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What is a report?


A Report is:

  • Written for specific purpose
  • Targeted at specific audience
  • Systematic presentation of facts
  • Focus on facts, not personal view
  • Highly structured format to lead reader quickly to main themes and findings
  • Use of headings, sub headings, numbering and bullet points
  • Use of graphics to present information

Structuring a report

 Title Page
The title should be clear, concise and relevant.  The aim is to inform the reader of the contents of the report.  You should put on the title page:
  • The title
  • Your name
  • The name of the organization
  • The date
  • The distribution list
The Summary, Abstract or Synopsis
This is a shortened version of the whole report and outlines the main points, conclusions and – if necessary – the main recommendations.  It is written last, after the rest of the report has been completed.  It should be as short as possible while including all essential information.
Contents list 
This is a list of the various sections of the report in the order in which they appear.  It usually consists of a list of headings with appropriate page or paragraph numbers. 
Note that if there are more than 10 illustrations, they should be listed separately below the main contents, giving their caption, figure numbers and page or paragraph number. 
The introduction should cover the aims and scope of the report and must include everything that the readers need to know before they begin on the report itself. One important ingredient is the terms of reference, which ought to have been agreed before the work is undertaken (eg. What is to be done; who will be involved; how it is to be done; and when it must be done by) 
The introduction should be short, simple, relevant and include: 
  • The subject of the report 
  • The purpose of the investigation 
  • How the problem is being approached 
  • For whom the report is produced 
Main body 
This is the section of the report which contains the main discussion on the subject matter as defined by the terms of reference. 
You may find it useful to split the report into sections, but remember to include these in your list of contents.  Subheadings should be used in this section to allow the reader to identify the main points. 
You should keep focused here and try not to get bogged down in detail.  eg, if you have used a questionnaire to find people’s opinions on a subject, you could focus on the survey results in this section. The details of the methodology of the survey: the sampling, the actual text of the questionnaire, and so on, would be better laid out in the appendices. 
This is where you link the terms of reference with your findings.  The main body of the report presents 
evidence and from that you draw your conclusions.  These should always be made clear and explicit, 
not just left to be understood by your audience. 
In this section you state what specific action should be taken, who needs to take it, and why. 
Your suggestions must be realistic, and clearly based on the conclusions, not on personal bias. 
Here you give more details of matters discussed broadly in the main body of the report. Supporting information goes here, because you ought to make it available, but you don’t want to distract from the overall message by putting it in the main body of the report. 
The kinds of material that could be included are:
  • References and your bibliography
  • A glossary
  • Tables, diagrams and illustrations
  • Texts, e.g. of questionnaires

Numbering systems

Numbering systems 
The different sections of the report need to be numbered, so that you can refer from one section to another.  While there are various conventions, a commonly used one is the "point numbering" system. 
For example: 
1. Summary
2 Contents
3 Introduction
4 Analysis of complaints
        4.1 Room Service
        4.2 Restaurant service
                     4.2.1 Food
                     4.2.2 Waitress service
5 Conclusions
6 Recommendations
7 Appendices
        7.1 References
        7.2 Tables
        7.3 Questionnaire text
Reports should be typed, double-spaced on a single side of A4 paper.  Remember to leave a wide left-hand margin, to avoid losing text inside the binding.  The pages should be numbered, so that you can refer to them in the contents list.
Golden rule: be brief; be clear; be objective 

Including Tables and Charts

Tables & Charts – The visual presentation of information 

Figures in particular often make more sense when presented in the form of a table or chart. 
Compare the following ways of showing information about factory production:

The table (Fig 1) gives clear information about the figures
The graph (Fig 2) gets over the point of output rising with the number of machines, but it loses the fine detail. 
 Neither the table nor the graph tell you why things happened.   You could use a visual presentation of the figures, in a graph (table, pie-chart, or whatever is suitable)  and then add words to explain, for example, underlying causes. 
This combination might give you the best of both worlds. 
Remember to: 
Label your graphics, maps or illustrations. 
Refer to them in your text. 
Number the figures or tables (for example, Fig.1 or Table 2.2), to make it clear which you are meaning. 
If there is a lot of numeric data, it might be better to put this as an appendix.  
If you are working towards a report or dissertation, don’t forget to provide a list of figures or tables, and to include the list and/or appendix in your contents. 

Rules about writing numbers

If you include any figures in your work, make sure you know which rule you ought to be following - do you write them as words or as numerals? 
Arithmetic or calculations will obviously be in numeric form. Eg. 2 x 3 + 3 = 9 
Dates are given numerically (9 June 1948). For periods, don’t mix hyphens with words. 
Depending on your meaning and style, use 
1939 – 1945 or  between 1939 and 1945 or  from 1939 to 1945. 
Decades do not normally need an apostrophe:  the 1930s or the thirties 
Times similarly should not show a mixture of formats. Depending on your meaning and style, use one of these: 
10.00 – 16.00 or 10.00am – 4.00pm or between 10.00am and 4.00pm or
from 10.00am to 4.00pm or from ten o’clock to four o’clock 
Measurements too are normally given in number form. “The insect body is 8cm long.” 
Ages are usually given numerically, but could be either: “The child, aged 4, was badly behaved.”  “Four-year-olds are often badly behaved.” 
Be aware of the different appearance of: 
  • zero 0 and upper case (capital) letter O
  • number 1 and a lowercase (small) letter L (l
Numbers up to ten are usually written out in words and numbers of 11 or more are given numerically. 
Style will affect this: “1000s of people were on the march” implies exact multiples of a thousand: 2,000 or 10,000, with a precision which cannot be justified. “Thousands of people …” looks and sounds more elegant 

Tips for writing reports

Step 1 - Clarify your purpose 
Why are you writing the report? 
> To inform? Explain? Evaluate? Advise? Recommend? 
What do you hope to achieve? 
> Clarification of procedures? Change in practice? Change in attitude? Action of some other sort? 
Who will read it? 

> Who is your main reader? 
> What do they already know about the subject? 
> What are their expectations? 
> What are their attitudes? 
> What do they want to know? 
> Are they likely to readily accept your ideas? 
How will the report be used? 
Step 2 - Collect and sift material 
Jot down ideas relevant to your purpose in note form 
Make an action plan – what to do and in what order 
Gather information: 
Examination of documents; visits; interviews; observation etc. 
Note information and sources as you find them 
Sift findings for relative importance and relevance 
Step 3 Organise the material
Follow recommended structure for your subject
Group into section and subsections
Plan logical order appropriate to subject
  • From the most important findings to the least important
  • Chronological
  • Geographical
  • From current position, detail progressively what let to it
Not too much information in each section
Step 4 - Draft and edit/redraft 
Present facts accurately, clearly and concisely in main body 
Evaluate facts in conclusion 
Use impersonal, objective style 
Use formal language. 
Use clear, concise language 
Choose words that convey a precise and objective meaning 
Use simple, straightforward sentence construction and words 
Use conjunctions and linking phrases to show connection between ideas 
Step 5 - Presentation of final draft 
Check house style of layout 
Use clear headings and subheadings 
Rank headings clearly – use indentations 
Use clear numbering for sections, subsections and paragraphs 
Use appendices for detailed findings 
Use tables and graphs if appropriate 
Check grammar, punctuation and spelling