Question regarding the "structure" of Research Reports

Dear Editor;

I've been trying to ensure that my documentation content and structure incorporates all the required elements needed to document my research. I've read over the following, including the referenced examples, but am getting confused by the differences in approach.

1) Elizabeth Shown Mills, "QuickLesson 20: Research Reports for Research Success," Evidence Explained: Historical Analysis, Citation & Source Usage ( : posted 23 May 2015).

2) Elizabeth Shown Mills, “Essential Research Reports: 3 Samples,” Historic Pathways ( : accessed 1 September 2019).

The first appears to illustrate the construction of a Research Plan that metamorphoses into a Research Report, as research and analysis content is added. I understand the workflow. But, I am confused by the associated examples. Most seem to show sets of sub-elements in the overall report as separate documents. I can't remember having seen an end-to-end (single document) example of this style of report. That would help me quite a bit.

The second seems to approach the subject in a more "traditional" technical writing style. By that I mean, a separate plan that lays out what is intended to be done and a report that documents reasoning and conclusions. I tend to understand this approach, due to my engineering background. Engineers usually keep Plans and Reports separate.

Are these just two equally valid approaches or is the later article your current recommendation on the subject. I should note that other sites seem to follow the first approach. With those explanations, I have the same issue.

Submitted byEEon Mon, 09/02/2019 - 10:40

History-Hunter, the structure of our research reports will vary because problems vary, resources vary, and goals vary.

At Historic Pathways, you'll find 60 or so different  reports that you might review. Typical goals or tasks would be these:

  • Goal: Analyze a document and develop a work plan to build upon the clues it offers
    • Example: Samuel Witter, 17th U.S. Infantry, War of 1812, Enlistment Record: An Analysis
  • Goal: Identify Candidates for the Samuel Witter of the 17th U.S. Cavalry, War of 1812, building upon the work plan developed in the analysis project
    • Example: Samuel Witter (1787–1876) and the War of 1812
  • Goal: Analyze traditional claims for the identity of Mrs. X’s husband and conduct targeted research to test them
    • Example: Millie (Breland) Odom Cook’s First Husband: A Preliminary Analysis
  • Goal: Identify parents and ancestry of a multiracial female who does not appear in the surviving (and published) baptismal records of a society in which baptism was required
    • Example: Maternal Ancestry of Marie Hyacinthe Gagné, wife of James (a.k.a. Jacques & Jacob) Wallace
  • Goal: Survey published literature (in print and online) for X County and extract all data on [Person or Family] and known associates
    • Example: Watts: Initial Survey of Published South Carolina Resources for Old Craven County, Camden District, and the Counties Cut from Them
  • Goal: Survey UNpublished county-level records for X County and extract all data on [Person or Family] and known associates
    • Example: Watts: Legal Records of Fairfield and Kershaw Counties, South Carolina (Previously Camden District and Craven County), Pre-1830

As you skim the list of reports at, you’ll see that some reflect the course of work done for a full project, while others are county-by-county “standalones." For example:

  • Cooksey: Seven reports, in chronological order, explore the records of Montgomery County, GA, and counties cut from it. The purpose of this project was to identify a woman named Zilphy who was known to be the wife of [Somebody] Price, John Cooksey, and William Cooksey. From these projects, I developed the evidence needed to identify her birth family.  Based on the details in these seven reports, I then developed a proof argument that was published in the peer-reviewed NGSQ. That article is also posted at Historic Pathways:
  • Mills: Research Reports. Here, eleven reports, county by county in Virginia, represent an on-going effort to extract all data on Millses in Virginia in the colonial-through-early-federal period and sort them definitively into family groups.
  • Mills: Individual Research Notes. Here, seven reports use the data from those county-level reports to assemble the lives and families of seven colonial males who are frequently garbled and merged by genealogists and historians.

You'll also notice differences in the titling of reports, based upon goals. In most cases, a report title will feature (lead with) the name of the person or family—as with the Cooksey and Watts reports. In other cases, such as the Mills reports that are county-by-county—where each report has the same objective and the same family name—it's logical for the titles to begin with the name of the county so that specific reports are easier to locate in a long list.

