Writing Effective Reports

Writing a report is very different to writing an essay. This leaflet will provide with some useful tips on how to write and present really effective reports.

Common mistakes
Here are some of the most common complaints about reports: Badly structured Inappropriate writing style Incorrect or inadequate referencing Doesn't answer the brief Too much/too little/irrelevant material Expression not clear Doesn't relate results to purpose Unnecessary use of jargon

So how can you make sure your report does what it's meant to do, and does it well?
The most important thing to do is read the brief (or the title of your assignment, or your research question) carefully. Then read it again even more carefully! If you're still not completely clear about what to do, speak to your tutor – don't guess. Taken from http://www.reading.ac.uk/internal/studyadvice/Studyresources/Essays/sta-featuresreports.aspx which was produced as part of the LearnHigher CETL www.learnhigher.ac.uk

Structuring your report
A report should be structured in such a way that the reader can find information anywhere in the report very quickly and so the information should be divided into sections, sometimes a numbering system is used too. Each section will have its own heading, these sections and headings/ subheadings will vary depending on the type and subject of your report. Most reports have the following sections:

Title page - Include: the report title, your name, who the report is written for and the date the report was written. Your title should be clear and self-explanatory, but also interesting enough to encourage someone to read it. Try to include relevant keywords for your topic area in your title, to indicate its relevance to the reader.
If a report is quite long, you may also need to write a Summary or Executive Summary, sometimes called an Abstract. This summary is placed after the title page, before the contents page. Its purpose is to give readers the main ideas of the report, so that they can decide whether the report is relevant for them.

Contents page - The contents page sets out what is contained in the report and shows how that information is
organised. It should allow the reader to quickly find the section they are most interested in.

Introduction - This should cover the purpose of the report setting out its aims and objectives. It may contain background information about why the report is necessary/why it has been undertaken. It may also indicate the scope of the report, i.e. what will and will not be examined. Main Body - This part of the report contains most of your information including your research findings but will have different sections depending on the type of report you are writing i.e. in a research report, you may have a Literature Review, Methodology, Results, Analysis and Discussion section BUT a lab report may have sections such as Methods/Procedures, Results and Analysis. Business reports may not have a methodology or methods section, but may include case studies as example of real-life practice of a business strategy or process. Conclusion - The conclusion to your report is where you draw together all the points you have made in the report in
order to fulfil the aims of the report, as set out in the introduction. It may also include recommendations for action or suggestions for future research.

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September 09

Writing up your report
Your purpose in writing a report is to convey information to someone else. This means that the language you use should be as clear and direct as possible. You should: Avoid using long and complex sentences, instead, keep it simple by keeping your sentences short Write in paragraphs which have one main point that you introduce, expand on and then summarise before moving on Write words out in full, - use do not instead of don’t Avoid using jargon – use plain English, if it is necessary to use technical terms you could include a glossary Usually use past tense and third person – where appropriate (check with brief)

Key features of good reports
Reports should be readable, accessible and have a concise style. NB Don’t waffle or use unnecessary padding Good reports should therefore: Have clear terms of references - why is the report being written, is it to inform/persuade, recommend?, telling the reader what the report will/will not cover Be written with the reader in mind –ask yourself what do they know, what do they need to know, what do they want to learn from your report Have the relevant information placed in the appropriate sections - logical order e.g. chronologically or by theme Be written in a suitable style - they are objective and specific rather than vague , avoid using unnecessary jargon but explain where necessary more specialised terms (e.g. in a glossary) Have clearly labelled graphs / tables - is the data also explained in words? Only contain accurate and relevant information Link the discussion / conclusion back to the objectives set out in the introduction Be properly referenced - all sources, including diagrams/figures etc clearly acknowledged Well presented—has it been carefully proof-read to eliminate careless mistakes? (check grammar/punctuation/ spelling)

Additional Resources
Book = Bowden, J. (2008) Writing a report: how to prepare, write and present really effective reports. 8th ed. Oxford: How to Books. For further help on producing effective reports look at the following web pages see http://www.surrey.ac.uk/Skills/ pack/report.html or http://owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/resource/658/01/ There are useful exercises on organising, structuring and writing up reports on the following web pages: http://www.learnhigher.ac.uk/learningareas/reportwriting/home.htm http://www2.napier.ac.uk/getready/writing_presenting/reports.html Visit: eLearning Portal www.northumbria.ac.uk/elearning Click on the Study Skills tab

Skills Plus is a self-directed course designed to help you to improve your learning skills and to help you to find good quality information for your assignments. Try the Skills Check in the Study Skills Pathway which will help you to identify the areas you need to develop.
This leaflet is available in other formats on request.

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September 09

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