Saturday, 25 June 2011 12:18

How to a write report

Written by  Helen Batziris

Writing a report can be an overwhelming task for anyone. People often get put off by the perceived amount of work required to compile a report, or they struggle with the thought of delving into the unkown. Whether you are a student, academic or business employee, report writing can be approached in the same way by following the general structure outlined here.

Structure of Reports

A report will generally include the following sections:

  • Title page
  • Table of contents
  • List of abbreviations (optional)
  • Executive Summary/Abstract
  • Introduction
  • Main Body
  • Conclusion
  • Recommendations (in many fields, for example, Law, these often appear directly after the Executive Summary)
  • Appendices
  • Bibliography

Title page

This must contain:

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

Table of Contents

(generally used if the report is longer than ten pages)

This is a list of the headings (and often subheadings) 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. Most word processing packages can generate a table of contents for you.

Abbreviations and/or glossary (optional)

If necessary, 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 a lot of 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)

The abstract is different from the introduction as 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

Given the report is a compilation of all data, facts, conclusions and recommendations, it is best to write the abstract after you have completed 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 (i.e. what the report will cover).

Main Body

The content of the body depends on the purpose of the report. In general, the body would include:

  • Literature review (what other people have written about this topic.
  • Method (summarises what you did and why). Ensure you use past tense.
  • Findings or results (describes what you discovered, observed, etc. in your observations and experiments). Use past tense.
  • Discussion (discusses your findings and relates them to any previous research). Use the present tense to make generalisations.
  • Conclusion

  • Sum up the main points of the report - do not include any new information here. The conclusion should clearly relate to the objectives of your report.

Recommendations (if appropriate)

These are suggestions for future action. They must be logically derived from the body of your report.

Bibliography

A list of all resources cited throughout your report.

Appendices

An appendix contains material which is relevant to the report but is too detailed, technical, or complex to include in the body of the report (e.g. specifications, a questionnaire, detailed results). Contents of an appendix is referred to in the report via a cross-reference. Appendices are placed at the very end of the report and each appendix should contain different material. Each appendix is to be numbered.

Presentation of the Report

Whilst the content and structure of your report is of paramount importance, so is the presentation. For clear, neat and reader-friendly presentation, consider these simple tips:

  • use plenty of white space (white space makes writing 'easy on the eye', and therefore easier to read)
  • ensure the separate parts of your report stand out clearly, with appropriate headings and sub-headings
  • allow generous spacing between the elements of your report
  • use dot points / numbers / letters to articulate these elements
  • use tables and figures (graphs, illustrations etc.) for clarification. Label them clearly and cite the source. These graphics should relate to the text of your report.
  • number each page (a neat header and/or footer makes your work look more professional)
  • use consistent and appropriate formatting (most word processing packages have pre-set formats)
  • use formal, yet simple language (see my blogs on what makes a good sentence? and why are good paragraphs so important?)
Last modified on Saturday, 25 June 2011 22:33

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