Skills for Learning

Report Writing

Overview

A report is a piece of academic writing that presents research on a topic. Research reports present data collected from quantitative or qualitative research. This includes surveys and questionnaires, case studies and experiments. Reports are used to present research findings or make recommendations.

They are common in subject areas such as Science, Technology, Engineering, Maths, Healthcare and Social Sciences. If you’re from one of these subject areas, it’s likely you will have already seen this type of writing in academic journal articles.

If you are writing a dissertation rather than a report, please consult our dissertation guidance.

Report writing structure and content

To find out more about the purpose of each section, click on the corresponding heading:

Provides a brief summary of your whole report.

The abstract should outline the purpose of your research and your methodology. You should summarise your main findings and conclusion/recommendations. Write in the past tense. Aim for about half a page. 

If you are asked to write an Executive Summary instead of an abstract, this will contain similar content but more detail. An executive summary is a mini version of a report. An abstract, on the other hand, is a taster of the main report.

Top tip! Try to give the reader a sense of why your project is interesting and valuable.

 

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Lists all the sections of your report with the page numbers. Do this last by using the automatic function in Word.

Introduces the reader to your research project.

Provide context to the topic and define key terms. Be clear about what you are setting out to achieve.

Outline your aims and objectives, and provide a brief description of your research methods. Finally, give an indication of your conclusion/findings. 

Top tips! Start with the bigger picture (background information) and get more specific (your research aims and findings). 

Positions your research in relation to what has come before it. 

The literature review will summarise prior research on the topic, such as journal articles, books, government reports and data. You should introduce key themes/concepts/theories/methods that provide context for your own research. Analyse and evaluate the literature by drawing comparisons and highlighting strengths and weaknesses. The ultimate aim of the literature review is to demonstrate scope for further research and justify the need for your research. 

Top tips! Remember that your literature review isn’t simply a descriptive summary of various sources. You need to synthesise (bring together) and critically analyse prior research. 

See more information on writing a literature review.

Provides a succinct and accurate record of the methodology used and justifies your choice of methods.

In this section, you will describe the qualitative and/or quantitative methods used to carry out your research/experiment. You need to demonstrate how your research methodology helps you answer your research question. Where appropriate, explain the rationale behind procedures, equipment, participants and sample size. You may need to reference specific guidelines that you have used, especially in subjects such as healthcare. If your research involves people, you may also need to demonstrate how it fulfils ethical guidelines. 

Top tips! Your account should be sufficiently detailed so that someone else could replicate your research. Write in the passive voice. Remember, at this point you are not reporting any findings. 

Presents the data collected from your research in a suitable format.

Provide a summary of the results of your research/experiment. Consider the most effective methods for presenting your data, such as charts, graphs or tables.  

Top tips! In this section, you might acknowledge trends or themes emerging from the data. At this stage, however, you won’t be closely analysing or commenting on the data. If you are conducting qualitative research, this section may be combined with the discussion section. In this case, remember to transcribe results (such as interview dialogue) and include them in your appendix.

Addresses your research aims by analysing your findings. 

This is the main body of your report, where you interpret and discuss your results and draw conclusions, identify trends, themes or issues arising from the findings and discuss their significance. These themes can also provide the structure for this section. Make sure you bring in other research to help you interpret your findings. You should also link your results to other research. For example, you can show how it builds upon or contradicts prior research.

Top tip! Ensure that the points you make are sufficiently backed up with evidence from your findings.

Shows how you have met your research objectives.  

Provide an overview of your main findings and demonstrate that you have achieved your aims. Set your research into a wider context by showing how it contributes to the current body of scholarship in this area. Discuss the implications of your research and put forward any recommendations. 

Top tips! Do not introduce any new information in this section. You may want to include an additional section titled ‘Recommendations’, if they form a significant part of your report.

A complete list of all the sources used.  

List all the sources that you have consulted while carrying out your research. Your Reference List or Bibliography must follow the specific guidelines for your discipline (e.g. Harvard or OSCOLA).

Appendix (single) or Appendices (plural): presents raw data and/or transcripts that aren’t in the main body of your report.

You may have been selective in the data you presented in your findings section. If this is the case, you may choose to present the raw data/extended version in an appendix. Moreover, if you conducted qualitative research, such as interviews, you will include the transcripts in your appendix.

Top tip! Discuss with your supervisor whether you will need an appendix and what to include.

Report writing style and language

The purpose of a report is to inform the reader about the outcomes of your research. You may also make recommendations based on what you have found. Either way, you should think carefully about how you can communicate this message clearly. You should make your points very succinctly, keeping your language professional and direct. Headings and sub-headings are helpful to direct your reader to the relevant section. Charts and tables can be used to communicate information quickly and clearly. 

Download the Report Writing Checklist from our Resources to help you.

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