you might think about including in your survey report and follows a format used by RCAHMS in many of its published surveys:

  • Contents

    List of contents, with page numbers, allowing readers to navigate your report and go directly to individual sections if they wish.

  • Introduction

    Normally fairly short, this may contain information about when the survey was conducted and what its purpose was.

  • Methodology

    A brief description of how your survey was undertaken, perhaps mentioning what survey methods you used, how the work was undertaken, by whom and over how long a period. It may be appropriate to combine this section with the introduction.

  • Location

    Normally illustrated with a map (or maps), this should say where your survey area is, and include a brief description of its geography, underlying geology, present land use and any other locational factors you think may be relevant.

  • Historical background

    A brief summary of significant historical events or trends, to place your survey area in its historical context. It is useful to mention principal landowners, the local economy and infrastructure to give readers a really good idea of how the area may have developed through time - the Statistical Accounts of Scotland or local parish histories will provide you with this sort of information.

    If you have done a lot of research you may wish to include a longer discussion based upon your deeper understanding of the local history, or, the individual history of each site you have recorded. This may include information derived from historical maps, census records, valuation rolls, estate rentals, poll tax, hearth tax and other sources.

  • Archaeological description

    You could approach this section in several ways. You may wish to highlight trends you have recorded on your sites, referring to specific examples to illustrate particular points. Or you may wish to describe and discuss each site individually.

  • Discussion and analysis

    A discussion of your results, analysing any trends that you have observed and highlighting any notable conclusions that you have drawn from your survey.

  • Bibliography

    A list of the sources you consulted during your survey and any additional sources you may have referred to in the report (for details of how to cite sources, see sections 3 and 4).

  • Appendices

    This is a good place to put transcripts of historic documents and other lengthy bits of documentation that do not sit comfortably in the main body of your report. You may wish to include a gazetteer of sites, with archaeological descriptions, plans, photographs and historical notes arranged under each site.

Of course, this structure is flexible:

  • It might be appropriate to amalgamate some of the sections - for instance, methodology and location might be part of your introduction.
  • It is not necessary to use all of the suggested sections - for instance, you don't need to have a discussion section or appendices, so don't include them just for the sake of it.

Illustrations and copyright

It is always a good idea to include appropriate illustrations in your survey reports - they can help to demonstrate particular points, divide large sections of text into more manageable chunks, and will generally make your report more visually appealing. You may wish to include survey plans, photographs, maps and plans, or historic documents. When deciding what illustrations to use, you must be careful to observe any copyright restrictions, ensure that they are clearly titled and their source and/or copyright owners are correctly acknowledged. The most appropriate place to put your titles and references is at the bottom of each illustration.

Because SRP survey reports will be available online via Canmore they should only be illustrated with items that are out of copyright or which Scotland's Rural Past has obtained permission for you to use and RCAHMS to publish. Copyright law is complicated but it is important that you are aware of it and respect the rights of copyright owners: information on some of the basics is available on the website of the Intellectual Property Office www.ipo.gov.uk/types/copy

We have agreements in place which permit SRP projects to use certain in-copyright material in your survey reports. These agreements cover modern Ordnance Survey maps, digitised copies of maps on the National Library of Scotland website, and digitised copies of maps and old photographs on the SCRAN website. You may also use any images for which RCAHMS owns the copyright of. Please note that these agreements only extend to reports created for your own use and for transfer to RCAHMS - if you wish to use this material for any other purpose you MUST seek permission from the copyright owners.

You may have access to maps, aerial photographs and other documents held in private hands or in local libraries and archives. If these are out of copyright you may include copies in your survey reports - but only where they have been copied from hard copy rather than downloaded from the internet. This is because when someone makes a copy of an old map or document by photographing or digitising it, copyright law considers this to be a 'new work' and the person that created it is the copyright owner. For this reason, please do not include maps, photos or other material downloaded from internet sites other than the National Library of Scotland or SCRAN in your survey reports because we cannot accept them.

For details about how to reference material correctly, please refer to the appropriate sub-sections, below.

