How To Write A Report

Title: How To Write A Report

Author: Centre For Academic Success, Birmingham University, UK

Full Text & Source:

The Internet, Online, 12/10/2015

Sample Text:

What is a report?

A report is a systematic, well organised document which defines and analyses a subject or problem, and which may include:

the record of a sequence of events interpretation of the significance of these events or facts evaluation of the facts or results of research presented discussion of the outcomes of a decision or course of action conclusions recommendations

Reports must always be:

accurate concise clear well structured

Various courses require you to write reports (as opposed to essays), notably business and scientific or technical subjects. There are, however, different interpretations of what a report should look like, so it is important that you check with your course tutors and course documentation as to the report format and content expected. In addition, there is at times some blurring between what “essays”, “reports” and “assignments” are, so again check within your department. Much of the advice given in Guide 1.01, How to write an essay, also applies to reports.

Initial preparation

Always analyse your brief carefully, making sure that you fully understand the topic, question or case, that you know what the purpose of the report is, and who it is being written for. The clearer these things are in your mind, the easier the report will be to write and the more effective it will be.

When you are researching, planning and eventually writing, continually ask yourself what the main purpose of the report is, what your objective is in writing it: is it to inform; to argue; to persuade; to evaluate? What does your reader want to see in the report and what will they do with it?
Planning and research

You first need to decide your basic framework. With your main topic or question as a central focus, jot down your initial thoughts and start to group these together. You may find the Mind Mapping technique useful: see Guide 2.11. Start to divide key ideas from subsidiary information, and continually ask yourself if everything is relevant; if it isn’t, then delete it.

From your prior knowledge (from reading and lectures), you should be able to put together a fairly basic structure.

You will now be able to plan your research. Ask yourself what you need to find out, maybe in the form of questions that need to be answered, then approach your reading from this starting point. If you have specific information to look for, it will make your reading easier and less time consuming. (See Guide 2.02 Reading techniques).

Try not to gather too much information. Again, keeping your topic or question in mind, reject anything which is not 100% relevant. When you’re making notes, always try to summarise the main points as concisely as possible. Remember to make a comprehensive record of any sources consulted in order to be able to correctly reference these.

Report structure

Title page : Acknowledgements : Contents page : Terms of reference : Procedure : Materials and methods : Summary : Introduction : Main body : Results : Conclusion : Recommendations : Appendices : References : Bibliography : Glossary

Unlike essays, reports are written in sections with headings and sub-headings, which are usually numbered. Below are the possible components of a report, in the order in which they would appear. Check within your department which of these you should include.

Title page (always included) This should normally include the title, your name and the name of the tutor to whom it is being submitted, date of submission, your course/department, and if applicable, the name of the person and/or organisation who has commissioned the report. Avoid “fancy” fonts and effects and don’t include any clipart.
Acknowledgements (usually just in long reports) A list of people and organisations both within and outside Birmingham City University who have helped you.
Contents page (always included in reports of 4+ pages) A clear, well-formatted list of all the sections and sub-sections of the report. Don’t forget to put the page numbers! If applicable, there should be a separate list of tables, figures, illustrations and/or appendices after the main index. Make sure that the headings in this list correspond exactly with those in your main body. It is best to do your list of contents right at the end.
Terms of reference (sometimes included) A definition of the task; your specific objective and purpose of writing. Even if you don’t include this as a heading, it is a vital process to go through in your planning.
What exactly is your report going to be about? If it is group work, who exactly is responsible for what? How long have you got? What is your task timescale? Why are you writing the report? What exactly are the assessment criteria? Who are you writing the report for? Are you actually playing a role? What does your reader want to see?
Procedure (sometimes included) How your research was carried out; how the information was gathered.

