Report structure and tips

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Reports are formal documents which can include headings, sub-headings, numbered sections, bullet point text, and graphics such as flow charts, diagrams or graphs. All of these devices may be used to help the reader navigate the report and understand its content.

A report is likely to include some or all of these elements, typically ordered as follows:

Title page: clearly identifying the subject of the report and the author
Acknowledgements: naming third parties who have helped create the document
Executive summary: an abbreviated, stand-alone overview of the report. Similar to the abstract of a journal article
Contents page: allowing the reader to find their way quickly to sections of interest. This may or may not also include a table of figures or tables
Introduction: outlining the main context, aims and objectives of the report
Background information: anything essential to a full understanding of the report
Methodology: describing how the report’s objectives were met or how the research was conducted
Findings: what the report found
Analysis: what these findings mean; their relevance and importance
Conclusion: summarising the key things the report learned or established
Recommendations: suggestions for action based on the report’s findings
Bibliography: a full list of sources used to compile the report
Appendices: containing supplementary information referred to in the report
Glossary: definitions of technical terms used in the report

Common requirements

Different types of report – from technical reports to business reports - can vary widely in length, format and function. However, with every report:

Objectives: should be clearly defined
Structure: should be logical and easy to navigate
Writing: should be clear, succinct, and easy to understand
Evidence: should support all conclusions made

Report writing tips

  • Often, reports are written about a collaborative project. If this is the case, make sure you know who is doing what and how the report will come together, including timeframes. Make sure to include time to share the report with the rest of the team before it is ‘published’, and that any requirements from external stakeholders or project partners are clearly outlined and factored in
  • Before you start writing, clarify the aims, structure and content of your report
  • Write in the 3rd person (This report will show…) to emphasise your objectivity
  • Use clear, formal language, avoiding slang, jargon and contractions such as don’t or can’t
  • Write sections as and when you are able, not necessarily in order of appearance
  • Have a system of version control (numbered drafts)
  • Write freely, whilst allowing time for editing and proof-reading later
  • Keep the report’s title in mind, and stay focussed on fulfilling its objectives
  • Each finding should have a conclusion; each leading to a recommendation

Report writing in the sciences

  • Writing in a scientific context This resource offers an introduction to writing in an engineering or scientific context, offering an outline of some of the most common conventions in technical writing
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