Unlike an essay, which sets out and defends a writer's view about a topic and does not have to feature headings, a report discusses a topic in a structured, easy-to-follow format. Reports are divided into sections with headings and subheadings. Reports can be academic, technical or business related, and feature recommendations for specific actions. Reports are written to present facts about a situation, project or process and will define and analyze the issue at hand. Reports relay observations to a specific audience in a clear and concise style.
Preparation and Planning
First, you should take some time to prepare and plan for your report. Before you start writing, identify the audience. Your report should be written and tailored to the readers' needs and expectations. When planning, ask yourself several questions to better understand the goal of the report. Some questions to consider include:
- Who are the readers?
- What is the purpose of the report and why is it needed?
- What important information has to be in the report?
Once you identify the basics of your report, you can begin to collect supporting information, then sort and evaluate that information. The next step is to organize your information and begin putting it together in an outline. With proper planning, it will be easier to write your report and stay organized.
Formatting the Report Elements
To keep your report organized and easy to understand, there is a certain format to follow. The main sections of a standard report are:
- Title Section: If the report is short, the front cover can include any information that you feel is necessary including the author(s) and the date prepared. In a longer report, you may want to include a table of contents and a definition of terms.
- Summary: The summary consists of the major points, conclusions, and recommendations. It needs to be short as it is a general overview of the report. Some people will read the summary and only skim the report, so make sure you include all of the relevant information. It would be best to write this when the report is finished so you will include everything, even points that might be added at the last minute.
- Introduction: The first page of the report needs to have an introduction. Here you will explain the problem and inform the reader why the report is being made. You need to give a definition of terms if you did not include these in the title section, and explain how the details of the report are arranged.
- Body: This is the main section of the report. The previous sections needed to be written in plain English, but this section can include technical terms or jargon from your industry. There should be several sections, each clearly labeled with a subtitle. Information in a report is usually arranged in order of importance with the most important information coming first. If you wish, a “Discussion” section can be included at the end of the main body to go over your findings and their significance.
- Conclusion: This is where everything comes together. Keep this section free of jargon as many people will just read the summary and conclusion.
- Recommendations: This is where you discuss any actions that need to be taken. In plain English, explain your recommendations, putting them in order of priority.
- Appendices: This includes information that the experts in the field will read. It has all the technical details that support your conclusions.
This report writing format will make it easier for the reader to find what he is looking for. Remember to write all the sections in plain English, except the body, which can be as technical as you need it to be. Also remember that the information needs to be organized logically with the most important points coming first.
Presentation and Style
You will want to present your report in a simple and concise style that is easy to read and navigate. Readers want to be able to look through a report and get to the information they need as quickly as possible. That way the report has a greater impact on the reader.
There are simple formatting styles that can be used throughout your report that will make it easy to read and look organized and presentable. For example:
- Font: Use just one font in your report. An easy-to-read font such as Arial or Times New Roman is best for reports.
- Lists: Use lists whenever possible to break information into easy-to-understand points. Lists can either be numbered or bulleted.
- Headings and subheadings: You can use headings and subheadings throughout your report to identify the various topics and break the text into manageable chunks. These will help keep the report organized and can be listed in the table of contents so they can be found quickly.
There are also some writing styles to consider:
- Keep it simple. Do not try to impress, rather try to communicate. Keep sentences short and to the point. Do not go into a lot of details unless it is needed. Make sure every word needs to be there, that it contributes to the purpose of the report.
- Use an active voice rather than passive where possible. Active voice makes the writing move smoothly and easily. It also uses fewer words than the passive voice and gives impact to the writing by emphasizing the person or thing responsible for an action. For example: "Bad customer service decreases repeat business" is more concise and direct than "Repeat business is decreased by bad customer service."
- Good grammar and punctuation are also important. Read the report aloud and have someone proofread it for you. Remember that the computer cannot catch all the mistakes, especially with words like “red / read” or “there / their.” You may even want to wait a day after you write it to come back and look at it with fresh eyes.
Make the Right Impression
Reports should be well organized and easy to follow. To achieve this, following a structured format keeps your writing on track. How a report is presented to the reader makes not only a lasting impression but also makes the writer seem credible and the information contained in the report reliable. A finishing touch that can make a great impression on the reader is how you package the report. Always print the final report on good quality paper. You may also want to consider placing the report in a binder or a folder.
Post a comment.comments powered by
Report Writing Format
By YourDictionaryUnlike an essay, which sets out and defends a writer's view about a topic and does not have to feature headings, a report discusses a topic in a structured, easy-to-follow format. Reports are divided into sections with headings and subheadings. Reports can be academic, technical or business related, and feature recommendations for specific actions. Reports are written to present facts about a situation, project or process and will define and analyze the issue at hand. Reports relay observations to a specific audience in a clear and concise style.
Some academic assignments ask for a ‘report’, rather than an essay, and students are often confused about what that really means.
Likewise, in business, confronted with a request for a ‘report’ to a senior manager, many people struggle to know what to write.
Confusion often arises about the writing style, what to include, the language to use, the length of the document and other factors.
This page aims to disentangle some of these elements, and provide you with some advice designed to help you to write a good report.
What is a Report?
