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Advice on how to write a report

There are a variety of reports that you may be asked to write. A report can be based on an event, a field trip, the results of an experiment, the suitability of a building for offices, or a report might be written after a school inspection. There are, in fact many reasons for writing reports, but the main reason (in the real world) is that they are written for administration purposes. A report evaluates what is being reported on and offers recommendations for future action.

Your employer, for example, might ask you to write a report on whether or not a course of action should be followed by a company. If you are a student, your teachers might ask you to write a report on a school trip.

 

You will need to do research, compile evidence and analyse it. Writing a report is not as straight forward as writing a review for example. It needs careful preparation. You can’t simply sit down and write a report immediately you were asked to do so.

Depending on the type of report you are writing, you may need to conduct interviews, conduct experiments (for a lab report, for example) or simply write a report about an event or incident.

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  • Reports are factual, and the information contained in them should be verifiable.
  • Reports can be written in formal or informal language depending on the intended audience and who asked for the report. Having said that, most reports are formal.
  • Reports are necessary in organisations and are used to assess a current situation.
  • Reports give recommendations and suggestions for improvements.
  • Employers might ask for a report following an incident in the workplace.
  • A report uses past tenses as you are writing about something that has happened already. You can’t write one in the present tense.
  • If you are writing a report on a lab experiment for a colleague, it would be perfectly permissible to write an informal one.

The list of subjects for reports is virtually endless. How to write a report can vary depending on its purpose and audience.

A report has special formats, although there is not really a one-size-fits-all. A standard format for the beginning of a report would look like this: -

To:

From:

Subject or topic:

Date:

The inclusion of the topic clearly indicates what the report is about. Copies can be sent to those who need to know what the report contains and as this can be done by a secretary, rather than the person who requested the report, it saves time. In fact, if you know who needs to read it apart from the person who requested if, you can add a list of interested parties after typing cc. Here cc means carbon copies, although naturally we tend not to use carbon copies these days, as we can simply send emails. You may also find the initials BCC on reports. This means blind carbon copies.

In the main body of a report you should give main paragraphs (or sections) headings that signal what information is contained in them.

There are certain formulaic ways of beginning a report. For example, one standard beginning, which comes after the format above, is: ‘I am writing (or I have written’) this report as requested.’ Other ways of introducing a report are: -

  • This report outlines the finding of my investigation into...
  • This report gives/provides information about
  • This report comments on
  • Give the background to the report, in other words say why it was written and put it in context for the reader.
  • State the problem or reason for writing the report.
  • Offer a possible solution to the problem.

Sometimes a tutor will ask students to write a report, meaning an essay. An essay gives arguments and reasoned statements, backed up by examples. A report is simply factual.

When writing a report, you need to keep the audience in mind at all times. It is possible that reports can contain: -

  • an interpretation of events or scenarios, or a description of them. The events should be presented in sequence.
  • an interpretation of the events or the particular situation being described. You might use your own analysis or draw upon the analyses of other people. If you use the analyses of others, you will need to reference them appropriately.
  • an evaluation of the results of your own research or of the facts.
  • a discussion about the possible outcomes of any actions which might be undertaken in the future.
  • your recommendations for the best action to be taken.
  • A definite conclusion.

If you have been given guidelines for writing your report, make sure that you follow them to the letter. Keep them in mind while you are writing.

You may be asked to write an executive summary, or an abstract, (as you would need to do if you were writing an academic article.)

Sequencing a report is essential. You don’t want the reader to be confused about what happened first. You need to carefully guide him or her through the steps you took and lead your reader through to your logical conclusion.

If you are writing a scientific report, you need to summarise it in n abstract or summary so that the reader can immediately grasp its topic and relevance (or not) to him or her.

Apart from writing your conclusions, you should also decide whether or not you need to make recommendations which might serve as guidelines for future research.

Before you start your report, be very clear about your readership. Next ask yourself what the purpose of the report is and why it is necessary. Then work out exactly what information needs to be included and what can be omitted because it is extraneous.

Your next step is to work out what information needs to be included. Evaluate all the information you collect and dispose of irrelevant information. Organize your information and write an outline or plan.

The opening part of your report should be the title, followed by a summary or abstract which describes what the report is about. Be as concise but informative as possible.

Next comes the introduction section which will explain what the problem is and state why the report is being written. Explain how the report is organised and if you need to give definitions of terms used in the report, give them here.

The main body of the report should be divided into several sections, each with a heading. You can add a discussion section in this part of the report if you wish. In this section you state your findings and the significance of these.

Next comes your conclusion, followed by recommendations. It is usual to put them in order of importance, beginning with the most important.

Your appendices should be in the final section, as only interested academics will read these.

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