Reports are one of the most common assignment types you will come across at university. They are highly detailed, thoroughly researched and typically focused on a specific event, problem or experiment. Reports usually cover the who, what, where, when, why and how of a particular situation or issue.
Reports are different to essays in many ways, with one difference being the structure. While essays are read linearly from beginning to conclusion, reports can be broken down into independent sections that can be read as stand-alone pieces. These sections contain headings and subheadings to help the reader navigate the document.
There are a few different types of reports you may be required to write at university.
Reports tend to be written objectively, containing facts and information rather than personal viewpoints. Reports often use formal language; however, unlike essays, reports may contain dot points to convey information succinctly.
To prepare a report, you first need to:
The structure of a report depends on the type of report that is to be written, but a typical report will include the following:
The title page will contain:
The abstract is one of the most important components of the report. It will be read by vastly more people than those who will read the whole report (if your report is published), and needs to provide enough information to invite the audience to read on. Although the audience will read this first, you should leave the writing of your abstract as the last step. This will allow you to summarise the content of your report in a concise and clear format. Depending on the length of your report, an abstract is usually no longer than 10% of the paper, or 100-200 words.
An abstract aims to:
Your table of contents will inform the reader of the layout of your report, and allow them to navigate to the sections that will be most relevant to them. The format of your report can take on an alphanumeric system, or a decimal system, which is the more common of the two. See the examples below of the two different styles. Both tables are divided into headings and subheadings to break up the information into sections that can be easily read out of order.
A. Earl Grey
B. English Breakfast
2.1. Earl Grey
2.2. English Breakfast
Your introduction will:
It will also include your literature review of any publications you have used for your report. Literature reviews are covered later in this module.
The content of your report will depend on its purpose. Your report should contain primary sources if possible (such as observations and interviews), as well as secondary sources to provide explanations of theory and background. Your lecturer will set guidelines on whether to use primary and/or secondary sources. You should further detail the methods of your investigation, including what you did and why, and any issues encountered in the process. In the body content you will explain the findings gathered from your research, and discuss the implications they hold. Remember to separate your key ideas and concepts into clear headings and subheadings, so that you break up your report into digestible pieces of information for the reader.
The body of your report will contain the following sections:
Your conclusion will be a summary of the key points you have raised in your discussion.
In this, you will need to:
Make sure you do not include any new information in the conclusion – it is a summary of what you have already told the audience.
Think of this as an action plan for how to resolve or improve the issue. Try to make your recommendations as realistic as possible, and identify clear paths of how these recommendations could be achieved by the responsible parties.
This is a section where you can include further information that is relevant to your topic but did not fit in the body of your report. This can include (but is not limited to) graphs, tables, images, and raw data collected as part of your investigation.
As for all academic writing, the sources used in your report must be properly referenced. Refer to your unit outline or ask your tutor for the appropriate referencing style for your assignment. You can also refer to our Citing in your writing module for advice on how to use references within your report, and refer to the Library’s referencing guides for the different types of referencing styles and examples of how to use them.
Refer to your unit outline for specific information when writing a report. Make sure you have analysed the question you are being asked before starting your report.
In most cases of report writing, you will write in the passive voice, particularly when writing scientific reports. This is because you are outlining the action or method performed, rather than focusing on who was completing the action.
You can learn more about active and passive sentences in the Structure and mechanics section of this module.
In some cases you will need to write the report as though the audience does not know much about the topic your report covers. For a general report you should clearly define key terms and provide sufficient background information to inform the reader of your discussion.
For more technical or scientific reports, it is wise to assume that the intended audience will have a fair idea of the methods and scientific terms of your study; therefore, technical language can be used.
Always remember to spell out abbreviations in the first instance you use them, followed by the abbreviation in brackets. For example: “The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends that…”
You should constantly keep the purpose and audience in mind throughout the stages of writing your report. This ensures the report’s information is relevant to your audience.
Use this checklist, along with your assignment guide and marking rubric, to ensure you have covered the main requirements of a report.