A report should be written in the third person – this means not using “I” or “we”. Often more formal, lengthy reports are written in sections which have sub-headings and are numbered.
Reports are broken into the following elements, but it should be noted that not all these elements are needed in all reports. For example, an index is only needed for long reports where readers need to locate items; a glossary of terms may help if the readers are unfamiliar with terms used, but not otherwise.
As previously mentioned, the way in which you present your report will vary according to what you are writing and for whom. This section gives general guidance but you should follow advice given by tutors and others.
This will include the title of the report, who has written it and the date it was written/submitted.
Thanks to the people or organizations that have helped.
As in a book, this lists the headings in the report, together with the page numbers showing where the particular section, illustration etc. can be located.
This is a most important part of many reports and may well be the only section that some readers read in detail. It should be carefully written and should contain a complete overview of the message in the report, with a clear summary of your recommendations.
Terms of Reference:
This section sets the scene for your report. It should define the scope and limitations of the investigation and the purpose of the report. It should say who the report is for, any constraints (for example your deadline, permitted length) – in other words, your aims and objectives – the overall purpose of your report and more specifically what you want to achieve.
Methodology / Procedure:
This section outlines how you investigated the area. How you gathered information, where from and how much (e.g. if you used a survey, how the survey was carried out, how did you decide on the target group, how many were surveyed, how were they surveyed – by interviews or questionnaire?)
This will help to tune your readers in to the background of your report. It is not another name for a summary and should not be confused with this. They can be two separate sections or combined: background detail could include details of the topic you are writing about. You could take the opportunity to expand on your Terms of Reference within the introduction, give more detail as to the background of the report – but remember to keep it relevant, factual and brief.
Findings and Analysis:
This is the main body of the report, where you develop your ideas. Make sure that it is well structured, with clear headings, and that your readers can find information easily. Use paragraphs within each section to cover one aspect of the subject at a time. Include any graphs or other visual material in this section if this will help your readers. The nature of this section will depend on the brief and scope of the report. The sections should deal with the main topics being discussed – there should be a logical sequence, moving from the descriptive to the analytical. It should contain sufficient information to justify the conclusions and recommendations which follow. Selection of appropriate information is crucial here: if information is important to help understanding, then it should be included; irrelevant information should be omitted.
These are drawn from the analysis in the previous section and should be clear and concise. They should also link back to the Terms of Reference. At this stage in the report, no new information can be included. The conclusions should cover what you have deduced about the situation – bullet points will be satisfactory.
Make sure that you highlight any actions that need to follow on from your work. Your readers will want to know what they should do as a result of reading your report and will not want to dig for the information. Make them specific – recommendations such as “It is recommended that some changes should be made” are not helpful, merely irritating. As with the Conclusion, recommendations should be clearly derived from the main body of the report and again, no new information should be included.
References / Bibliography:
References are items referred to in the report. The Bibliography contains additional material not specifically referred to, but which readers may want to follow up.
Use these to provide any more detailed information which your readers may need for reference – but do not include key data which your readers really need in the main body of the report. Appendices must be relevant and should be numbered so they can be referred to in the main body.
Glossary of Terms and abbreviation:
Provide a glossary if you think it will help your readers but do not use one as an excuse to include jargon in the report that your readers may not understand.
Good presentation can make a report clearer. Consider the following points when writing your report:
Overall impact – typed or word processed reports are generally preferred, and should be presented in a folder or plastic wallet – whatever you think is suitable.
Headings – should be clearly ranked. Look at the example below and you can see there are three styles of headings – one for main sections, one for sub-sections, and one for further sub-sections.
Numbering – numbering your sections makes the report easier to follow. A common system is to number a main section, then for sub-sections to place a dot after the main section number and begin to number again. You can continue to a further level. This makes it easier to refer the reader to a specific part of the report, e.g. paragraph 3.2.2, rather than to say “about half way down page 5”.
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