Reports are less commonly assigned as assignments in university. Often, they are assigned at the end of the semester as final projects. On the other hand, professionals are often asked to submit reports. Report writing is an important skill that you need from college to your professional life. Report writing involves rigorous research, analysis, and writing. Due to the depth of the topics often discussed in reports, writing it is quite complex.
A lot of students either don’t know how to write a report or need help to write a good report. As a result, they graduate and become professionals who can’t write an effective report. Reports are complicated, and there are a variety of them, that writing a report essay can be a burden. We’re here to alleviate you of this burden with these 19 tips.
In order to write a good report, you must first understand what you’re writing. I’m not talking about the subject matter of your report; what I mean is that you should know what a report is.
What is a Report?
Reports are often confused with academic essays since both require research and analysis. However, reports are drastically different from academic essays. Reports are always technical and deal with facts. When writing a report, one must present the data, analyze it, and make recommendations for future action. It is always objective and factual, unlike an essay which could be otherwise.
Technical and scientific fields, such as economics, business, biology, and engineering, make use of reports; but other fields have their own versions, too. An example is the book report for Literature. There are two major types of reports: informal and formal reports. These two differ mainly in their function.
An informal report aims to inform, analyze, and make recommendations. These are often published or distributed only within an organization, and not for the general public. A formal report involves the collection and interpretation of data. These are usually much longer and more complex than informal reports. In addition to this, formal reports are usually written for people or groups outside of the organization. Different fields have their own type of reports, and they may fall under either category of formal or informal.
- Financial reports
Financial reports provide information about an organization’s financial position or performance and management of resources. This type of report informs the management of what strategic and financial decisions to make in the next quarter or year. This report also is used for auditing purposes.
- Laboratory reports
Lab reports are often used in technical courses like Engineering. This type of written report presents the findings of a laboratory experiment, as well as their significance.
- Scientific reports
Scientific reports are quite similar to how to write a lab report in that they both present findings of a research in a scientific field. However, they differ in that a scientific report involves research and data gathering outside of the laboratory. Thus, a scientific report would involve real life application of theories proven in a lab report. The structure of a report will be greatly affected by this difference.
- Medical or case report
A medical report is concerned with an individual’s medical history. Types of medical reports are often used as evidence for claims for insurance or other benefits. Doctors familiar with one’s case are often the ones preparing reports like this. Learning how to write a case report needs extra care.
Each type of report has its own characteristics, and thus differing requirements. Therefore, there is no one way of writing a report. There is, however, a standard that all authors, regardless of their field, must adhere to when writing a report.
How to write reports?
Since a report is technical and factual, its author must be a professional in the field. The author must have authority in presenting the facts, the analysis, and the recommendations. Without authority and credibility, the report will not be taken seriously. So, aside from ensuring that the facts are correct, or that that there is sufficient evidence, and that the analysis and recommendations are logical and substantial, the author of a report must be meticulous with their writing.
Now that you know what is a report and the specific types of reports, it’s time to know how to write a report essay. Different types of reports, as mentioned earlier, have different requirements, and thus have different elements. Generally speaking, however, basic report writing contains these elements.
The report structure
- Table of Contents – this should provide a thorough list of the sections of the report. Make sure to follow the academic report writing format for sections like this.
- Executive Summary – provides an overview of the contents of the report. That includes the analysis and conclusions and recommendations.
- Introduction – where you provide the context of your report. Discuss the problem your report will tackle, as well as a summary of your conclusions.
- Literature Review – in this section you synthesize what has been said by researchers in the field about the topic you are discussing in your report.
- Methodology – be objective here: indicate the kind of data used (e.g., who was interviewed, what types of materials were referred to), how these were gathered, and the time frame of your study.
- Results – describe in detail what you have found. This section must be objective and precise.
- Discussion - this is the core of your report. Here, you explain what the results or the data you have gathered means in conjunction with the context of your report. Make sure that the connections you make are all clear to your reader. A good rule of thumb is “[d]on’t overestimate your reader’s knowledge and don’t underestimate their intelligence (Radford, Tim).”
- Conclusion – talk about the significance of your findings here, but don’t add any new information.
