Skip Navigation Links  The Library of Congress >> Especially for Researchers >> Research Centers
Science Reference Services (Science, Technology, and Business Division)
  Home >> Technical Reports and Standards

Technical Reports and Standards

About Technical Reports and Standards

   Technical Reports:

Technical reports are designed to quickly alert researchers to recent findings in scientific and technical research. These reports are issued for a variety of purposes: to communicate results or describe progress of a research project; as background information on an emerging or critical research topic; to provide a list of instructions or procedures for current practices; to determine the feasibility of a technology and recommend if the research should be continued (and how to evaluate progress that is made); and finally, to detail technical specifications (materials, functions, features, operation, market potential, etc.). Uncertain availability, limited print runs, and decentralized distribution patterns with little bibliographic information however are also unfortunate characteristics of this literature.

Apparatus for shooting large arrows, 1599.

Technical reports first appeared in the early part of the 20th century; the U.S. Geological Survey published a series of Professional papers beginning in 1902, and the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA) issued its first report in 1915. But the designation primarily gained importance during World War II and emerged in the postwar and modern eras as a major tool for reporting progress in science and technology, as well as in education, business, and social sciences research. The names given to these publications series vary and include such generic categories as "technical reports," "working papers," "preprints," "research memoranda," "internal notes," "occasional papers," "discussion papers," and "gray (or grey) literature." In the physical and natural sciences, technical report seems to be the preferred designation. For reports dealing with business, education, and the social sciences, the terms "working paper," "occasional paper," and "memorandum" seem to be the designations of choice. A third category is the various preprint and reprint series of conference papers that appear from time to time. Preprints generally are issued by universities and research institutes before the final conference proceedings volumes are published by commercial publishers. Reprints are typically released to heighten awareness to the type of research being conducted in a particular field or at a single institution. The term technical report is used in TRS to include all of these designations.

Since many of these publications were intended to provide just a temporary snapshot of current research in a particular field or topic, they contain the following distinctive characteristics:

  • The content is not published via typical commercial channels (instead the reports are issued or sponsored by
             government agencies, associations & societies, Councils, Foundations, laboratories, universities, etc.).
  • The format provides rapid communication of new research results.
  • The reports are disseminated to a targeted audience.
  • The reports include detailed methodology and data in order to facilitate review of research results by others.
  • Publications are typically not peer reviewed, but generally are the result of another selection process (grant, contract, or institutional affiliation).
  • Corporate authorship is typically emphasized

Government issued or sponsored reports contain an additional characteristic - they may be subject to distribution restrictions linked to their classification status. Although references may be found in the literature to these reports, their security status or limited distribution may make them unavailable (consult the EPA Freedom of Information Act site as an example for guidance in obtaining these reports). The Library of Congress holds only those titles that are in the public domain. Technical reports subjects where U.S. government sponsored research is particularly prominent and widely available include:

  • Aeronautics and space exploration (NASA)
  • Defense & Military Science (DOD)
  • Earth sciences (USGS) (NASA)
  • Energy research (DOE) (NRC)
  • Engineering (DOD) (NASA)
  • Environmental sciences (EPA) (NIH)
  • Health & Life sciences (NIH)
  • Transportation (DOT) (FAA)

See the May 2001 GAO report Information management dissemination of technical reports for a more detailed overview of U.S. government issued technical reports.

For the purpose of locating these publications, technical reports are assigned a series of codes (Accession numbers, Agency Report series numbers, Contract numbers, Grant numbers, etc.), as well as date and individual report numbers. Typically, these codes help to identify the sponsoring agency and/or the organization performing the research (see NISO's format for a Standard Technical Report Number (STRN)). Most technical reports held by the Library of Congress are not cataloged and require the use of one these codes to retrieve the titles. To learn about the Library of Congress holdings, visit the Technical Reports Collections page.

More recently, digital versions of academic papers, known as Eprints (including preprints of journal articles, book chapters, conference papers, working papers, reports, and so on) have become available online from numerous digital repositories. To locate Eprint online archives, consult the Library of Congress Databases and Electronic Resources for technical reports.


Portable siege ladder, 1475.

Standards are known to have existed as early as 7000 B.C., when cylindrical stones were used as units of weight in Egypt. Standards are specifications which define products, methods, processes or practices. According to OMB Circular A-119, the term "standard" or "technical standard" includes:

    * Common and repeated use of rules, conditions, guidelines or characteristics for products or related processes and production methods, and related management systems practices.

    * The definition of terms; classification of components; delineation of procedures; specification of dimensions, materials, performance, designs, or operations; measurement of quality and quantity in describing materials, processes, products, systems, services, or practices; test methods and sampling procedures; or descriptions of fit and measurements of size or strength.

Standards are typically generated by governments or the hundreds of U.S. and international professional associations and organizations interested in or affected by the subject matter. For example, U.S. government standards mandated by the Fair Packaging & Labeling Act have standardized the quantities in which consumer commodities are sold. Standards set the basis for determining consistent and acceptable minimum levels of reliability and safety, and are adhered to either voluntary or as mandated by law. For a more complete overview, see NIST's The ABC's of Standards-Related Activities in the United States.

The Library of Congress collection includes defense standards, other Federal standards, industry standards, and a few older international standards (Russia, China, South Africa).

Some of the materials in these collections are housed, in hardcopy or microform, in the Technical Reports and Standards Unit (TRS) of the Science, Technology, and Business Division. Others can either be found in the Library's general collections by searching the online catalog, or in the custody of appropriate specialized divisions, including the Asian Division.

Top of PageTop of Page
United States Copyright restrictions prevent copying entire copyrighted documents. However, the fair use provision does permit reproduction of relevant portions (small parts) of these documents. Photocopiers, microform reader/printers and computer terminals are available for patron use in the Science Reading Room. TRS materials are non-circulating and are not to leave the Science Reading Room area.
Top of PageTop of Page
  Home >> Technical Reports and Standards
  The Library of Congress >> Especially for Researchers >> Research Centers
  November 25, 2008
Contact Us:  
Ask a Librarian