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Written Assignments: Reports

This guide provides information on how to write effective essays, reflections and reports

Overview

Reports are typical workplace writing. Writing reports as coursework can help you prepare to write better reports in your work life. Reports are always written for a specific purpose and audience. They should be written in a very clear and concise language. They should present referenced data or facts, which should be analysed. 

What makes a good report?

Follow some key tips on writing good reports. More details are provided in the boxes within this page.  

Following the instructions 

You may have been given a report brief that provides you with instructions and guidelines. The report brief may outline the purpose, audience and problem or issue that your report must address, together with any specific requirements for format or structure. Thus, always check the report guidelines before starting your assignment. 

Focus

An effective report presents and analyses evidence that is relevant to the specific problem or issue you have been instructed to address. Always think of the audience and purpose of your report. 

Sources

All sources used should be acknowledged and referenced throughout. You can accompany your writing with necessary diagrams, graphs or tables of gathered data.

Analysis

The data and information presented should be analysed. The type of analysis will depend on your subject. For example, business reports may use SWOT or PESTLE analytical frameworks. A lab report may require to analyse and interpret the data originated from an experiment you performed in light of current theories. 

Structure

A good report has a clear and accurately organised structure, divided in headings and sub-headings. The paragraphs are the fundamental unit of reports . 

Language

The language of reports is formal, clear, succinct, and to the point. 

Audience

Think about who you are informing (the audience) and what information they need (the purpose). This will help ensure the relevance and clear focus of your report. A report can differ greatly depending on the audience!

Try not to think in terms of your lecturer as your reader. Instead, imagine your report is going to be read by the CEO of a large, multi-national company. Ask yourself these questions:

  • How much time does this person have?
  • How much time does this person have?
  • Will they understand ‘wordy’, academic styles?
  • Will they understand the jargon used or will you need to explain some of the terms you are referring to?
  • If they read this report, would they pay you for your advice?

Or think of the reader as fellow scientists:

  • Do they need you to explain much theory?
  • Are you providing enough detail on the experiments you conducted, so that they may reproduce them? 

audience image

 

Purpose

The purpose is the reason for which the report is written.

Try answering the following questions: 

  • What are you trying to say?
  • Why are you writing this report (other than to get a grade)?
  • What are you wanting to prove?
  • What are the research objectives, or research questions?

Having a clear purpose and knowing your audience will help you identify what you need to accurately and objectively communicate in the report. 

purpose image

Writing a business report

Generally, business reports can be written to inform, solve a problem or make a proposal. They carry information and analyse it. Sometimes you can analyse applying a theoretical framework (e.g., SWOT, PESTLE, Porter's diamond etc.). Sometimes you have to devise your own analytical questions, breaking down the issue into its components, studying them closely, and seeing how they interact with (influence/ are influenced by) other components. 

Report Structure

Generally, a report will include some of the following sections: Title Page, Terms of Reference, Summary, Table of Contents, Introduction, Methods, Results, Main body, Conclusion, Recommendations, Appendices, and Bibliography. This structure may vary according to the type of report you are writing, which will be based on your department or subject field requirements. Therefore, it is always best to check your departmental guidelines or module/assignment instructions first.  

Title Page

You should follow any guidelines specified by your module handbook or assignment brief in case these differ, however usually the title page will include the title of the report, your number, student ID and module details.

Terms of Reference

You may be asked to include this section to give clear, but brief, explanations for the reasons and purpose of the report, which may also include who the intended audience is and how the methods for the report were undertaken.

(Executive) Summary 

It is often best to write this last as it is harder to summarise a piece of work that you have not written yet. An executive summary is a shorter replica of the entire report. Its length should be about 10% of the length of the report, 

Contents (Table of Contents)

Please follow any specific style or formatting requirements specified by the module handbook or assignment brief. The contents page contains a list of the different chapters or headings and sub-headings along with the page number so that each section can be easily located within the report. Keep in mind that whatever numbering system you decide to use for your headings, they need to remain clear and consistent throughout. 

Introduction

This is where you set the scene for your report. The introduction should clearly articulate the purpose and aim (and, possibly, objectives) of the report, along with providing the background context for the report's topic and area of research. A scientific report may have an hypothesis in addition or in stead of aims and objectives. It may also provide any definitions or explanations for the terms used in the report or theoretical underpinnings of the research so that the reader has a clear understanding of what the research is based upon. It may be useful to also indicate any limitations to the scope of the report and identify the parameters of the research. 

