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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 for professionals; master it now at university and writing reports in the work place will be easy. A report aims to inform and persuade 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 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:

  • formal style
  • introduction, body and conclusion
  • analytical thinking
  • written in paragraphs
  • extensive researching for information and evidence to support either an opinion (essay) or conclusion (report)
  • careful proof-reading and neat presentation
  • both are considered to be specific genres like poetry, novels, email, journalism.

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

  • is a mixture of information/facts and persuasion—not an argument—depending on the purpose
  • is meant to be scanned quickly by the reader
  • uses numbered headings and sub-headings
  • 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)
  • has recommendations - either in the front or at the back
  • does not always need references and 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:

  • Do you understand the type of report needed? (e.g. experimental report, technical design proposal, business report.)
  • Do you know how big your report needs to be?
  • Do you know 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

All reports 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 report on:

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

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

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

Title page


Clearly describes what the report is about.

Abstract

Approximately 200 words. Stating the problem, how was it investigated, what you found out, and what your findings mean?

Table of contents

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

Introduction

Set the scene, give some background information about the topic. State the aim/purpose of the investigation. Outline of the sections in the body of the report.

Main body

Organise the body into sections: what you investigated, how you investigated it, what you found (evidence), and interpretations.

Conclusion

Summary, what the report achieved—did it meet its aims, the significance of your findings and discussion of the findings and interpretations.

Recommendations

What do you recommend as a course of action following your conclusion?

References

A list of all the sources you used.

Appendices

Any information (graphs, charts, tables or other data) you used in your report but did not include in the body.

Layout of the report

Layout 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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