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Your ability to write essays will dramatically affect your performance at university level. You need to be able to write an essay well. Good essay writing is not a skill you are born with, but it is a skill you can learn.

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Date: Saturday, 11 July 2020, 8:52 AM

Writing reports


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Generally speaking, when writing a report it is very important that you can write clearly in order to progress.

Report writing is a skill that could serve you very well in your future career.  For example, business reports, engineering reports, legal reports.

Writing a report is very different from writing an essay.

To succeed at writing essays you need to know how to analyse the question and plan the structure.

The difference between essays & reports


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Usually your tutor will decide what form your writing should take and will lay it out in the assessment criteria. However, the further you go into your academic career, the more freedom of choice you will have. This means that you need to engage more in the decision of what is the most appropriate form of writing.

For your university life, and for your working life beyond, it’s important to be able to distinguish between a report and an essay, and to be able to understand why you might write one rather than the other.

    When choosing to write a report or an essay for your assignment you should understand these key differences:

    Purpose

    Reports are the presentation and analysis of findings from practical research. They begin with an aim (to investigate, to explore) and probably a hypothesis (a proposition that the research will test). Depending on the guidelines or purpose, a report may make recommendations.

    Essays begin with a question and seek to answer that question based on research into existing theories and through the writer’s own evaluation. An essay may include results of practical research but only in so far as it may help support the writer’s conclusions.

    Content

    Reports are generally descriptive, reporting sequential events (experiments or fixed results from surveys etc). However, they involve an evaluation in either the conclusion or recommendations sections.

    Essays can be descriptive, discursive, evaluative, etc. This is dependent on the process given in the essay question. Content usually involves a synthesis of knowledge gained from existing texts and from the author's own opinions and argument.

    Format

    Both essays and reports use an introduction and conclusion format. The main content, findings, analysis etc. come inbetween.

    A report generally has a  fixed structure. The choice of sections will depend on the purpose of your report and, while at uni, the preferences of your tutor or department.

    In an essay, the thought process taken from the question dictates the structure of the main body of an essay.

    Differences between reports and essays (PDF opens in new window)

    Getting started with report writing


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    When preparing for the writing of your report, ask yourself the following questions:

    1. What guidelines have you been given?

    Do you have a brief, guidelines, marking criteria, advice or notes about how to write your report?

    2. What’s the purpose of the report?

    Clarify what your Purpose / Aim / Objective is.
    Below are some typical purposes for reports. Which one(s) relate(s) to your report?

    • To test theories
    • To test hypotheses
    • To analyse a problem
    • To report on experiment findings
    • To observe events in the real world
    • To observe events in a controlled environment
    • To report findings
    • To draw conclusions
    • To recommend solutions

    3. What type of report is it?

    Check with your tutor about the type of report you are expected to write. If it is left for you to decide always keep in mind the purpose of your report, and the context (e.g. is it for a technical subject, social science or business?).

    • Technical report - simulates the reporting process required in industry (e.g. engineering). Could analyse a problem (case study);
    • Business report - general reporting on the condition of a company or a part of a company. This will often take the form of a case study;
    • Case study - a detailed account of a company, industry, person or project over a given amount of time, possibly looking at company objectives, strategies, challenges, results, etc.;
    • Field report - reporting and reflecting on experiences observed ‘in the field’, (genuine real life situations). This may be observing a court session, teaching practice, work experience, etc.;
    • Scientific report - reporting and reflecting on results observed in controlled, scientific conditions, e.g. lab tests, controlled experiments, etc.

    4. What do I need to show?

    Decide what it is that you want your report to show, based on the type of report you are required to write (or which best suits your purpose in writing).

    • results of my own research;
    • analysis of my own research;
    • my analysis of an existing problem or situation;
    • my conclusions based on my own analysis;
    • my recommendations based on my own conclusions;
    • my analysis of existing research and theories;
    • synthesis of existing research and theories; my own results and conclusions?

