Report Writing Guide

Overview
A report is similar to an essay in that both need:

  • formal style
  • introduction, body and conclusion
  • analytical thinking
  • careful proof-reading and neat presentation.

A report differs from an essay in that a report:

  • uses graphics wherever possible (tables, graphs, illustrations)
  • may need an abstract (sometimes called an executive summary)
  • is often followed by recommendations and/or appendices.

A report should generally include the following sections:

  • Letter of transmittal
  • Title page
  • Executive summary/abstract
  • Table of contents
  • List of abbreviations and/or glossary
  • Introduction
  • Body
  • Conclusion
  • Recommendations
  • Bibliography
  • Appendices.

Presentation and style are important. First impressions count, so consider these simple tips:

  • ensure the separate parts of your report stand out clearly
  • use subheadings
  • allow generous spacing between the elements of your report
  • use dot points/ numbers/ letters to articulate these elements
  • use tables and figures (graphs, illustrations, maps etc) for clarification.
  • number each page
  • use consistent and appropriate formatting
  • use formal language.

Avoid these:

  • the inclusion of careless, inaccurate, or conflicting data
  • the inclusion of outdated or irrelevant data
  • facts and opinions that are not separated
  • unsupported conclusions and recommendations
  • careless presentation and proof-reading
  • too much emphasis on appearance and not enough on content
  • missing or lack of in-test citation or references to the source of ideas or material
  • incorrect format of in-text citation and referencing using Harvard Referencing (or otherwise requested by course examiner).

Report writing - An essential skill
Report writing is an essential skill for professionals in almost every field: accountants, teachers, graphic designers, information scientists (the list goes on). That’s one of the reasons why your lecturers will almost certainly require you to write reports during your period of study. A report aims to inform, as clearly and succinctly as possible. It should be easy to read, and professional in its presentation. See these key features of academic reports. Exactly what you include in your report and how you present it will vary according to your discipline and the specific purpose of the report. Here we give some general guidelines, but you should check with your lecturer for more detail on what is expected.

Reports and essays - what’s the difference?
A common problem is that students transfer what they have learned about essay writing to report writing both essays and reports need:

  • formal style
  • careful proof-reading and neat presentation
  • introduction, body and conclusion
  • analytical thinking.

Report structure
What follows is a generic structure for reports. Using this structure will help to give your report the correct level of formality; it will also help to ensure that you do not leave out anything important. However, the actual structure required by your discipline may not be exactly what is represented here - you should check with your lecturer.
A report should generally include the following sections.

  • Letter of transmittal
  • Title page
  • Executive summary/abstract
  • Table of contents
  • List of abbreviations and/or glossary
  • Introduction
  • Body
  • Conclusion
  • Recommendations
  • References
  • Appendices.

Title page
This must contain:

  • the report title which clearly states the purpose of the report
  • full details of the person(s) for whom the report was prepared
  • full details of the person(s) who prepared the report
  • the date of the presentation of the report

Table of Contents
The Table of Contents is a list of the headings and appendices of the report. Depending on the complexity and length of the report, you could list tables, figures and appendices separately. Make sure the correct page numbers are shown opposite the contents. Up-to-date word processing packages can generate a table of contents for you.

Abbreviations and/or glossary

  • You should provide an alphabetical list of the abbreviations you have used in the report, especially if they may not be familiar to all readers of the report.
  • If you have used many technical terms, you should also provide a glossary (an alphabetical list of the terms, with brief explanations of their meanings).

Acknowledgements (if appropriate)
This is a short paragraph thanking any person or organisation which gave you help in collecting data or preparing the report.

Abstract (Summary or Executive Summary)
An abstract is quite different from an introduction. It is a summary of the report in which you include one sentence (or so) for every main section of your report. For example, you can include:

  • the context of the research
  • the purpose of the report
  • the major findings (you may need several sentences here)
  • the conclusions
  • the main recommendations

Write the abstract after you have written the report.

Introduction

  • Give enough background information to provide a context for the report.
  • State the purpose of the report.
  • Clarify key terms and indicate the scope of the report (ie what the report will cover).

Body
The content of the body depends on the purpose of the report, and whether it is a report of primary or secondary research.
A report of primary research (based on your own observations and experiments) would include:

  • Literature review (what other people have written about this topic. Here are some hints on writing a literature review. The literature review should lead towards your research question.
  • Method (summarises what you did and why). Use the past tense.
  • Findings or results (describes what you discovered, observed, etc in your observations and experiments). Use the past tense.
  • Discussion (discusses and explains your findings and relates them to previous research). Use the present tense to make generalisations.
  • A report of secondary research (based on reading only) would include:
  • Information organised under appropriate topics with sub-headings. It is unlikely that your report will discuss each source separately. You need to synthesise material from different sources under topic headings.
  • Analysis/discussion of the sources you are reporting.

Conclusion
Sum up the main points of the report. The conclusion should clearly relate to the objectives of your report. You should not include new information in your conclusion section.

Recommendations (if appropriate)
These are suggestions for future action. They must be logically derived from the body of your report

References
Please see the Library for some information on references .

Appendices
An appendix contains material which is too detailed, technical, or complex to include in the body of the report (for example, specifications, a questionnaire, or a long complex table of figures), but which is referred to in the report. Appendices are put at the very end of the report, after everything else. Each appendix should contain different material. Number each appendix clearly.

Common problems
Some common problems with research report writing that you should take care to avoid are:

  • the inclusion of careless, inaccurate, or conflicting information
  • the inclusion of outdated or irrelevant data
  • facts and opinions that are not separated
  • unsupported conclusions and recommendations
  • careless presentation and proof-reading
  • too much emphasis on appearance and not enough attention to solid content.
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