In sum: the structure of reports will vary because problems vary, resources vary, and goals vary.

Submitted byHistory-Hunteron Mon, 09/02/2019 - 12:24

Dear Editor;

Thank you for your explanation.

My reason for being interested in the document structure is that I've constructed a basic report document using Scrivener. That is, I've constructed something that can be easily tailored as needed. In doing some research on what is considered more-or-less standard, I came across something interesting. I have been finding that in the quite a few genealogical documentation tutorials I've found on the web, few identify how their suggested work products have been structured to meet a particular need. Even fewer provide an indication of typical customizations that a genealogist might consider. Without knowing why they structured a report as they did, it's difficult to modify them to one's own needs.


Submitted byEEon Mon, 09/02/2019 - 20:41


Explanations of that type are rare. Historical researchers who write reports are focused on the historical issues. (They serve a meal, rather than teach how to cook.) Writers who write how-to-write guides rarely have an interest in historical research and those who offer guidance for structuring reports tend to focus on more technical topics. We who probe our way through the past tend to be left alone to figure things out for ourselves. I do hope the sampling at Historic Pathways, and the background explanation, help you as you develop your template.

It's coincidental that you asked the question right now, as I'm preparing for Friday's BCG lecture series at FHL. While the focus of my presentation ("Reasonably Exhaustive Research: The First Criteria of the Genealogical Proof Standard—The John Watts Project," with free live-streaming courtesy of Legacy and BCG) is the research process for problem-solving, I also touch upon the reporting issue, describing how I began the project's first report and then switched mid-stream to a different approach because of the nature of the materials and the kind of analysis that I needed to do.

Submitted byvcorraleson Thu, 09/05/2019 - 07:33

Dear History Hunter:

I am on the same boat :-) I am preparing my portfolio for the BCG certification. I only research my family, and have never before written a Genealogy Report for a third party (although, it might be useful to write them for myself, or a future researcher that could pickup my work in the future).

Anyway, additional to excellent reports in Historical Pathways, here some other examples that have helped me, with the structure:

I also found particularly helpful, chapter 18 (Research Reports) of Professional Genealogy, 2001 edition)

Elizabeth Shown Mills. Professional Genealogy : A Manual for Researchers, Writers, Editors, Lecturers, and Librarians (Kindle Location 9771)., Inc.. Kindle Edition. 

The National Institute for Genealogical Studies, has also a course on "Writing for Genealogy", and once of the modules is dedicated to Research Reports. I have not taken that course yet but it is my list of future courses (I am doing the Methodology certificate with them, and have found the courses to be a great learning experience).

Hope that help.



Thanks, Victor, for adding the links. I should note one point with regard to your recommendation of my report-writing chapter in the 2001 ProGen. While the information is still current and sound, Nancy Peters' corresponding chapter in the 2018 ProGen PPS is more current and gets into issues that my 2001 chapter does not. The two in tandem cover most aspects of writing the report. But, of course, the quality of the final report also depends upon the structure of the project planning and the analytical work that occurred while the records were being consulted. The 2018 chapters by Harold Henderson and Laura DeGrazia are vital for that underlying structure.

Submitted byHistory-Hunteron Wed, 09/11/2019 - 18:38

Thank you to the Editor for the responses, as well as to those who added their input.

Once I considered all the material, I went back to the BCG Genealogy Standards 2nd Edition. I read over item 74 on relating to the ten characteristics of reports. And... the light went on!

Having been an engineer, I know that many writers of engineering requirements documents add an unnecessary number of design constraints. That is, they tell you "what" the design must do and then tell you "how" they want it to be done. This results in the client not getting the best product since the engineer cannot fully utilize his experience.

I was pleased to see that the BCG has kept document design constraints to a minimum. They said "what" a report must do, but left the "how", or format, to the individual.

In a nutshell, one is free to use any report format that meets the requirements set forth by the standards document. Two people could address the same research question using a vastly different document structure. 

I've now produced base templates for a few of the more standard reports. I fully expect to customize these as needed to make my case. But now I'm far more comfortable in doing so.