    5. What do I need to do?

    There are several stages in preparing for and writing your research. Consider the actions below in order to write your report (not all actions are relevant to your report):

    • Background reading into existing theories and research;
    • Analysis of strengths and weaknesses of existing theory and research;
    • Identifying the ‘gap’ in existing theory that your research may fill;
    • Analysis of the case or problem you are studying;
    • Study of similar cases or problems to the one you are examining in your report;
    • Conduct research activities;
    • Write up your notes on your research results;
    • Analysis of your research results;
    • Comparison of your results with existing theory and research to draw conclusions;
    • Comparison of your conclusions with existing conditions or activities in order to make recommendations.

    If you are clear on the purpose of your report, the type of report you are going to write, what you need to show and what you need to do in your report, then it should not be too difficult to plan it.

    Each section of a good report must be written in a clear, concise, complete and correct way.

    • Write with the reader in mind – what can I do to make it easy for the reader to understand?
    • Don’t over complicate – state things as simply as possible.
    • Keep the report as short as possible - don't be too wordy.
    • Be objective – report precisely and evaluate as fairly as you can.
    • Generally, write in the third person – avoid using ‘I’ (check with your tutor for guidance).
    • Use the correct diagram, table or illustration in the correct place for the reader, with the correct label.

    You can download a summary of this section here:

    Report summary (PDF opens in new window)

    Using the correct sections


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    How do I know which sections to include?

    • Read your brief or guidelines - Has you tutor told you already?
    • Read similar examples - Do you have any examples of other student’s work or of similar professional work?
    • Go back to your notes - Have your lecturers talked about approaches to this kind of report in your lectures?
    • Use your own judgement - Think about what the purpose of the report is, and work out what sections will fulfil that.

    Your report may include some or all of the following sections in this order:

    Title

    A clear statement of what the report is about. Gives the topic you are addressing and your approach. When you have completed your report, go back and check that the title still fits the paper you have written.

    Writing approach: A single phrase or statement (no longer than one sentence).
    In every type of report? Yes.
    Position: If you’re using a cover page, put the title there. If not, put it above the abstract.

    Abstract

    The abstract allows an interested reader to quickly assess whether they wish to read the whole paper. Provides a shortened version of what the complete report says. It should refer to the purpose, include the methods used and the most important results. It should report any conclusions or recommendations.

    Writing approach: Descriptive. The abstract describes the content of your report.
    In every type of report? Most, but some very short reports may not require one.
    Position: The first section of your report. If you don’t have a cover page, then the title of the paper can go immediately above the abstract.

    Remember:

    A word limit of about 150-200 words is common for an abstract.

    Introduction

    An expansion of your title. More detail about the problem or question you are tackling in the paper. Makes a clear statement of your purpose – Why did you carry out the research? Why are you writing this report?

    Indicate the scope of your research. Outline the sections to be included and give a brief statement of the background to the topic. Define any key terms which aid understanding in the introduction.

    Writing approach: Descriptive.
    In every type of report? Yes
    Position: at the beginning of the paper, immediately after the abstract. If you are not expected to write an abstract, then the introduction will come at the beginning of the paper.

    Literature survey (or Literature review)

    Describes the existing and established theory and research in your report area. You are providing a context for your work. Can be used to show where you are filling a perceived gap in the existing theory or knowledge, or you are proposing something that goes against or is controversial to existing ideas. Accurately reference all sources mentioned here and give a full citation in the Reference List.

    Writing approach: Descriptive.
    In every type of report? No. In a lot of professional reports this section is not necessary. However, for the majority of academic reports it is. The literature survey shows the scope of your study and your understanding of the existing theory.
    Position: After the introduction and before the methodology.

    Methodology

    Explain what methods you used in researching and developing your report. If someone else chooses to carry out the same or a very similar type of study, they should be able to understand and copy your methods from your descriptions.

    Writing approach: Descriptive.
    In every type of report? Usually, yes. The only exceptions may be in a professional situation where the method of collecting data will be so familiar as to be unnecessary to describe. However, at university you are generally going to need to include this.
    Position: Following the introduction (and Literature survey if one is included)

    Results (or Findings)

    Describe everything you find out through your research. Give all of the results, and only the results of your research activities. Do this in an objective and factual way. Include tables, graphs or illustrations to make it easier for the reader to understand the data. Do not include any discussion, argument or conclusions – those come later.

    Writing approach: Descriptive.
    In every type of report? Yes.
    Position: Central to the report. Will come after the Introduction (Literature survey and Methodology if these are included). Must come directly before the Discussion section.

