Writing a report

What is a report?

A report is a clearly structured document that presents information as clearly and succinctly as possible.  Reports should be easy to read and professional in presentation.

Reports are used to help make decisions or account for actions. Reports use research to make recommendations for action.  There are many different types of reports including business reports, scientific lab reports and case study reports.  The common feature of all reports is that they are structured into sections with headings.  Always check with your lecturer or tutor for any other specific requirements and report conventions.

Differences between reports and essays:

  Report Essay

Function

  • Presents information
  • Used to help make decisions or account for actions
  • Presents an argument
  • Used to demonstrate knowledge, understanding and critical analysis

Structure

  • Specific sections using numbered headings and sub-headings
  • May use graphics (tables, graphs, illustrations)
  • May be followed by recommendations and/or appendices
  • Continuous flow of text using minimal sub-headings
  • Rarely uses graphics
  • Rarely has recommendations or appendices

Why do we write reports?

Reports are a common form of workplace communication, from a simple work assessment report to the high flying technical write-up.  Report writing is an essential skill for professionals in many fields including business, science, education and information technology.  Mastering report writing at university will help prepare you for your professional life.

How to write a report

Title page

This page should include:

  • the report title, which states the report’s purpose
  • your name and the name of the person receiving the report (place in the bottom right-hand corner)
  • the submission date.

Executive summary

An executive summary is a paragraph that provides the reader with a quick overview of the entire report, including its purpose, context, methods, major findings, conclusions and recommendations.  It is often easier to write the executive summary once the report has been completed.

This is placed on a separate page between the title page and the table of contents.  This may often be the only part of the report that is actually read.

Table of contents

The table of contents lists the main sections (headings) of the report, and the page on which each begins. If your report includes tables, diagrams or illustrations, these are listed separately on the page after the table of contents.

Introduction

The introduction should:

  • discuss the importance or significance of the research or problem to be reported
  • define the purpose of the report
  • outline the issues to be discussed (scope)
  • inform the reader of any limitations to the report, or any assumptions made.

Discussion or body

This contains the main substance of the report, organised into sections with headings and subheadings rather than paragraphs. The body of a report can include the following:

  • A description of the issue or situation which is being reported on. This may include a literature review of the research on that issue.
  • The method of data collection, if applicable — this should include what you did and why, such as a survey or interview, and the size and selection criteria of the study sample
  • A discussion and analysis of the data collected — this should comment on the reliability and accuracy of the data and relate the findings to your report’s purpose and current literature.

Conclusion

This summarises the key findings from the discussion section and may be numbered here for clarity. Relate your conclusion to the objectives of the report and arrange your points logically so that major conclusions are presented first. Some reports may require a discussion of recommendations, rather than a conclusion.

Recommendations

These are subjective opinions about what action you think could be followed. They must be realistic, achievable and clearly relate to the conclusion of the report.

Reference list

This must contain all the material cited in the report. It must be accurate and consistent with a standard referencing style. Refer to www.citewrite.qut.edu.au

Appendices

These contain extra supporting information that is put at the end of the report so as not to distract the reader from the main issues. They contain detailed information, such as questionnaires, tables, graphs and diagrams. Appendices should be clearly set out and numbered in the order they are mentioned in the text.

Example report structure

(Note that this is a generic example only. Your table of contents may vary depending on the type and function of your report. Please check with your lecturer which headings are appropriate for your purposes.)

Title Page

Executive summary

Table of contents

1. Introduction

1.1 Purpose of the report

1.2 Issues to be discussed and their significance

1.3 Research methods

1.4 Limitations and assumptions

2. Discussion

2.1 Literature review

2.1.1 Issue 1

2.1.2 Issue 2

2.1.3 Issue 3

2.2 Method

2.2.1 Procedures

2.2.2 Sample size

2.2.3 Selection criteria

2.3 Discussion and analysis of data

2.3.1 Issue 1

2.3.2 Issue 2

2.3.3 Issue 3

2.3.4 Reliability and accuracy of data

3. Conclusions

4. Recommendations

4.1 Recommendation 1

4.2 Recommendation 2

5. References

6. Appendices

Checklist for a report

Have I:

  • Read the assignment criteria clearly and clarified what needs to be in the report and what type of report it is to be?
  • Followed the structure, using the correct headings?
    • Provided a title page?
    • Provided an executive summary?
    • Provided a table of contents?
    • Provided an introduction?
    • Provided the literature review?
    • Explained the method of how the data was gathered?
    • Discussed the results and findings?
    • Come to a conclusion?
    • Made some recommendations?
    • Provided references in the correct format?
    • Included any appendices?
  • Checked punctuation and  spelling?

Further information

University of NSW - Report writing FAQ