Report writing

'When you write non-fiction, you sit down at your desk with a pile of notebooks, newspaper clippings, and books and you research and put a book together the way you would a jigsaw puzzle.'

Janine di Giovanni

Report writing is an essential skill in many disciplines. Master it now at university and writing reports in the workplace will be easier. A report aims to inform and sometimes to persuade. They should be written as clearly and succinctly as possible, with evidence about a topic, problem or situation.

Here are some general guidelines, but check with your lecturer for more detailed information about what is expected.

What is a report?

Differences between a report and an essay

A report is similar to an essay in that both need:

  • to be written in a formal style
  • an introduction, body and conclusion
  • analytical thinking
  • extensive researching for information and evidence to support a conclusion
  • careful proofreading and neat presentation.

A report is different to an essay in that a report:

  • is a presentation of facts and information, rather than a discussion of various opinions
  • is often written for a very specific audience (e.g. an organisation that has commissioned a report)
  • is structured so that it may be scanned quickly by the reader
  • uses numbered headings and subheadings (e.g. 2.1 Executive summary)
  • uses short, concise paragraphs and dot points, where applicable
  • uses graphics wherever possible (tables, graphs, illustrations)
  • may need an abstract (sometimes called an executive summary)
  • makes recommendations
  • does not always need references and a bibliography
  • often has appendices.

How to write a report

Plan to write your report

Ask some questions first:

  • Who has requested the report?
  • Why have they asked for a report?
  • What do they need to know?
  • How will the report be used?
  • Who is/are my audience or audiences? (e.g. clients, lecturers, assessors, managers etc.)

Analyse your task

Analysing your task is very important. Here are some questions to explore:

  • What type of report needed? (e.g. experimental report, technical design proposal, business report.)
  • How long does your report need to be?
  • What is required in the report?
  • What is the problem/question to be solved?
  • What is the aim of the report?
  • What key points or issues need to be addressed?
  • What information do you need to collect?

Types of reports for university

For all reports you have to ensure that the conclusions that you draw are supported by the evidence that you find. At university you will mostly be writing business, experimental / laboratory or technical reports.

Business report

A business report aims to:

  • examine how an organisation can achieve an objective
  • highlight a problem and suggest a solution.
  • offer information, interpretation (e.g. product surveys), analysis and recommendations

Experimental/Laboratory report

An experimental report aims to report on:

  • an experiment or research
  • what was achieved during the course of the experiment
  • what was concluded and how this compares with previous published results.

Technical design report

A technical design report aims to:

  • solve a problem
  • recommend a design.

Typical format of a report

Letter or memorandum

Provided to the person or group who commissioned the report, stating the purpose of the report, brief summary and/or recommendations, and acknowledging others who have contributed.

Title page


Clearly describes what the report is about.

Abstract or Executive summary

Approximately 200 words. States the problem, how it was investigated, what was found, and what the findings mean.

Table of contents

A list of the major and minor sections of the report.

Introduction

Sets the scene and gives some background information about the topic. States the aim/purpose of the investigation and outlines of the sections in the body of the report.

Main body

Organised into sections: what was investigated, how it was investigated it, what was found (evidence), and interpretations.

Conclusion

Summary, what the report achieved – did it meet its aims, the significance of the findings and a discussion and interpretation of the findings.

Recommendations

What is recommended as a course of action following the conclusion?

References

A list of all the sources you used.

Appendices

Any information (graphs, charts, tables or other data) referred to in your report but not included in the body.

Layout of the report

Lay out the report for easy reading and comprehension. Many managers will only read the recommendations, but will dip into the report for the details, which they want to find quickly and easily.
Use this checklist:

  • use white space to de-clutter the page/s
  • ensure the separate parts of your report stand out clearly
  • use short informative headings and subheadings
  • allow generous spacing between the elements of your report
  • use dot points/ numbers/ letters to articulate these elements
  • use tables and figures (graphs, illustrations, maps etc) for clarification
  • number each page
  • use consistent and appropriate formatting
  • use formal language
  • proofread to ensure accuracy

Further resources

Deakin library

Writing reports

Writing laboratory reports

Writing business reports

Writing technical reports

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