Materials and methods (included if applicable) Similar to procedure, but more appropriate to scientific or engineering report writing. The following advice comes from Robert Barrass’ book Scientists Must Write (Chapman & Hall,1978:135-136):
1 List the equipment used and draw anything that requires description (unless this is very simple).
2 State the conditions of the experiment and the procedure, with any precautions necessary to ensure accuracy and safety. However, when several experiments are reported, some details may fit better in the appropriate parts of the Results section.
3 Write the stages in any new procedure in the right order and describe in detail any new technique, or modifications of an established technique.
4 If necessary, refer to preliminary experiments and to any consequent changes in technique. Describe your controls adequately.
5 Include information on the purity and structure of the materials used, and on the source of the material and the method of preparation.
Summary (usually included in longer reports; may be called Executive Summary, Abstract or Synopsis) This is a very brief outline of the report to give the potential reader a general idea of what it’s about. A statement of:
overall aims and specific objectives (unless included in terms of reference) method/procedure used (unless included in separate section) key findings main conclusions and recommendations

Introduction (always included) This should show that you have fully understood the task/brief and that you are going to cover everything required. Indicate the basic structure of the report. You should include just a little background/context and indicate the reasons for writing the report. You may include your terms of reference and procedure/research methods if not covered elsewhere. Your introduction will often give an indication of the conclusion to the report.
Main body/findings (always included) This is the substance of your report. The structure will vary according to the nature of the material being presented, with headings and sub-headings used to clearly indicate the different sections (unlike an essay). A “situation>problem>solution>evaluation” approach may be appropriate. It is not sufficient to simply describe a situation. Your tutor will be looking for analysis and for a critical approach, when appropriate. Charts, diagrams and tables can be used to reinforce your arguments, although sometimes it may be better to include these as an appendix (particularly if they are long or complicated). Do not include opinions, conclusions or recommendations in this section.

Results (possibly included in scientific/engineering reports) This section records your observations (in the past tense) and would normally include statistics, tables or graphs.

Conclusion (always included) Your conclusion should draw out the implications of your findings, with deductions based on the facts described in your main body. Don’t include any new material here.
Recommendations (sometimes included) These should follow on logically from your conclusion and be specific, measurable and achievable. They should propose how the situation/problem could be improved by suggesting action to be taken. A “statement of cost” should be included if you are recommending changes that have financial implications. Recommendations can be numbered if you wish.

Appendices (sometimes included) An appendix (plural=appendices) is detailed documentation of points you outline in your findings, for example, technical data, questionnaires, letters sent, tables, sketches, charts, leaflets etc. It is supplementary information which you consider to be too long or complicated or not quite relevant enough to include in your main body, but which still should be of interest to your reader. Each appendix should be referred to in your text. You should not include something as an appendix if it is not discussed in the main body.

References (always included) This is a list giving the full details of all the sources to which you have made reference within your text. By far the most common method in use at Birmingham City University is the Harvard method.

Bibliography (sometimes included) This is either a separate list of sources which you have used during your research, but have not actually made reference to in your writing, or this list together with your list of references.

Check in your department what you are expected to use.

Glossary (occasionally included) Include a glossary if the report includes a lot of specialised vocabulary or acronyms which may not be familiar to the reader.

Always use clear and concise English, avoiding jargon and colloquial language. Write in fairly short sentences. Make sure you develop each paragraph sufficiently (usually a minimum of 5/6 sentences). Most of your report should be impersonal, although it may be appropriate in your conclusion or recommendations to include more personal language. Be extra careful with verb tenses.

Check everything carefully
Careful checking of your report before you print off the final version can make a big difference.
Check: General layout Text organisation Coherence Grammar, spelling and punctuation Referencing Style
And finally overall, does the report fulfil its purpose? Does it do what you’re being asked to do and what you say you’re going to do in your introduction? Are you pleased with it? If you can’t confidently answer “yes” to these questions, then you may need to do some major editing and rewriting.

Links to further resources on writing reports
University of Surrey
University of Reading
Bournemouth University


About Author Annette J Dunlea Irish Writer

Irish Writer Website: Twitter: @adunlea Facebook:
This entry was posted in Reports, University, Writing & Writers, Writing Skills and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.