What is a report?
A report is a well-structured and researched document that informs a specific audience on a particular problem or topic. The purpose of a report is to inform, guide or influence decision making and/or the outcome of a course of action.
Writing reports is common in many workplaces. Thus, you often find this form of writing set as an assessment task at university. It can be either an individual- or team-based assignment.
The purpose and structure of reports can differ between disciplines and audiences. For example, a business report written for a manager will have an introduction which is separate from a literature review, whereas a lab report for your lecturer will often combine the introduction and literature review into one section. What is important is that you pay careful attention to your assessment task instructions and make sure that your key message is clear, well-reasoned and well-supported by relevant research.
Four things you need to know about report writing View
1. Identify your target audience and purpose of your report.
Every report has an intended audience. This may be clients, a manager, colleagues, the public, or your teachers. Knowing your audience will help you decide what language expressions are appropriate and what information is required.
2. Apply the structure of a report.
A report is not an essay. All reports are made up of structured sections with specific information. Make sure you refer to your assessment task instructions and know what belongs in each section.
3. Check for discipline specific requirements.
Reports vary in length and format depending on your discipline. A good study habit for you to develop is to always double check the specific requirements for your task.
4. Use tables and figures to present numerical data.
Most numerical data is presented using tables or figures. These need to be clearly labelled following the standard conventions for titles and labels. For example, a title for a table is usually written above the table while a title for a figure is written below it. Titles should tell the reader clearly and concisely what data is being presented.
Audience and purpose
You need to continually consider the target audience of your report. For example, ask yourself such questions as - are you writing for a client? a healthcare professional? your manager? do you have more than one audience (e.g. an imaginary client and your lecturer)?
The answers to these questions will guide your decisions about how the report is structured, the amount of background information you include, what type of information is required, and how best to present the report, including the level of technical language you use.
Differences between a report and an essay
Reports typically follow a clear structure and have common elements, each with a specific purpose. These features differentiate reports from another common form of writing at university - the essay.
You can learn about the key differences from the table below.
The target audience will not always read the sections of a report in the order in which they are presented. For example, a reader may firstly read the abstract, then the conclusion, and then the discussion for more details. This is a reading technique often used in critical reading. This is why features like a title page, table of contents, bolded headings, numbering, lettering, and bullet points are important in a report.
Check your understanding View
In the fields below drag and drop each feature to the appropriate written assignment type: Report, Essay, or Both.
Some assignment tasks at university involve writing a research report to explain a research project or investigation that you have undertaken. The structure of a typical research report includes the following sections:
|Title of the Report||To clearly indicate the problem or topic addressed in the report.|
|Abstract/Executive Summary||To summarise the aim, methods, findings and conclusions (usually in 250 words or less).|
|Table of Contents||To act as a guide for easy access to relevant sections and information.|
|Introduction||To show what you researched and why.|
To provide an overview of current, published knowledge on the topic.
This may be part of the introduction in some disciplines.
|Methodology||To show how you conducted your investigation.|
|Results||To show your findings.|
|Discussion||To provide an analysis of the relevance of your findings, e.g. how they contribute to current knowledge.|
|Conclusion(s)||To summarise and outline your main conclusions.|
To propose actions that should be taken.
This may be part of the conclusion in some disciplines.
|Supplementaries||To provide supporting materials such as your reference list, appendices of raw data, surveys and detailed data processing.|
Take it further - approaching discipline-specific reports
Take a look at the following resources for information about reports in your faculty or discipline.