- Recommendation – since you took up a problem and done your research about it, now you should propose a solution for it. Here, you detail
- References – this section should contain all the sources you referenced in your paper. This section should be formatted according to the academic citation style specified in your guideline.
- Appendices – this is where you present all visual data that you used in your paper. The data should be properly labelled and cited accordingly. Be sure to organize this section so as to avoid confusion when your reader refers to them while reading your report.
14 Tips for writing a report
Now that you know what a report is, its different types, and its basic structure, we’ll give you some tips on how to write a great report. Note that how to write a report paper starts in the pre-writing process. Neither does this end when you write the conclusion. How to make a report is a long process, but don’t sulk. Here are the ultimate 14 tips for writing a report.
- Know the purpose of your report and your audience.
As expounded earlier, there are different types of reports. Each type of report has different aspects or parts and conventions that its writer must comply with. It’s also crucial to know for whom the report is as this determines the level of language and complexity of your explanations. These are things to keep in mind throughout the process of writing a report.
- Read all formatting guidelines.
Whether you’re writing in the academic setting or in the professional setting, there will always be guidelines that you must adhere to. Before writing, make sure that you have thoroughly read and understood your institution’s or organization’s guidelines. How you present your report is just as important as its content. All must be professional.
- Prepare a master list of all your sources and data.
The first step for this tip is to put all your sources and data in a folder. Then prepare a master list. This master list should contain a brief description of the contents of source. This may include where a particular source may be helpful in your research. This will save you a lot of time from having to rummage through your files.
- There is no one structure for all reports.
The basic structure of a report is much like a research paper. But different types of reports have additional sections to accommodate specific information or analyses. Although you are required to provide the basic report format, you may add or remove additional sections depending on your report’s or topic’s needs. One of the most important report writing skills is being able to determine what your report needs.
- Use headers and sub-headers to organize your report.
“Introduction,” “Discussion,” and “Conclusion” are not sufficient. If you want a professional-looking report, divide the actual content of each section. Doing this will make the report easier to write for you and easier to digest for your reader as well. See #6.
- Don’t skip the outline.
Reports are much longer than your typical research paper. Outlines are an indispensable step in how to start a report. An outline will ensure that you don’t miss any detail while writing, and that you don’t spend too much space on certain sections then skimp on others. You may also use the headings and sub-headings of your outline as headings and sub-headings of your essay. This will not only guide your reader but will also keep you, the author, from straying from your topic.
- Be mindful of jargons, but use appropriate terminology.
Jargons are there for a reason, and they cannot be wholly avoided in technical reports writing. If you’re making a report for an erudite in your field, such as your director, surely they will know the jargons, and you can use them for the sake of efficiency. However, if you are to write a report online for lay persons or for the general public, then you may use them sparingly. In fact, you may even have to explain them as you do with theories. But be careful, too, not to dumb down your writing by skipping important terminology. The bottom line is you need to write appropriately for your audience. Remember what Tim Radford said? You can also apply it to your language.
- Anticipate your readers’ questions.
Just as we typically address counterarguments in an essay or debate, we also need to anticipate questions that might arise in the reader’s mind as he/she reads the report. Naturally, you must attempt to address these questions as within your report so as to ease their minds and they can focus on what you are trying to say. Try to do this naturally, without losing your focus on your actual topic.
- Start with the main body of the report.
Perhaps the most common academic writing tip is to write the introduction last. The same thing goes for writing reports. It’s best to start writing the facts of your report, such as the methodology and your findings, then your discussion so that you would know what to write about when you start with the introduction to the report. The main body is the main entrée of your report, so it would be impossible to introduce and summarize your report without first writing this.
- Be straightforward and objective.
A reporting essay is factual, so it follows that report writing is known to be objective. This characteristic is important to keep in mind because a report essay cannot be riddled with opinions, even if they are correct. To achieve objectivity in your report writing, avoid using the first person and second person as they are too personal. Avoid flowery words and always use precise language as well. Most importantly, be mindful of your biases as they may show in biased language. Precise language is always key.
- Familiarize yourself with transitional phrases and techniques.
Transitions help your reader establish the relationship between ideas or data you present. Thus, they are crucial in ensuring your report’s clarity and coherence. Effective usage of transitions is part of the basic writing skills taught in school, but reading reporting writing examples written by actual experts in your field would greatly improve your familiarity with it. Incorporate transitional phrases in your topic sentences.
