There is a generally accepted format for reports, which is shown below. However, there is some variation and you may not be required to include all of the sections. Check your assignment brief and if in doubt check with your tutor before writing or submitting your work.
The title should be brief and accurately reflect the subject of the report. It can take the form of a statement or a question. It should also include author, the date of completion and details of the person or organisation for whom the report has been prepared.
Table of Contents
Make sure the pages and headings are numbered – begin with the abstract page. List the headings you have given to each section of the report, together with the page number.
Abstract (or Summary)
This short section should be written last, when the rest of the report has been completed. Its purpose is to summarise all the essential points of the report, including purpose, scope, methods, findings, conclusions and recommendations in the briefest possible way. However, it should make sense when read in isolation, so should not be just a list of headings, or in note form. The recipient of the report should be able to conclude from the abstract whether it is worthwhile reading the whole of it. It usually represents about 10% of the report word count.
The introduction must set the scene for the reader. It should explain what the report is about – what is the question you are seeking to answer? Why it has been written? If there is a specific client involved, state who they are. Give background information on the subject matter, particularly existing related research. What are the important themes in this subject area? Explain the methods you are going to use to answer the task and justify your choice based on your literature review. Mention any limitations of your chosen methodology.
If you have been asked to include a separate literature review and methodology then only briefly mention background and methods in an introduction.
The review is a critical evaluation of relevant past research. You must show insight and awareness of differing arguments and methodologies and how they relate to your investigation. You must identify research themes in the literature and or analyse papers according to alternative methodologies for comparison.
What are the strengths and weaknesses in the research you are reviewing? Where are the gaps in the research?
A good literature review is comprehensive, critical, and informative. It should be written like an essay in a discursive style, with an introduction, main discussion grouped in themes and a conclusion demonstrating how your proposed study will contribute to the current literature.
Make sure you use the library academic databases to review research literature. Click here for help with finding information.
You need to explain clearly, exactly what you did and why. Refer back to your literature review to justify the methods chosen, e.g. why did you use questionnaires or a particular type of experiment or particular sample size? Include any techniques or equipment used. The length of this section depends on the type of research being undertaken, but the key point is that a reader should be able to replicate what you did from your description.
Detail your key findings here. Remember to use headings and subheadings to separate different sections. Each section will cover a different topic or idea and be numbered accordingly.
You need to describe, analyse, interpret and evaluate the data you have found, do not just present raw data. Deal only with proven facts and avoid giving opinions at this point. Use graphs and illustrations where appropriate to enhance your presentation of particular points. If you have lots of results it is not necessary to list them all here, pick out the most important and use an appendix to present the rest. Make sure that you refer your reader to the results in the appendix at the appropriate point in the text. Avoid manipulating the text to support a conclusion you have already reached.
This should sum up the main points of your report. Do not introduce new material. The points made here should relate and flow logically from the results section. The conclusions you come to should substantiate the points made in the main text. You can express opinions, provided that you have the evidence to support them. Any problems, weakness or flaws in your research should be acknowledged in this section. You should make recommendations which arise naturally from your conclusions. Locate recommendations here or in a separate section as shown below depending on the length and complexity of your report.
Recommendations should be suggestions for improvements or future actions, based on the conclusions you have drawn earlier. They can be set out as brief statements rather than in a paragraph. Put the most important recommendations first.
The bibliography lists all the publications either cited in the report or referred to during its composition. If you are unsure what to include or which style to use then check with your tutor. You may also find the Referencing & Plagiarism section useful.
This contains material referred to in the report, which would interrupt the flow if it were included in the main body of the text, but which may be useful for your reader to refer to. Examples include large amounts of statistical data or calculations, questionnaires that you have used, a glossary of technical terms, maps, etc.
It can be useful to look at examples of good reports. The University of Plymouth has WrAssE (Writing for Assignments E-Library Project) which provides really useful examples as they are annotated to show why the reports are good. Enter the word 'report' into the search box and choose an appropriate result.
Use these examples as guides only, remember to be guided by your tutor or assignment brief as to the style and structure which you must use.