    Discussion

    Interpret your own understanding of what the results of your research show. Make interpretations and judgements. Contextualise your ideas in relation to other theories and with other similar research, particularly in reference to the works mentioned in your literature survey. Discussion must be framed within the purpose you stated in your title and introduction. Do not draw out your conclusions here, but open up the discussion of possibilities.

    Writing approach: Discursive and evaluative.
    In every type of report? Yes.
    Position: Following the Results.

    Conclusions

    Here you reach your point. Bear these questions in mind:

    • What, in your conclusion, did your research show in relation to your aims?
    • Did you meet your aims, go beyond them, or in fact fail to reach your aims?
    • Did you prove your own hypothesis or disprove it?

    Give a brief and clear statement of what these results show.

    Writing approach: Evaluative and possibly argumentative.
    In every type of report? No. Depends on purpose. Check with your tutor.
    Position: Following the Discussion.

    Recommendations

    The inclusion of recommendations will depend very much on the nature of the report you write, and the context you write it in. If the report provides information on an area for which future decisions will need to be made, then you should include recommendations on what decisions to make. The recommendations must be cross referenced to the part of the paper that gives evidence for them. Number each recommendation separately. Check with your tutor or department whether you should include recommendations in your report or not.

    Writing approach: Evaluative.
    In every type of report? No. Depends on purpose. Check with your tutor.
    Position: Following the Conclusions.

    Reference list

    Detailed references for all source materials you used (anything that was written or stated by someone other than yourself). Give a brief reference in the text of the report for each, but the full citation appears here. Give references for any tables, graphs or illustrations you have copied from another source.

    Writing approach: List
    In every type of report? Usually, when writing a report for university assessment you will need to show some sort of knowledge of existing ideas for which you will need to reference your sources.
    Position: The very last section of your report, unless you have appendices (appendices come after the reference list)

    Appendices

    Any material relating to the research and the report that does not fit easily or suitably in the body of the paper. For example, functional data used to carry out your research (survey questionnaires or observation sheets). Can include supplementary data that, while not essential to the understanding of the report, does add useful information or insight. Number and title each individual appendix and start each on a new page.

    Writing approach: Dependent on content and purpose. Usually either examples of documents used in the research process, or descriptions of extra supplementary details.
    In every type of report? No. Only when necessary.
    Position: Always the final section of your report.

    Report Template-Psychology (Word doc)
    General Report Template (Word doc)

    Get the content right


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    The content of a report is dictated by the structure of your paper, unlike an essay where you make decisions about structure and argument. Each section of the report has a distinct purpose in the overall paper. The way it is written is clearly defined.

    1. Questions to ask yourself

    To ensure that you are planning and writing the correct content for your report:

    • Is the format of the report pre-defined?
    • What are the departmental requirements?
    • Has your tutor told you the type of report you are expected to write?
    • How much ‘freedom’ do you have to decide on the content?
    • Can you get examples of previous reports?
    • Are there industry standards for reports in your subject?

    Available and useful sources to you could be:

    • Your own tutor
    • Other lecturers
    • Classmates
    • Your own reflection
    • Source material in the library
    • Source material on the Internet

    2. Do the ground work

    The work for a report is mostly done in advance. You are reporting on the work you have done. The work will be determined by:

    a) the subject you are studying;
    b) the purpose of the research activity.

    Consider which of the activities below apply to your current project:

    • Analyse an existing case or problem
    • Create a set of test conditions to examine
    • Observe conditions or behaviour in a natural environment
    • Conduct surveys
    • Conduct interviews
    • Conduct experiments

    Remember:

    All analysis, evaluation, discussion, comparison to theory, conclusions and recommendations arise from the work that you carry out in advance of the report writing process.

    Can you now state clearly whether the work you have done (and its results) proves your hypothesis or not; fulfils your aims or not?

    3. Keep accurate records of research activities and results

    4. How to write well

    • Write with the reader in mind – what can I do to make it easy for the reader to understand?
    • Don’t over complicate – state things as simply as possible.
    • Keep the report as short as possible- don't be too wordy.
    • Be objective – report precisely and evaluate as fairly as you can.
    • Generally, write in the third person – avoid using ‘I’ (check with your tutor for guidance).
    • Use the correct diagram, table or illustration in the correct place for the reader, with the correct label.

