This resource will provide a general overview of what a report is, how to plan your report, the general structure of a report and different reports types.
What is a report?
A report is a written text that provides information on a particular topic, by analysing, describing and evaluating a situation or topic. Reports are the second most common form of assessment after essays. Whereas an essay is an extended evidence-based argument in response to a question, a report tends to be an informative and factual analysis of a problem or situation.
Reports consist of sections and subsections, each with a specific purpose and marked with a concise and meaningful heading or subheading for the reader to find information in the report quickly and easily. Reports often also include information presented in numbered and captioned tables and figures (charts/graphs, images and diagrams) that provide a visual or numerical representation of important information.
Types of report
The structure of a report can vary depending on the purpose or type of report you need to write. Some different report types are shown in the table below. Examples of each of these types of reports are easy to find.
Structure of a report
A commonly used structure for reports is given below:
Includes the report title, which should be concise and informative, as well as the author's name and submission date.
Abstract or executive summary
Provides the reader with a concise summary of what is included in the report, including the aims/objectives, methods of research or analysis, the findings and what the findings mean.
Table of contents
A numbered list of the headings and sub-headings with the relevant page number.
This is where the topic of the report is introduced. The introduction will generally: provide background information to contextualize the content of the report for the reader; clearly state the aim and purpose of the report; and provide a brief overview of the content of the report.
The body sections you include in your report will depend on the type and purpose of your report. For example, the body might include sections on:
- Description of the context
- Discussion or analysis of the subject matter
- Materials and methods used in tests or experiments
- Description of the end results, presenting the findings relevant to the original question of the investigation.
- Discussion or interpretation of findings or results
The conclusion identifies whether the aim of the investigation was achieved, states any implications and provides a brief summary of the report.
List of references (sources and material) cited in the report.
Any additional information that was referred to in the report to support the analysis but was not essential in explaining the findings can be included in an appendix at the end of the report. Material in the appendix can include supporting evidence, figures, graphs, questionnaires, letters and statistics.
Planning your report
Topic and aim
Before commencing your report, read the assessment task instructions in the subject outline and the marking guideline. These will help you understand the aim of your report.
You need to be aware of who you are writing for. The audience could be your lecturer or other students or, if the task is scenario-based, it could be a hypothetical audience such as a client, colleague or supervisor. Be aware that you need to take into consideration the level of understanding that your audience will already have about the topic. For example, if you are writing an engineering report, the content and language will differ depending on whether your audience has a technical background. The assessment task guidelines should provide you with an idea of who the report is for. If you are unsure, ask your tutor or subject coordinator.
Because reports are written for academic or professional purposes, the language you use needs to be formal. This means the report must present factual information in an objective, impartial and impersonal style, avoiding the use of colloquialisms and personal pronouns, such as ‘I’, ‘we’ and ‘us’.