How to write a report
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, which may contain:
- the record of a sequence of events
- interpretation of the significance of these events or facts
- evaluation of the facts or results of research presented
- discussion of the outcomes of a decision or course of action
Part 1 Selecting your Topic
- Understand the assignment. If your teacher, professor, or boss gave your guidelines for your report, make sure you read them (and reread them). What is the assignment asking of you? Generally if you are writing a report for an elementary, middle or high school class, you will be asked to present a topic without inserting your opinion. Other assignments might ask you to persuade your audience about a certain way of perceiving your topic, or analyze a topic. Ask your teacher about any questions you might have as soon as possible.
- Choose a topic that interests you. Use the following questions to help generate topic ideas.
- Do you have a strong opinion on a current social or political controversy?
- Did you read or see a news story recently that has piqued your interest or made you angry or anxious?
- Do you have a personal issue, problem or interest that you would like to know more about?
- Do you have a research paper due for a class this semester?
- Is there an aspect of a class that you are interested in learning more about?
- Focus on Your Topic.
- Choose a broad topic based on the requirements of your assignment and your own interests.
- Quickly read up on the broad topic to find the issues and controversies.
- Now choose your focus tactic.
- Remember that a topic will be more difficult to research if it is:
- Very locally confined
- Very recent
- Broadly interdisciplinary
- Too “Popular”
- Be Flexible. It is common to modify your topic during the research process. You can never be sure of what you may find. You may find too much and need to narrow your focus, or too little and need to broaden your focus. This is a normal part of the research process. When researching, you may not wish to change your topic, but you may decide that some other aspect of the topic is more interesting or manageable.
Keep in mind the assigned length of the research paper, project, bibliography or other research assignment. Be aware of the depth of coverage needed and the due date.
Part 2 Researching your topic
- Research your topic. Divide the work into a number of tasks, develop a schedule that leaves lots of time for revision, and stick to your schedule. Choose a topic that interests you. Define it as precisely as you can before beginning your research, but be prepared to modify, adapt, and revise it as you research and write your paper.
- Finding Sources. Finding books and articles for your research can be quite a challenge – especially if you’ve not yet familiarized yourself with the library and its resources. If you’re not sure where to start, try looking at the library’s Resources by Subject, on the library home page. These resources include advice regarding the key resources (both print and electronic) in a subject area, written by reference librarians.
Librarians are available to help you no matter what you’re looking for. Check the Reference and Research page, and ask a Librarian for help
- Summarize Your Sources. Before you attempt to use a source in your paper, you need to be sure that you understand it. The best way to make sure that you understand a source is to summarize it. In summarizing, you accomplish a few things.
First, summarizing a source requires you to put this argument in your own language. Some of your sources might use language that puzzles you. When you summarize, you are in a sense translating an argument into language that you understand and can work with.
Summarizing also enables you to see if there is any aspect of the argument that you don’t understand. If you find yourself stumbling as you attempt to summarize, go back to the original source for clarity.
Summarizing also allows you to restate an argument in terms that are relevant to your paper. Most texts that you encounter are very complex and offer several ideas for consideration. Some of these ideas will be relevant to your topic; others will not.
Summarizing can help you in the organization process. If you’ve used ten sources in a research project, you’ve probably taken a lot of notes and have gathered several quotations for your paper. This can amount to pages and pages of text.
- Make Your Sources Work for You. Beginning students often make one grave mistake when they write their first academic papers: overwhelmed by what their sources have to say, they permit their papers to crumble under the weight of scholarly opinion. They end up writing not an informed argument of their own, but a rehash of what has already been said on a topic. The paper might be informative. It might also be competently written. But it does not fulfill the requirements of a good academic paper. We have said it before and we will say it again: a good academic paper must be analytical. It must be critical. It must be a well-crafted, persuasive, informed argument.
Part 3 Writing your Report
- Executive Summary. 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. Your intro is where you introduce your topic and state your thesis. Your intro should be engaging but not corny–the goal should be to hook the reader so that they want to read the rest of your report. You should provide some background information on your topic and then state your thesis so that the reader knows what the report is going to be about.
- Report Main Body. 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.
- 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.
Part 3 Finalizing Your Report
- Read through your report from an outsider’s perspective. Does the point you are trying to make come across clearly? Does all of your evidence support your thesis? If you were someone reading your report for the first time, would you feel like you understood the topic after reading the report?
- Disseminating the final report. Having a second pair of eyes can be helpful to make sure your point is clear and your writing doesn’t sound awkward. Ask your helper, do you understand what I am saying in my report? Is there anything you think I should take out or add? Is there anything you would change?
- Supporting the implementation of recommendations made in the final report. Recommendations made in the report are implemented in a timely fashion. The recommendations should include specific timelines and deliverables. It may be useful if reviewers prepare a budget listing the main activities that need to be implemented. Each activity should be specific, achievable and linked to output or process indicators. Estimates of the additional resources required to implement the activities (that is, the funding gap), and possible sources of funding, must be highlighted.