Methods

The methods section includes any information on the methods, tools and equipment used to get the data and evidence for your report. You should justify your method (that is, explain why your method was chosen), acknowledge possible problems encountered during the research, and present the limitations of your methodology. 

Results

If you are required to have a separate results and discussion section, then the results section should only include a summary of the findings, rather than an analysis of them - leave the critical analysis of the results for the discussion section. Presenting your results may take the form of graphs, tables, or any necessary diagrams of the gathered data. It is best to present your results in a logical order, making them as clear and understandable as possible through concise titles, brief summaries of the findings, and what the diagrams/charts/graphs or tables are showing to the reader. 

Discussion

This section is where the data gathered and your results are truly put to work. It is the main body of your report in which you should critically analyse what the results mean in relation to the aims and objectives (and/or, in scientific writing, hypotheses) put forth at the beginning of the report. You should follow a logical order, and can structure this section in sub-headings. 

Conclusion 

The conclusion should not include any new material but instead show a summary of your main arguments and findings. It is a chance to remind the reader of the key points within your report, the significance of the findings and the most central issues or arguments raised from the research. The conclusion may also include recommendations for further research, or how the present research may be carried out more effectively in future.

Recommendations

You can have a separate section on recommendations, presenting the action you recommend be taken, drawing from the conclusion. These actions should be concrete and specific. 

Appendices

The appendices may include all the supporting evidence and material used for your research, such as interview transcripts, surveys, questionnaires, tables, graphs, or other charts and images that you may not wish to include in the main body of the report, but may be referred to throughout your discussion or results sections.

Bibliography

Similar to your essays, a report still requires a bibliography of all the published resources you have referenced within your report. Check your module handbook for the referencing style you should use as there are different styles depending on your degree. If it is the standard Westminster Harvard Referencing style, then follow these guidelines and remember to be consistent. 

Formatting reports

You should try to format your document using the outline and table of contents functions in Word

Writing Style

The language of reports should be:

Formal – avoid contractions and colloquial expressions.

Direct – avoid jargon and complicated sentences. Explain any technical terms.

Precise – avoid vague language e.g. 'almost'  and avoid generalisations e.g. 'many people'

Concise – avoid repetition and redundant phrases. Examples of redundant phrases:

  • contributing factor = factor
  • general consensus = consensus
  • smooth to the touch = smooth

Strong paragraphs

Paragraphs, and namely strong paragraphs, are an essential device to keep your writing organised and logical. 

Paragraphs

A paragraph is a group of sentences that are linked coherently around one central topic/idea. Paragraphs should be the building blocks of academic writing. Each paragraph should be doing a job, moving the argument forward and guiding your reading through your thought process.

Paragraphs should be 10-12 lines long, but variations are acceptable. Do not write one-sentence long paragraphs; this is journalistic style, not academic.

Strong paragraphs

You need to write so-called strong paragraphs wherein you present a topic, discuss it and conclude it, as afar as reasonably possible. Strong paragraphs may not always be feasible, especially in introductions and conclusions, but should be the staple of the body of your written work. 

Topic sentenceIntroduces the topic and states what your paragraph will be about

DevelopmentExpand on the point you are making: explain, analyse, support with examples and/or evidence.

Concluding sentenceSummarise how your evidence backs up your point. You can also introduce what will come next.

PEEL technique

This is a strategy to write strong paragraphs. In each paragraph you should include the following:

Point: what do you want to talk about?

Evidence: show me!

Evaluation: tell me!

Link: what's coming next?

Example of a strong paragraph, with PEEL technique:

Strong Paragraphs image

Paragraph bridges

Paragraphs may be linked to each other through "paragraph bridges". One simple way of doing this is by repeating a word or phrase.

Example 1:

Last sentence of a paragraph: First sentence of next paragraph:
In short, a number of efforts have been made to.... Despite these efforts,...

Example 2:

Last sentence of a paragraph: First sentence of next paragraph:
Smith suggests that there are two types of personalities: introverts and extroverts... Introverts typically favour...                                            

Workshop Slides

Useful Resources

Bowden, J. (2008). Writing a report: how to prepare, write and present really effective reports. Oxford: How To Books.

Seely, J. (2002). Writing reports. Spain: Oxford University Press.

Some books on study skills contain a chapter on writing reports. These include:

Burns, T. and Sinfield, S. (2008). Essential study skills: the complete guide to success at university. London: Sage.

Payne, E. and Whittaker, L. (2006). Developing essential study skills. Harlow: Financial Times Prentice Hall.