Archived (reports)

Getting started with report writing

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)