Adapted from: Payne E, & Whittaker L,2000, Developing Essential Study Skills, Prentice Hall, Harlow.
Writing a Report
Report writing is very relevant to many forms of employment as well as your academic life. Unlike essays that are academic and theory based, reports are action based and with a wider scope. Reports use skills of application – applying what has been learned to a particular situation – not merely investigating and theorising.
Reports are commonly used to communicate ideas, facts, findings or actions to be taken.
Above all reports must be – objective, accurate and concise but sufficiently comprehensive for the reader to understand the issues. Reports aim to persuade, obtain agreement or cooperation.
You might use the same skills learned in report writing in writing your dissertation.
There are four logical stages: Preliminary – preparation – writing- review
Why are you writing the report?
• To provide information – usually a straight forward statement of facts or explanation of events or findings – report on a conference – summary of new procedures – company’s annual report for the shareholders • To make a request – to persuade or motivate the reader into action – a request to purchase a new piece of equipment – to change a procedure – to ask for a donation to a charity • To influence decision-making – a proposal to launch a new product • To solve a problem – results of an investigation are presented and recommendations offered based on findings Some reports may be a combination of two or more of these.
What are you writing about?
As with any introduction, it is important to identify the major subject matter or focus of the report and the themes and issues that will need to be included. This will help you collect the materials needed for the report.
Two different reports for two different organisations – environmentalists v. road construction company – may collect the same facts but emphasise different points to persuade their respective audiences.
Who is the intended reader ?
The report should meet the requirements, needs and interests of the reader.
• What does the reader know about the subject areas. Communicate at the appropriate level of knowledge. If you overestimate their expertise you may blind them with science – if you underestimate you may bore them • What does the reader want/need to know. This will help you prepare your case • What are the reader’s opinions of the subject of the report. Is it important to the reader – will they support or oppose the recommendations. They may influence how you present your final report. • What are the reader’s preferences. – what format or style would suit your audience – what about visual presentation of data – graphs, bar charts, pie charts etc.Would these aid understanding. If it is a company report – is there a ‘house style’. • Are there any limitations. What resources are available – what time is available – what funding – how will you get information – is there published material – if not you may need to use primary source material –interviews etc.
What does my reader need to know about the subject?
Terms of reference:
You may be asked for a Terms of Reference in which you should : • Define the scope of the report
• Indicate how you intend to achieve the objective
• Outline the aspects to be considered
• Indicate the limitations to be observed
These form the basis of your report and in a report for university you may be graded on how successfully you have achieved your Terms of Reference.
1. To investigate the range of photocopying equipment on the market in order to make recommendations for the purchase of new machines for the HQ offices. 2. To establish the relative costs of renting, buying and leasing photocopying equipment and to make recommendations.
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