Another tip to help keep smooth transition between sections is to give a short summary of the sub-section preceding the section you are writing.
- Make use of your data.
You worked hard in collecting and organizing data for your report, it would be a waste not to use them. More than that, your data is vital to establishing your credibility and to making your report compelling. Your claims and analyses should be rooted in your data. Of course, it’s a given that your data is organized in the Appendix.
- Be honest in your report.
If you made any mistakes in your experiment or in the process of gathering data, include these in your report. Talking about these mistakes and how you corrected them will demonstrate the depth of your research and report. This will also inform other researchers in your field of what to avoid if they are conducting a similar study.
- Weave your sources in your report.
A major weak point in many reports, and most academic writing for that matter, is ineffective integration of outside sources. Remember that your sources are there to support your ideas. Your sources, your quotes, should never overshadow your own ideas and explanations. In order to seamlessly include sources into your writing, try employing these three things:
- Use a signal phrase to introduce the quote. Never drop a quote without first introducing it as this will only cause confusion for your reader.
- Sandwich the quote with your own words. This means that after introducing the quote, you must follow-up with an explanation of how the quote relates to your own ideas.
- Don’t overuse quotes. The key to effective usage of sources is a balance between paraphrasing and quoting. As the author, you should judge whether an idea is better expressed by the writer or if it can be paraphrased. Using too much quotes is ill-advised because that could be interpreted as the author’s shortcoming in digesting their sources.
- Your Recommendation is an action plan.
A lot of the questions about how to write a report paper extend to how to write a recommendation for a report. Some think that the Recommendation does not have to be well-written if the Report Main Body is well-executed, but that’s not true. Your Recommendations, assuming they are logical, should be presented in a way that reflects that. You should provide as much details as necessary for the reader of your report to be able to implement your recommendations. And, write your Recommendation in future tense, as these are yet to be done.
- Lay it all out on the Executive Summary.
As already alluded earlier, the Executive Summary, along with the Introduction should be written last. Now, when you write the Executive Summary, don’t think about it as a sneak peek to your report. Rather, it should tell the reader exactly what to find in the entirety of your report. Remember: you are not writing an article about a book, you are writing for researchers or your boss who has no time to waste.
- Proofread and edit your report.
You have probably heard this countless of times already, but we’ll say it again: proofread and edit your report before you submit it. Writing a report essay demands patience and fastidiousness. The report does not have to be perfect, but it at least has to look like it. Your report should follow the guidelines given to you, or you can follow our tips. Read your paper, and read it again—don not leave any sentence unturned.
- Read your report out loud.
The final step to revising your report is to read it out loud. Sometimes hearing your writing helps you better spot any errors or inaccuracies. Read it out loud at least once, then revise the report.
- Bonus tip:
When revising your report, you need to look at all the elements, not just your grammar. Here are questions to ask yourself while revising your report:
- Were you able to introduction, discussion, and conclusion to each other?
- Is your methodology clear? Would someone who did not do the research be able to replicate it?
- Are your transitions clear? Were all ideas connected?
- Did you use any terminology or jargons incorrectly? If you’re writing for the general public, were you able to explain the terminology and/or jargons clearly?
- Is there any statement, idea, or source that is not relevant to your report?
- Are all statements/claims well supported? Are all evidences sound?
- Is your language not biased?
- Did you cite all your sources? Check the in-text citations as well.
- Are the citations correct?
- Are your recommendations logical?
Writing a report is a long process. There is even an equally long process of data gathering that comes before the actual writing. Take your time at every turn, don’t rush anything. Each of the section of your report is crucial and must not be disregarded. This doesn’t mean that all sections should be the same length, rather invest the same amount of care and attention in writing each of them. Most importantly, don’t lose sight of your purpose. All the sections of your report should bring your reader closer to your goal, whether that is to inform, analyze, or make recommendations.
As you can see, writing a report is essentially the same process as writing an academic essay, with only a few modifications. If this is your first time writing a report, don’t expect it to be the best right away. Some things take time to get used to, and like any writing, report writing needs practice. To ensure good quality of your report, you can always ask someone more knowledgeable in report writing than you to help you. This is one good way to learn, too.