In academia there is some overlap between reports and essays, and the two words are sometimes used interchangeably, but reports are more likely to be needed for business, scientific and technical subjects, and in the workplace.
Whereas an essay presents arguments and reasoning, a report concentrates on facts.
Essentially, a report is a short, sharp, concise document which is written for a particular purpose and audience. It generally sets outs and analyses a situation or problem, often making recommendations for future action. It is a factual paper, and needs to be clear and well-structured.
Requirements for the precise form and content of a report will vary between organisation and departments and in study between courses, from tutor to tutor, as well as between subjects, so it’s worth finding out if there are any specific guidelines before you start.
Reports may contain some or all of the following elements:
- A description of a sequence of events or a situation;
- Some interpretation of the significance of these events or situation, whether solely your own analysis or informed by the views of others, always carefully referenced of course (see our page on Academic Referencing for more information);
- An evaluation of the facts or the results of your research;
- Discussion of the likely outcomes of future courses of action;
- Your recommendations as to a course of action; and
Not all of these elements will be essential in every report.
If you’re writing a report in the workplace, check whether there are any standard guidelines or structure that you need to use.
For example, in the UK many government departments have outline structures for reports to ministers that must be followed exactly.
Sections and Numbering
A report is designed to lead people through the information in a structured way, but also to enable them to find the information that they want quickly and easily.
Reports usually, therefore, have numbered sections and subsections, and a clear and full contents page listing each heading. It follows that page numbering is important.
Modern word processors have features to add tables of contents (ToC) and page numbers as well as styled headings; you should take advantage of these as they update automatically as you edit your report, moving, adding or deleting sections.
Getting Started: prior preparation and planning
The structure of a report is very important to lead the reader through your thinking to a course of action and/or decision. It’s worth taking a bit of time to plan it out beforehand.
Step 1: Know your brief
You will usually receive a clear brief for a report, including what you are studying and for whom the report should be prepared.
First of all, consider your brief very carefully and make sure that you are clear who the report is for (if you're a student then not just your tutor, but who it is supposed to be written for), and why you are writing it, as well as what you want the reader to do at the end of reading: make a decision or agree a recommendation, perhaps.
Step 2: Keep your brief in mind at all times
During your planning and writing, make sure that you keep your brief in mind: who are you writing for, and why are you writing?
All your thinking needs to be focused on that, which may require you to be ruthless in your reading and thinking. Anything irrelevant should be discarded.
As you read and research, try to organise your work into sections by theme, a bit like writing a Literature Review.
Make sure that you keep track of your references, especially for academic work. Although referencing is perhaps less important in the workplace, it’s also important that you can substantiate any assertions that you make so it’s helpful to keep track of your sources of information.
The Structure of a Report
Like the precise content, requirements for structure vary, so do check what’s set out in any guidance.
However, as a rough guide, you should plan to include at the very least an executive summary, introduction, the main body of your report, and a section containing your conclusions and any recommendations.
The executive summary or abstract, for a scientific report, is a brief summary of the contents. It’s worth writing this last, when you know the key points to draw out. It should be no more than half a page to a page in length.
Remember the executive summary is designed to give busy 'executives' a quick summary of the contents of the report.
The introduction sets out what you plan to say and provides a brief summary of the problem under discussion. It should also touch briefly on your conclusions.
Report Main Body
The main body of the report should be carefully structured in a way that leads the reader through the issue.
You should split it into sections using numbered sub-headings relating to themes or areas for consideration. For each theme, you should aim to set out clearly and concisely the main issue under discussion and any areas of difficulty or disagreement. It may also include experimental results. All the information that you present should be related back to the brief and the precise subject under discussion.
If it’s not relevant, leave it out.
Conclusions and Recommendations
The conclusion sets out what inferences you draw from the information, including any experimental results. It may include recommendations, or these may be included in a separate section.
Recommendations suggest how you think the situation could be improved, and should be specific, achievable and measurable. If your recommendations have financial implications, you should set these out clearly, with estimated costs if possible.
A Word on Writing Style
When writing a report, your aim should be to be absolutely clear. Above all, it should be easy to read and understand, even to someone with little knowledge of the subject area.
You should therefore aim for crisp, precise text, using plain English, and shorter words rather than longer, with short sentences.
You should also avoid jargon. If you have to use specialist language, you should explain each word as you use it. If you find that you’ve had to explain more than about five words, you’re probably using too much jargon, and need to replace some of it with simpler words.
Consider your audience. If the report is designed to be written for a particular person, check whether you should be writing it to ‘you’ or perhaps in the third person to a job role: ‘The Chief Executive may like to consider…’, or ‘The minister is recommended to agree…’, for example.
A Final Warning
As with any academic assignment or formal piece of writing, your work will benefit from being read over again and edited ruthlessly for sense and style.
Pay particular attention to whether all the information that you have included is relevant. Also remember to check tenses, which person you have written in, grammar and spelling. It’s also worth one last check against any requirements on structure.
For an academic assignment, make sure that you have referenced fully and correctly. As always, check that you have not inadvertently or deliberately plagiarised or copied anything without acknowledging it.
Finally, ask yourself:
“Does my report fulfil its purpose?”
Only if the answer is a resounding ‘yes’ should you send it off to its intended recipient.