What is a report?
A report is a piece of informative writing that describes a set of actions and analyses any results in response to a specific brief. A quick definition might be: "This is what I did and this is what it means." You may be given an assignment which is not called a report but shares many of the same features; if so, aspects of this guide will be helpful.
It may help to know some of the key differences between reports and essays:
Argumentative and idea-based
Informative and fact-based
Not written with a specific reader in mind (except the marker)
Usually written with a specific purpose and reader in mind
Written in single narrative style throughout
Written in style appropriate to each section
Usually do not include sub-headings
Always include section headings
Usually do not include bullet points
Often use bullet points
Usually no tables or graphs
Often includes tables or graphs
Offer conclusions about question
Offer recommendations for action
What makes a good/bad report?
Here are some of the most common complaints about reports:
Inappropriate writing style
Incorrect or inadequate referencing
Doesn't answer the brief
Too much/too little/irrelevant material
Expression not clear
Doesn't relate results to purpose
Unnecessary use of jargon
How can you make sure your report does what it's meant to do, and does it well?
The most important thing to do is read the brief (or the title of your assignment, or your research question) carefully. Then read it again even more carefully! If you're still not completely clear about what to do, speak to your tutor or a Study Adviser – don't guess.
Make sure you know which sections your report should have and what should go in each.Reports for different disciplines and briefs will require different sections: for instance, a business report may need a separate Recommendations section but no Methods section. Check your brief carefully to make sure you have the correct sections. See Structuring your report to learn more about what goes where.
Remember that reports are meant to be informative: to tell the reader what was done, what was discovered as a consequence and how this relates to the reasons the report was undertaken. Include only relevant material in your background and discussion.
A report is an act of communication between you and your reader. So pay special attention toyour projected reader, and what they want from the report. Sometimes you will be asked to write for an imaginary reader (e.g. a business client). In this case it's vital to think about why they want the report to be produced (e.g. to decide on the viability of a project) and to make sure you respond to that. If it's your tutor, they will want to know that you can communicate the processes and results of your research clearly and accurately, and can discuss your findings in the context of the overall purpose.
Write simply and appropriately. Your method and findings should be described accurately and in non-ambiguous terms. A perfectly described method section would make it possible for someone else to replicate your research process and achieve the same results. See Writing up your report for more on this.
Spend time on your discussion section. This is the bit that pulls the whole piece together by showing how your findings relate to the purpose of the report, and to any previous research.
Every idea and piece of information you use that comes from someone else's work must be acknowledged with a…