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Writing reports

A report  is a statement of the results of an investigation or of any matter on which definite information is required. (Oxford English Dictionary)

Reports are a highly structured form of writing often following conventions that have been laid down to
produce a common format. Structure and convention in written reports stress the process by which the
information was gathered as much as the information itself.

Different types of reports

During your time at university you may be asked to write different types of reports, depending upon the subject area which you have chosen. These could  include laboratory reports, technical reports, reports  of a work placement or industrial visit, reports of a 
field trip or field work.
Reports vary in their purpose, but all of them will require a formal structure and careful planning, 
presenting the material in a logical manner using clear and concise language.

your report

We discussed earlier that there are different types of  report such as laboratory reports or reports on an industrial placement. 
Always check with the person 
commissioning the report (your tutor, your placement supervisor) to find out precisely what your 
report should include and how it should be presented. The following common elements can be found in many different reports:

• Title page
• Acknowledgements
• Contents
• Abstract or summary
• Introduction
• Methodology
• Results or findings
• Discussion
• Conclusion and recommendations
• References
• Appendices
We shall now look at each of these in turn.
Title page
This should include the title of the report (which 

should give a precise indication of the subject matter), the author’s name, module, course and the date.

You should acknowledge any help you have received 
in collecting the information for the report. This may  
be from librarians, technicians or computer centre 
staff, for example.

You should list all the main sections of the report in sequence with the page numbers they begin on. If there are charts, diagrams or tables included in your report, these should be listed separately under a title such as ‘List of Illustrations’ together with the page
numbers on which they appear.
Abstract or summary
This should be a short paragraph summarising the main contents of the report. It should include a short statement of the main task, the methods used, conclusions reached and any recommendations to be made. The abstract or summary should be concise,
informative and independent of the report.Write this section after you have written the report .

This should give the context and scope of the report and should include your terms of reference. State your objectives clearly, define the limits of the report, outline the method of enquiry, give a brief general background to the subject of the report and indicate the proposed development.
In this section you should state how you carried out your enquiry. What form did your enquiry take ? Did you carry out interviews or questionnaires, how did you collect your data ? What measurements did you make ? How did you choose the subjects for your interviews ? Present this information logically and concisely.
Results or findings
Present your findings in as simple a way as possible. The more complicated the information looks, the more difficult it will be to interpret. There are a number of ways in which results can be presented.
Here are a few :
• Tables
• Graphs
• Pie charts
• Bar charts
• Diagrams
Illustration checklist
• Are all your diagrams s / illustrations clearly labelled?
• Do they all have titles?
• Is the link between the text and the diagram clear?
• Are the headings precise?
• Are the axes of graphs clearly labelled?
• Can tables be easily interpreted?
• Have you abided by any copyright laws when including illustrations/tables from published documents?
This is the section where you can analyse and interpret your results drawing from the information
which you have collected, explaining its significance. Identify important issues and suggest explanations for your findings. Outline any problems encountered and try and present a balanced view.

Conclusions and recommendations
This is the section of the report which draws together the main issues. It should be expressed clearly and 
should not present any new information. You may  
wish to list your recommendations in separate 
section or include them with the conclusions.

It is important that you give precise details of all the work by other authors which has been referred to within the report. Details should include :

• author’s name and initials
• date of publication
• title of the book, paper or journal
• publisher
• place of publication
• page numbers
• details of the journal volume in which the
article has appeared.
References should be listed in alphabetical order of the authors' names.
Make sure that your references are accurate and comprehensive.

An appendix contains additional information related to the report but which is not essential to the main findings. This can be consulted if the reader wishes 
but the report should not depend on this. You could 
include details of interview questions, statistical 
data, a glossary of terms, or other information which 
may be useful for the reader.

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