    Remember:

    The Writing Strategies chapter also covers:

    • Writing clearly and concisely;
    • How to construct paragraphs and sentences;
    • Using a clear structure;
    • Linking ideas (‘signposting’);
    • Academic style.

    Report writing checklist


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    In order to do well, you need to do the following:

    Checklist

    • Check with your tutor which report sections you need to include
    • Understand clearly what information goes into each of the sections
    • Know if you are expected to draw conclusions and make recommendations
    • Be clear what the purpose of your report is
    • Plan the stages of research and writing the report carefully
    • Do your research – the ground work for your report
    • Keep very accurate records of all of your findings
    • Report precisely and evaluate honestly
    • Study examples of similar reports to understand the correct style and content to use
    • Write clear references for all quotations and source material you use in your report
    • Write with the reader in mind at all time
    Report Writing Summary Leaflet (PDF opens in new window)

    Avoiding plagiarism


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    Plagiarism is taking the words, theories, creations or ideas of another person and passing them off as your own.

    Plagiarism can be deliberate – copying a passage from a book or journal or pasting something from the internet into an assignment without referencing the original source.

    You can also commit inadvertent plagiarism which is where you unintentionally repeat some of the information you have read in the course of your research. You must ensure you do reference ALL material that comes from another source so question yourself as to whether you have read the information elsewhere and go back to your sources to locate the reference.

    Plagiarism can also result from not referencing correctly. You must ensure you know how to reference your work using the style advised by your tutor.

    Watch this video to find out more about avoiding plagiarism:

    Consequences

    Plagiarism is a serious issue that can result in failing an assignment, failing the year or even having to leave the course. All forms of plagiarism will be taken seriously - deliberate or not!

    Plagiarism is a form of academic misconduct. Southampton Solent University has clear guidelines on student academic conduct and procedures for dealing with academic misconduct. Make sure you are familiar with these by looking at the links on this webpage:

    Student academic misconduct (Weblink opens in new window)

    To avoid plagiarism, make sure you include references within your assignment to all sources you use and then include full details of all the sources in a reference list at the end of your work.

    To find out more, download the Avoiding plagiarism summary below.

    Avoiding plagiarism summary leaflet (PDF opens in new window)

    Test your understanding of what plagiarism is by clicking on the links below.


    More help


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    If you'd like some more help with Writing reports you can:

    • Ask your lecturer for guidance.
    • If you are a disabled student you can contact Access Solent for guidance and support.
    • View the glossary to help you understand the words used.
    • Read a book or ebook from the reading list found in Extra resources.
    • Visit recommended websites in Extra resources for further guidance on Writing reports.

    If you have any feedback about this book or additional material you'd like to see in the course, please email us at succeed@solent.ac.uk.

    Thank you to all staff and students at Southampton Solent University who contributed to this course.

    Extra resources


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    Reading List

    Read a book or ebook from the Writing Reports reading list.

    The following titles are available from the library:

    http://www.refworks.com/refshare?site=039761155528000000/RWWEB1071348952/writing%20academically&rss#Harvard-SSU

    Subject specific books or ebooks

    http://www.refworks.com/refshare?site=039761155528000000/RWWEB1071348952/writing%20academically%20subjects&rss#Harvard-SSU

    Recommended websites


    Click on these recommended websites below for further guidance on Writing Reports.

    BBC Adult learning : learning online learning, support and advice (Opens in new window)

    A useful site with tips for adult learners. It includes advice on improving study skills, courses and support.

    University of Bolton interactive study skills tutorial (Opens in new window)

    Provides a range of study skills tutorials to improve study techniques. Tutorials cover information skills, computer skills, research skills such as literature reviews and dissertations and study skills such as note taking and report and essay writing.

    Online courses from the Open University (Opens in new window)

    Downloadables


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    Documents used in this resource

    Differences between reports and essays (PDF opens in new window)
    Illustration reference example (PDF opens in new window)
    List of illustrations (PDF opens in new window)
    Report template - General (Word doc)
    Report template - Psychology (Word doc)
    Report writing - How to get started (PDF opens in new window)
    Report writing summary leaflet (PDF opens in new window)