How to Write an Appendix

Report and essay writing requires a clear and sustained focus of information that directly supports the central topic or argument. In many cases, however, the research project will yield much more information. The problem with this bulk of material is where to include it. If it is only loosely related to the topic, adding it to the main text might distract from the central argument and result in an unfocused piece of writing that is structurally messy and cluttered. In such cases, this extra information is best relegated to the end of the text, by writing an appendix.

The type of information that is normally included when writing an appendix might be background or statistical information, graphical representations of research outcomes, detailed information pertaining to research or mathematical procedures, raw data, or any extra information that expands on a particular aspect of the topic in a tangentially relevant, rather than directly relevant way.

Writing an appendix is an important part of structuring a written document in a way that serves two purposes: the purpose of the topic and the needs of the audience.

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Deciding what to include when writing an appendix

A written appendix works in much the same way as an appendix in the human digestive system - remove it, and the body will still function perfectly well without it. A written text must also function independently of its appendix. The central topic must be addressed within the main body of the text and all supporting arguments must not depend on material located in the appendix. The purpose behind writing an appendix is not to create a place for information that cannot be conveniently accommodated in the main text.

To write an appendix it is important to understand the two major perspectives that must be served in any successful piece of writing. These are:

  1. The writer and the writer's arguments.
  2. The reader and the reader's expectations.

In fact, to successfully structure and write an appendix, the writer needs to have a clear understanding of the purpose of the writing in order to make decisions about which material should remain in the body of the work, and which material should be sent to the appendix.

When making decisions about writing an appendix and whether material should be placed in the appendix or incorporated in the main argument, the following question needs to be answered: Is this information or material essential to the central argument and topic?

If it is, then it must be included in the main text. If, however, it is too lengthy or too detailed it might be better to summarise it, including the essential points in the main text, and then writing an appendix to place the complete material in its own dedicated section. This can apply to anything from lengthy quotations and long lists to detailed procedures and excessive raw data.

The second question to be answered when preparing to write an appendix is this one: Is it more helpful for the reader that this information be included in the main text or placed in a separate section? Again, it might be best for a reader to have all the essential information in the main text, instead of having to refer to an appendix, which can often be inconvenient and impractical.

However, if this means that the main text will be difficult to read because lengthy and detailed material will interfere with the general flow of the argument, then the writer should write an appendix and relegate material to this appendix. The reader should then be given a solid summary within the main text and a reference to the appendix where the material is available in full.

When writing an appendix, deciding how material should be structured and organised must balance the demands and needs of both writer and reader.

Preparing to write an appendix

An appendix is an addition to the main text, but this does not mean that it serves as a repository for essential information that cannot be conveniently placed within the main text. The main text should always be complete in itself and the central argument be supported within the main text, as if the  appendix were not there at all. This is because readers - depending on their needs - may never consult the appendix. For readers that do access the appendix, information for further exploration of the topic or detailed analysis of procedures or other related information should be easily accessible.

When writing an appendix, types of information and materials that will most likely be included, are:

  • Charts
  • Tables
  • Graphs
  • Diagrams
  • Photographs
  • Questionnaires
  • Surveys
  • Quotations
  • Lists
  • Maps
  • Descriptions of procedures
  • Descriptions of research instruments
  • Raw data
  • Sources, papers or documents

While all of the above types of materials may be included in the main text, some will be relegated to the appendix because they are not essential to the main argument or are too bulky and detailed to be accommodated without breaking the flow of the argument. For example, when writing an appendix questionnaire results should be summarised and discussed within the main text, but the questionnaire itself may be better placed in the appendix. The same logic applies to raw data. Data should be summarised and discussed in the main text, but the raw data should be placed in the appendix. In the case of sources that are richly referred to within the main text, it might also be useful to add the complete source paper or document in the appendix for the reader's convenience.

Formatting tips when writing an appendix

An appendix may be one or many (appendices, in this case). Each type of material added should be added as a new appendix and each separate appendix should be labelled or numbered, for example, Appendix A or Appendix I. It is also useful to name the appendix with a descriptive title, for example, 'Appendix A: Raw Data.'

Appendices are normally placed at the end of a document before the notes or references, or sometimes at the end of a chapter in a book and always included, with a page reference, in the Table of Contents. All content placed in an appendix should be referred to in the body of the text, for example, 'Details of research instruments are given in Appendix A (Page 55).'

Before writing an appendix it is best to consult the style guides or style manuals for advice on all written work and specifically on how to format and write an appendix. These include the Chicago Manual of Style, which is generally used for books and papers, or the MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers (MLA) and the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association (APA), which are often used for academic papers. Various academic and other institutions, industries and professions have their own preferred rules and conventions for structuring and formatting written texts and these should always be consulted when preparing to write an appendix.

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