This guide has been written to provide a general introduction to writing reports. It outlines the typical structure of a report and provides a step by step guide to producing reports that are clear and well structured.
What is a report?
A report is written for a clear purpose and to a particular audience. Specific information and evidence are presented, analysed and applied to a particular problem or issue. The information is presented in a clearly structured format, making use of sections and headings so that the information is easy to locate and follow.
When you are asked to write a report you will usually be given a report brief, which may outline the purpose, audience and problem or issue that your report must address, together with any specific requirements for format or structure.
This guide offers a general introduction to report writing; be sure also to take account of any specific instructions provided.
What makes a good report?
An effective report presents and analyses facts and evidence that are relevant to a specific problem or issue. As with an essay, all sources used should be acknowledged and referenced throughout, in the format set out in the course referencing guide. The style of writing in a report is less of a continuous piece of writing than an essay, with a more direct and economic use of language. A well written report will demonstrate your ability to:
understand the purpose of the report
gather, evaluate and analyse relevant information
structure material in a logical and coherent order
present a report in a consistent manner according to the instructions provided
make appropriate conclusions that are supported by the evidence and analysis of the report
make thoughtful and practical recommendations where required
The structure of a report
This will depend on the particular exercise and your topic. There is no set format and you should decide what you think is appropriate. It is the style of presentation that is important, rather than exactly which headings you use.
This should briefly describe the specific purpose of the report. Other details you may include could be your name, the date and for whom the report is written.
The use of CCTV to reduce shoplifting in newsagents in Quedgley
2 September 2010
Example of a title page
Terms of Reference
Under this heading you could include a brief explanation of who will read the report (audience) why it was written (purpose) and how it was written (methods). It may be in the form of a subtitle or a single paragraph.
A report submitted in fulfilment of the requirements for the Foundation Degree in Risk & Security, Department of Criminology, Univeristy of Leicester.
Example of terms of reference
This is not always necessary and you may find you do not have enough space to include a summary.
The summary should briefly describe the content of the report. It should cover the aims of the report, what was found and what, if any, action is called for. Aim for about 1/2 a page in length and avoid detail or discussion; just outline the main points. Remember that the summary is the first thing that is read. It should provide the reader with a clear, helpful overview of the content of the report.
This report aims to provide details of the impact of the introduction of CCTV in three newsagents in Quedgley, on the outskirts of Gloucester in 2009. It was observed that at each of these sites, the number of instances of shoplifting was reduced over a period of 12 months. The reduction was greater in the two shops which were open until 11pm, rather than in the third shop, which closed at 8pm. Further studies are required to examine why this was the case and to consider the role played by the introduction of CCTV on the increased turnover experienced by all three shops over this period.
Example of a summary (abstract)
Contents (Table of Contents)
This may be appropriate, but, particularly in very short reports, may not be necessary.
The contents page should list the different sections and/or headings together with the page numbers. Your contents page should be presented in such a way that the reader can quickly scan the list of headings and locate a particular part of the report. You may want to number headings and subheadings in addition to providing page references. Whatever numbering system you use, be sure that it is clear and consistent throughout.
The introduction sets the scene for the main body of the report. The aims and objectives of the report should be explained in detail. Any problems or limitations in the scope of the report should be identified, and a description of any research methods, the parameters of the research and any necessary background history should be included.
If you have conducted your own research, you should explain your research methods.
If you have conducted your own research you may want to present your results in a separate section.
The main body of the report is where you discuss your material. The facts and evidence you have gathered should be analysed and discussed with specific reference to the problem or issue. If your discussion section is lengthy you might divide it into section headings. Your points should be grouped and arranged in an order that is logical and easy to follow. Use headings and subheadings to create a clear structure for your material. Use bullet points to present a series of points in an easy-to-follow list. Your ideas must be supported by evidence and theory and, as with the whole report, all sources used should be acknowledged and correctly referenced.
In the conclusion you should show the overall significance of what has been covered. You may want to remind the reader of the most important points that have been made in the report or highlight what you consider to be the most central issues or findings. However, no new material should be introduced in the conclusion.
List of References
Your list of references should include, in alphabetical order by author, all published sources referred to in your report. Check your referencing guide for the correct format.
Writing the report
Having organised your material into appropriate sections and headings you can begin to write your report. Aim for a writing style that is direct and precise. Avoid waffle and make your points clearly and concisely. Sections and even individual paragraphs should be written with a clear structure. The structure described below can be adapted and applied to sections and even paragraphs.
- Introduce the main idea of the section/paragraph
- Explain and expand the idea, defining any key terms.
- Present relevant evidence to support your point(s).
- Comment on each piece of evidence showing how it relates to your point(s).
- Conclude your section/paragraph by either showing its
significance to the report as a whole or making a link to the next section/paragraph
These are suggestions for how your report might be constructed. There is no set format which we expect you to use. For examples of reports, look at, for example, local government websites, or the Home Office website, in Research & Development, or on the Health & Safety Executive (HSE) website, in the Science & Research section.