Content of this article
- How to write a good report
- Difference from essay
- Tips for good writing
1. How To Write A Good Report
A report is a form of writing that is systematic, organized, and often tries to define or analyze a problem or an event. The problem or event analyzed can also be within a body of literature belonging to either a single document or several documents. The sole purpose of a report is to objectively present readers with all the relevant information in relation to a particular issue. Writers are expected to shelve their personal feelings or shield themselves from issues which might render the report subjective because the use of reports is at times beyond aiming to impress the author’s readership. A report has three distinct attributes which help to distinguish it from other forms of writing.
- Pre-defined structure.
- The existence of Independent sections.
- Reaching impartial and balanced conclusions.
The above make report writing a different endeavor, but it is still a significant part of academic writing.
A report should always be:
- Accurate (be filled with reliable information)
- Concise (direct and to the point)
- Clear (writers must maintain consistency and avoid being ambiguous)
- Well-structured (writers must follow the standard structure)
Straying from the above disqualifies an author’s piece or article from being a report.
2. Report vs Essay. What is the difference
A report differs greatly from a conventional essay.
- First of all, reports have a specific structure and writers are always asked to adhere to it while essays follow the conventional introduction, body, and conclusion structure.
- Reports also use different sections and these should always have subheadings. These sections serve a certain purpose within a report and cannot be left out.
- Essays, on the other hand, do not have sections and while writers may need to have subheadings within their essays, they are not conventional.
- The purpose of each form of writing also differs. In reports, writers aim at conveying a particular piece of information to their audience while in essays the main goal is to showcase the writer’s comprehension of the teacher’s instructions.
The above exquisitely and explicitly show the differences between essays and reports. Understanding these differences is the first step to learning how to write a report.
3. Topic selection for a report
Topic selection separates bad report writers from good report writers as well as from excellent report writers. In many instances, readers are attracted to certain documents because of their topics. Getting the right report topic is of the essence if writers are to maintain their readership. Many writers forget the issue of scope when selecting a topic. Scope is indeed an important consideration which calls for patience and careful consideration of the general subject suggested before settling on a specific report topic. Exceptional report writers understand the significance of scope and thus focus on specific aspects of a subject or topic before they decide on a topic. Writers are often advised to focus on the vitalities of a subject and only present that to their readers.
It is essential for authors to ask themselves the following questions to help in narrowing the scope of a subject:
- What are the specific aspects of a topic that appear interesting to the writer?
- What do you think will interest your audience/readers?
- What information can you find regarding the selected subject?
The above questions are indeed essential and help a writer to find or settle on a topic they are familiar with and also feel strongly about. Knowing what interests the readers is of course of the essence because it gifts the writer with a sense of direction and purpose. Finally, report writing needs to be factual and well cited. It is thus important to ensure the selected topic is adequately referenced for purposes of building a credible and reliable argument.
Below are some good topics for a report:
- Global Warming
- Nuclear Fusion
- The Shift to Solar Energy
- Breast Cancer
- Cold War
- US-Japan Relations since the 1945 atomic bombing
- The Big Bang Theory
- The History of Christianity
- History of Buddhism
- History of Foot Binding in China
- The Power Struggle in the East
- Causes of the 2007/2009 Recession
- History of the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict
4. Typical structure of a report
As already said, a report structure is formal and must be strictly adhered to by all writers. Deviating from this structure only leads to reduced marks or a bored and angry audience.
Below are the elements that form the structure of a report:
An executive summary or an abstract mainly provides a summary of the entire report. While some writers write it immediately after commencing their report, it is always advisable to write it last. This section is of great importance and makes it easier for the readers to quickly understand the main points or the focus of the report.
Table of Contents
A table of contents is simply a list of all the sections the writer decided to include in their report. Its sole purpose is to prepare readers of what to expect when reading the report and also to make it easier for them to access some of the sections directly.
Like other introductions, a report introduction ushers in the readers by providing them with a brief but accurate summary of the topic or issue under study. From the introduction, readers should be able to understand the writer’s focus or perspective.
The body mainly contains the bulk of information which builds on or supports the thesis statement from the introduction. Unlike the body of essays, the body of a report can be divided into sections depending on the topic being reviewed. Some of the sections include a literature review, a methods section, findings section, and finally a discussion of the findings section.
Conclusion and Recommendations
A report conclusion must be included, and it contains the inferences or the points the writer withdrew from the report. How to conclude a report is indeed essential because it provides writers with the opportunity of restating and insisting on their main point.
Recommendations are always included, and here the writer is expected to include their suggestions of how, for example, the investigation can be improved in the future or how a problem can be averted in the future. If in case the writer’s recommendations have financial associations, then he/she must provide estimations or the projected costs of whatever issue they were discussing in their report.
Exceptional report writers consult journals and articles which are relevant to their topic. Later, these articles and journals need to be included under the reference list section. A reference list, therefore, contains all the materials the writer used to conduct their research.
While this is not a mandatory inclusion, it adds onto one’s analysis and should hence be included whenever necessary.
Once the writer has completed the report, it is important first to review it before submitting or printing it. Proofreading the finished report is indeed essential because it helps the writer to identify some of the mistakes they could have made. For example, one could have gotten some statistical facts wrong, and it is only through proofreading that such mistakes can be identified and corrected. Grammatical errors should also be avoided, and while currently there are software varieties which can help with this, the human mind is still miles ahead, and one should identify and correct such mistakes while proofreading. Reading the report to an audience can also help a writer to avoid some mistakes while also maintaining the focus and purpose of the report. Two heads will always be better than one and consulting one’s friends or co-workers could help a writer avoid re-writing the entire report in case it is found defective later.
5. Some good tips for a report writing
Report writing tips are readily available on the Internet.
Below are some of those tips:
- Avoid ambiguity when writing a report.
- Use of simple language is also of great importance.
- Clarity and accuracy are also essential.
- Avoid guessing or using including information that cannot be confirmed.
- Use recent material as sources of one’s information.
- Always start with a report outline and draft.
Like the tips above, report writing help can be readily found on the Internet. However, it is essential to be involved in the entire process lest one gets what they did not ask for.
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.