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How to write a report

Updated on April 25, 2015

Report writing is an incredibly demanding form of writing and goes beyond mere writing styles and practices to incorporate other areas (such as result presentation and analysis), which each have their own set of regulations. What’s more report writing is so very often at odds with other forms of writing and is additionally subject to a demanding purpose of presenting coherent information that is assessed, dissected and analysed to ultimately form conclusions that have been clearly backed up by the report's findings. It’s then unsurprising that given the purpose of a report that few naturally take to report writing; this guide aims to overcome this by explaining in clear jargon free language how to write a report.

What is a report and what is its purpose?

A report should serve as a well arranged document that provides some level of analysis in the assessment of a problem.

A report may include any or all of the following:

  • An official record of a chronological number of events

  • Interpretation and analysis into these events (including what may have caused these events to occur and/or what the future implication of such events may be)

  • Evaluation of a set of facts, figures or results

  • A formal discussion as to the outcomes of taking a particular route or making a certain decision

  • Conclusions based upon the evidence presented

  • Recommendations


How to write a report: Essential elements

Due to the nature of a report there is a very set formula and a whole range of writing rules to follow; specifically this means that a report should always be:

  • Accurate

  • Succinct

  • Coherent

  • Formally and correctly structured

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The initial steps for writing a report

When preparing to write a report it’s vital that you give the report brief the time and consideration that it commands. This stage should very much be considered as vital in forming the foundations of an effective report. At this stage you should:

  • Create a mind map of your initial thoughts

  • Note down key ideas

  • Refrain from gathering too much information

  • Create a list of key questions that you may have

  • Summarise the brief, re-writing it if necessary to break down what exactly is being asked of you

Throughout the process the most important thing that you should do is to continually ask yourself whether what you’re undertaking is relevant to the initial brief. It can be all too easy to find yourself, at the end of the process, having answered a completely different question to that which was originally posed in the brief.

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How to plan a report in a structured, progressive manner

When writing a report it’s important that you appreciate what is expected of the language and form of your writing; specifically this means:

  • Your language is formal, unbiased and unemotive

  • Your paragraphs are concise, with each serving a clear purpose

  • There is no use of colloquial words or terms

  • Words are written in full, rather than shorted (e.g. aren’t should be are not)

  • The entirety of the report is completely objective.


Report structure

A report’s format is incredibly structured and consists of the following sections in the order in which they’re listed (sections with an asterix aren’t always included).

  • Title page,

  • Acknowledgements,

  • Contents,

  • Terms of reference,

  • Procedure,

  • Materials and Athos,

  • Summary,

  • Introduction,

  • Main report body,

  • Results*,

  • Conclusions,

  • Recommendations*,

  • Appendices*,

  • References,

  • Bibliography*,

  • Glossary*

How to write a report: Writing style and author voice

Author voice

Previously the formal guidelines for author voice was that a passive approach should be taken; for example “the study was conducted…” instead of “we studied…”; today however many are of the viewpoint that such an approach can make the report overly complex and altogether rather unnecessary. Whilst some educational institutions have differing opinions on this, if you are able to write in the active voice (e.g. ‘I undertook...’, ‘We undertook...;’) then you should certainly consider doing so as it may make the entire process somewhat easier.


The defining differences between essay and report writing

Whilst essays follow a single narrative throughout, reports are formed of distinct sections, which may be subject to a different writing style or format as compared to the previous. For example, your methods section will be descriptive, whilst your introduction should be explanatory; these then compare to a discussion section which will be analytical.

How to Write a Good University Essay or Report

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What element of report writing do you find most intimdating?

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