Your guide to writing a Report
What is a report?
In writing, a report is a document that is both systematic and defines or analyzes the subject matter. Systematic is relative to the content, which should be written in such a way that the data is presented in the correct order, making the document very readable. A report can be an evaluation of research, an interpretation of facts or events, a concise record or a recommendation of some kind. From technical to laboratory, you may be called on to write many different types of reports. The most important thing is that the report is carefully planned and written using formal structuring.
On this page you will learn how to write a report, including:
- Initial planning
- Research and collecting information
- Understanding report structure
- Writing style
- Checking for structure, content & style
Planning is essential to creating a concise, readable report. Begin by going over any materials you already have. If you have a report or brief to reference, make sure that you’ve read through it enough to fully understand its contents. Feel free to jot down important notes, highlighting the information you plan to reference in your own report. If you aren’t beginning with any reference material, this is a great time to consider what you’ll need. Make a list of any reference materials you’ll require.
Begin planning by asking yourself, “Who is this report for?” Reports aren't just for the writer, but actually for an audience. Make sure you’ve identified your target audience. What do you want your audience to garner from your report? Your audience will be taking something away from your report writing. During this stage, you’ll want to determine if you’re attempting to persuade them into a new way of thinking, argue a standpoint or is your report simply an evaluation?
Finally, you’ll want to organize all of your materials.
This is the appropriate time to create an outline, a step-by-step structure detailing all of the work you’re planning on achieving.
- Consider your deadline, to ensure that you keep on schedule.
- Make sure to leave time for editing and revising your report.
Research and collecting information
The research stage is fundamental to reports that are detailed and accurate. If this is a graded document, you’ll want to be certain your information is correct and up-to-date. Make sure to reliable methods of research, avoiding any websites that may have inaccurate information. A good example of a website NOT to reference is Wikipedia. Because anyone can edit the information provided by Wikipedia, it is not reliable source material.
In order to ensure the correct research materials are gathered, reference the list you created before or your highlighted reference material. This list should clearly define what you'll need and make seeking out the right information easier. Once you've collected reference material, jot down important page numbers, quotes and material, to make re-referencing it easier.
To ensure the report is concise, write down your initial thoughts about the report. Separate different ideas into columns or create a web, branching off secondary ideas. This is a brainstorming exercise. Once finished, go through and pick out your very best ideas. These key ideas will serve as your report’s framework and will help you determine which research materials are best. Cross anything out that’s secondary information.
Now you can begin seeking out reference materials that support your report. These materials will be cited in the work, so ensure they’re accurate. Organize these materials, keeping record of any relevant quotes, sections and all other useful information.
Understanding report structure
It’s important to confer with the person who requested that you write the report, whether your teacher or your boss. Reports are not like essays, in that they are written as one whole document. Instead, like this lesson, reports are separated into headings and even sub-headings when applicable. These sections are typically numbered or lettered. Structure should be determined by the supervising party, so confer with them. They may leave structure up to you, in which case you'll be responsible for choosing the specific elements.
The following elements are common to many different report types.
Just as the name suggests, the title page of the report includes the title of the report. It should also include your name, the date of submission, the name of the person to whom the report is being submitted, and any other pertinent information.
If you received help with your report, it’s important to reference those person(s) on this page. Simply include the names of organizations and people who helped make your report possible.
The content page is only necessary if the report is four or more pages long. Include here a formatted list of all headings and sub-headings, including page numbers and section numbers. Make a separate list, called illustrations, of any tables, illustrations, figures, charts or diagrams.
In this area include a brief description on how your research was carried out. What information was gathered? How did you use the information to come to your conclusions?
This section should be written after the report, because it’s a short paragraph summarizing all of the main points of your report. This area includes a topic sentence, the methods used to reach your conclusion, the actual conclusion and any further recommendations.
The Introduction should clearly state your objectives and include any terms of reference you used. This area should indicate the basic structure of your reporting. This area may also indicate the conclusion of the report.
In this section you’ll separate your findings into different headings and sub-headings. You’ll want information to be presented very matter-of-factly, in order to avoid any confusion. The simpler the writing, the better. This is going to ensure overall readability.
The structure of the main body/findings section is dependent on the material presented. Try and structure the information in the simplest way possible, again so that readers can interpret the material without difficulty. Also included in the main body, is the report's results. Identify your observations clearly. Include here any relevant tables, graphs, diagrams and charts supporting your results.
Your conclusion should never include new material. It should only draw together the main points of your report, in a way that closes the report. Writers can include their recommendations here, or write them in a separate section.
References should be listed in alphabetical order, offering specific details about the materials you referenced to create your report. This includes:
- The Author’s name
- The date of publication
- The title of the material
- The publisher
- The place of publication
- The page numbers
- Any further details explaining where the reference material appeared
Your writing style is widely dependent on the report’s material. Universally, you’ll want to avoid using verbiage or informal language. Always write in clear and concise English, attempting to bring forward information in the easiest way possible. Often, this is with short readable sentences and paragraphs.
Ask the person to whom you’re submitting the report what voice they’d like you to write in, whether Active or Passive.
- Active voice references the author. For example, “I endorse…”
- Passive voice never references the author. That example sentence would then be written, “It is commonly endorsed,” or “Such-and-such endorses.”
Active is a more informal style and often used to deliver informal information. It’s important to avoid mixing both active and passive voices.
Checking for structure, content & style
At this point you should have a first draft of your work completed. Carefully check this first draft, adding edits where necessary. Consider the work as a whole, before beginning the editing process. Ask yourself if it accomplishes its goal. If you’re unhappy with it, you may need to go back and make some major changes.
Remember, if you’re unhappy with your report, chances are high others will be too.
Once you’ve determined the work is complete. You’ll be ready to check the work in more detail.
- Consider the report’s general layout.
- From there move on to organization and coherence.
- Grammar is essential to a quality report, so check for typos, punctuation and spelling errors.
- Finally, double check that your references are reliable source material and formatted correctly.
Once you’ve determined that your work is fully edited and you have a final draft, you’ll be ready to turn in your report. If you aren’t confident in the final draft simply read-through it again and again, until you’re able to identify its weak parts. Then you’ll be able to make changes, perfecting the report. Only submit your report if you’re fully confident in its quality.