1. Material which is out of copyright

The length of time that copyright lasts for depends upon the format of the item in question (photograph, map, manuscript, etc.) and when it was created. For information about copyright terms, you should refer to the website of the Intellectual Property Office www.ipo.gov.uk/types/copy. If you are unsure about the copyright status of any sources you may wish to use, please check with us first. Once you have double-checked, out of copyright items should be referenced in the following way:

  • Title
  • Date
  • Name of creator and/or copyright owner
  • Source
  • Reference number - if relevant
  • Scale bar - for measured survey plans (for plans not drawn to scale, say so 'not to scale'/ 'sketch plan')

2. Modern Ordnance Survey maps

Ordnance Survey maps remain in copyright for fifty years after their date of publication. Please do not include any in-copyright Ordnance Survey maps in your survey report UNLESS they have been supplied for your project's use by the SRP team AND they include the RCAHMS' Ordnance Survey licence number. Please reference them in the following way:

  • Title (location map, name of settlement, Ordnance Survey, etc.)
  • Map date/edition and scale (1:2,500, 1:10,000, etc.)
  • Copyright acknowledgement (©Crown Copyright 2008. All rights reserved)
  • RCAHMS' OS licence number (Ordnance Survey Licence Number 100025406)

For example:

  • Glen Dee township. The (date) edition of  the OS 1:10,000. © Crown Copyright 2008. All rights reserved. Ordnance Survey Licence Number 100025406

3. Historic Ordnance Survey maps

Ordnance Survey maps which are more than fifty years old are out of copyright and these may be included in your report, as long as you have copied them from hard copy or the National Library of Scotland website. Please reference them in the following way:

  • Title (First edition of the OS 6-inch map, etc.)
  • Map sheet (county name and sheet number as they are printed on the map - n.b. sheet numbers may be in Roman or Arabic)
  • Publication date in brackets (you may also wish to include the survey date)
  • If you have copied a First edition map from the National Library of Scotland website, you must also include the acknowledgement and url, as described in the National Library of Scotland section, below

For example:

  • First edition of the OS 6-inch map: Inverness-shire, xxxi (1875)
  • Second edition of the OS 6-inch map: Inverness-shire, 31 (1907)

4. National Library of Scotland website: maps from the digital map library (www.nls.uk/maps)

The National Library of Scotland owns copyright of the digital maps that are available on its website. These maps may be used in your reports and should be referenced in the following way:

  • Surveyor
  • Map title as it appears on the website
  • Place and date of publication in brackets
  • Acknowledgement to the National Library: "Reproduced by permission of the Trustees of the National Library of Scotland" (if space is tight, just "National Library of Scotland" is acceptable)
  • url of the weblink

For example:

Please note, that although William Roy's Military Survey of Scotland is available on the National Library's website, it does not own rights in the map. For the proper terms of reference, please see the entry for SCRAN, below.

5. SCRAN website: William Roy's Military Survey of Scotland (http://www.scran.ac.uk/)

The British Library owns copyright in the digital version of William Roy's Military Survey of Scotland which is available on the SCRAN and National Library of Scotland websites. It may be used in your reports and should be referenced in the following way:

6. SCRAN website: old photographs (http://www.scran.ac.uk/)

The SCRAN website contains digital copies of a wide range of old photographs, which you are also permitted to use in your survey reports. Any photographs which you use should be referenced in your reports in the following way:

  • Image title
  • Date
  • Copyright owner (as indicated in the 'Attribution and Rights Summary' which appears at the bottom of each image)
  • Licensor (SCRAN)

For example

7. RCAHMS copyright material

Copyright in records created as part of your SRP project will belong to RCAHMS. You may also use other RCHAMS copyrighted material in your survey reports, including survey plans, photographs and aerial photographs. Please reference these items in the following way:

  • Title
  • Date
  • Name of creator and/or copyright owner. (records created by RCAHMS, are normally acknowledged 'Crown Copyright RCHAMS'; SRP material should be acknowledged 'Copyright RCHAMS'; if you obtain records from us, we will tell you the correct citation to use)
  • Reference number - if relevant
  • Scale bar - for measured survey plans (for plans not drawn to scale, say so 'not to scale'/ 'sketch plan')

For example:

  • Auchindrain, Township: view from E showing SE front of SW cottage with mangle in foreground, 1981. John R Hume Collection, H81/23/8. © RCAHMS.

