'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.
Differences between a report and an essay
A report is similar to an essay in that both need:
A report is different to an essay in that 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?
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.
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.
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.
|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.
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.
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.
Organise the body into sections: what you investigated, how you investigated it, what you found (evidence), and interpretations.
Summary, what the report achieved—did it meet its aims, the significance of your findings and discussion of the findings and interpretations.
What do you recommend as a course of action following your conclusion?
A list of all the sources you used.
Any information (graphs, charts, tables or other data) you used in your report but did not include in the body.
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:
- Bogg, D. (2012) Report Writing. MacGrawHill/Open University: Maidenhead, UK.
- Eunson, B. (2012). Communicating in the 21st Century, 3rd Edition. Wiley: Sydney.
- Kuiper, S. (2007). Contemporary business report writing. Thompson.
- A resource on report writing from the University of Southern Queensland.
- An overview on report writing from Uni Learning.
Writing laboratory reports
- University of NSW writing laboratory reports resource
Writing business reports
- A resource on business reports from Uni Learning