Quotations from manuscripts and printed sources

If you quote from manuscripts or printed sources, or discuss information you have obtained from other sources, you should reference your sources so that readers can follow them up, should they wish. A short reference should appear in brackets immediately after the quote and a full reference should also be listed in a bibliography at the end of your report.

Short references should follow the following format:

  • When quoting from manuscript sources held in archives or libraries, state the name of the archive or library, followed by the document's reference number. You can abbreviate the names of the national collections to NAS, NLS, RCHAMS, NMS.
    • National Archives of Scotland, RHP 3436
  • When quoting from manuscript sources held privately, state the collection title, followed by the document's reference number or description.
    • Invercauld Papers, Rental, 1811-39
  • When quoting from printed sources, state the author's name followed by the publication date and page. For well known sources such as the Statistical Accounts of Scotland, Burkes Peerage, etc., state the source and the publication date.
    • Dixon, 1990, 105
    • Statistical Accounts of Scotland, 1791, 20

Full references should appear in your bibliography and follow the following format:

  • For manuscript sources, state where the document is held, its reference number, title and date.
    • NAS, RHP 3436, Plan of Ballachulish, c1771 
  • For printed sources state the author's name, the publication date, the title of the book or article, its place of publication and the publisher. Titles of printed sources should be italicised.
    • Fenton, A & Walker, B 1981, The Rural Architecture of Scotland, Edinburgh: John Donald


SRP survey reports will be made available on Canmore as PDFs, but you will probably find it easiest to create them in Word first. Your computer may allow you to convert your Word documents into PDFs and we have creates simple instructions which show you how to do this. If you are not sure about this, ask us and we can do it for you. Please note, that if your report contains plans or photos downloaded from the National Library of Scotland and SCRAN websites, you must make sure that they are low resolution copies (ideally 72 dpi), and in order to prevent unauthorised copying, the PDF you create should also be 'locked.'

Editorial guidelines

RCAHMS has compiled comprehensive editorial guidelines which members of staff are encouraged to follow when preparing publications and reports. We have extracted some of the most useful points for SRP project reports and listed them below for your reference. Please try and familiarise yourself with these conventions because they will help you to be consistent in the language that you use in your reports and site descriptions. You can see the full version of RCAHMS' Editorial Guidelines here.


  • c            circa (about)
  • eg          exempli gratia (for example); no full stops between of after eg
  • fig/figs    figure/figures; no full stops after fig or figs
  • ie           id est (that is); no full stops between or after ie
  • no.         number; one of few abbreviations which is followed by a full stop

Compass points

  • Use only: N, NNE, NE, ENE, E, ESE, SE, SSE, S, SSW, SW, WSW, W, NNW, NW, WNW.
  • E-W, N-S preferred to W-E, S-N.
  • Use either 'from N to S' or 'N-S', do not combine, i.e. 'from N-S'.


  • When quoting page numbers and the dates of publications, normal practice is: 3-9, 127-8, 1903-4, 1968-9
  • but if the page or year falls between 10 and 19, repeat two digits after the hyphen: 13-14, 117-18, 1811-12, 1914-18
  • and of course: 29-30, 1939-40, 1899-1900
  • Except in measurements and distance, numbers below 100 should be written in words, those above 100 in figures, e.g. The twenty-four cairns provided 250 cartloads of stones


  • In principle, use the spelling on the most up-to-date OS map available (preferably 1:10,000; if not, 1:25,000, 1:50,000)
  • If the site is scheduled, then use, where possible, the name/spelling in the Scheduling List, but cross-refer to alternative names
  • For water bodies, always put in the word River/Water/Burn/Loch, etc., and always use a capital letter
  • Be consistent when using place-names: do not refer to the Helmsdale River in one sentence and the to the River Helmsdale in the next
  • Manuscript references in text should be quoted thus: (NMRS MS 819)

Useful reading

The following books are useful reference tools to help you adopt a clear writing style and include guidelines for observing good spelling and grammar:

  • Carey, G V 1986 Mind the Stop (Harmondsworth: Penguin)
  • Gowers, E 1986 The Complete Plain Words (London: HMSO)
  • Pythian, B A (ed) 1985 A Concise Dictionary of Correct English (Londaon: Hodder and Stoughton)
  • Sykes, J B (ed) 1988 The Concise Oxford Dictionary (Oxford)
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