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- Academic Skills
- Report writing
This quick guide will help you identify the common elements and basic format of a research report.
Research reports generally follow a similar structure and have common elements, each with a particular purpose. Learn more about each of these elements below.
Common elements of reports
Your title should be brief, topic-specific, and informative, clearly indicating the purpose and scope of your study. Include key words in your title so that search engines can easily access your work. For example: Measurement of water around Station Pier.
An abstract is a concise summary that helps readers to quickly assess the content and direction of your paper. It should be brief, written in a single paragraph and cover: the scope and purpose of your report; an overview of methodology; a summary of the main findings or results; principal conclusions or significance of the findings; and recommendations made.
The information in the abstract must be presented in the same order as it is in your report. The abstract is usually written last when you have developed your arguments and synthesised the results.
The introduction creates the context for your research. It should provide sufficient background to allow the reader to understand and evaluate your study without needing to refer to previous publications. After reading the introduction your reader should understand exactly what your research is about, what you plan to do, why you are undertaking this research and which methods you have used. Introductions generally include:
- The rationale for the present study. Why are you interested in this topic? Why is this topic worth investigating?
- Key terms and definitions.
- An outline of the research questions and hypotheses; the assumptions or propositions that your research will test.
Not all research reports have a separate literature review section. In shorter research reports, the review is usually part of the Introduction.
A literature review is a critical survey of recent relevant research in a particular field. The review should be a selection of carefully organised, focused and relevant literature that develops a narrative ‘story’ about your topic. Your review should answer key questions about the literature:
- What is the current state of knowledge on the topic?
- What differences in approaches / methodologies are there?
- Where are the strengths and weaknesses of the research?
- What further research is needed? The review may identify a gap in the literature which provides a rationale for your study and supports your research questions and methodology.
The review is not just a summary of all you have read. Rather, it must develop an argument or a point of view that supports your chosen methodology and research questions.
The purpose of this section is to detail how you conducted your research so that others can understand and replicate your approach.
You need to briefly describe the subjects (if appropriate), any equipment or materials used and the approach taken. If the research method or method of data analysis is commonly used within your field of study, then simply reference the procedure. If, however, your methods are new or controversial then you need to describe them in more detail and provide a rationale for your approach. The methodology is written in the past tense and should be as concise as possible.
This section is a concise, factual summary of your findings, listed under headings appropriate to your research questions. It’s common to use tables and graphics. Raw data or details about the method of statistical analysis used should be included in the Appendices.
Present your results in a consistent manner. For example, if you present the first group of results as percentages, it will be confusing for the reader and difficult to make comparisons of data if later results are presented as fractions or as decimal values.
In general, you won’t discuss your results here. Any analysis of your results usually occurs in the Discussion section.
Notes on visual data representation:
- Graphs and tables may be used to reveal trends in your data, but they must be explained and referred to in adjacent accompanying text.
- Figures and tables do not simply repeat information given in the text: they summarise, amplify or complement it.
- Graphs are always referred to as ‘Figures’, and both axes must be clearly labelled.
- Tables must be numbered, and they must be able to stand-alone or make sense without your reader needing to read all of the accompanying text.
The Discussion responds to the hypothesis or research question. This section is where you interpret your results, account for your findings and explain their significance within the context of other research. Consider the adequacy of your sampling techniques, the scope and long-term implications of your study, any problems with data collection or analysis and any assumptions on which your study was based. This is also the place to discuss any disappointing results and address limitations.
Checklist for the discussion
- To what extent was each hypothesis supported?
- To what extent are your findings validated or supported by other research?
- Were there unexpected variables that affected your results?
- On reflection, was your research method appropriate?
- Can you account for any differences between your results and other studies?
Conclusions in research reports are generally fairly short and should follow on naturally from points raised in the Discussion. In this section you should discuss the significance of your findings. To what extent and in what ways are your findings useful or conclusive? Is further research required? If so, based on your research experience, what suggestions could you make about improvements to the scope or methodology of future studies?
Also, consider the practical implications of your results and any recommendations you could make. For example, if your research is on reading strategies in the primary school classroom, what are the implications of your results for the classroom teacher? What recommendations could you make for teachers?
A Reference List contains all the resources you have cited in your work, while a Bibliography is a wider list containing all the resources you have consulted (but not necessarily cited) in the preparation of your work. It is important to check which of these is required, and the preferred format, style of references and presentation requirements of your own department.
Appendices (singular ‘Appendix’) provide supporting material to your project. Examples of such materials include:
- Relevant letters to participants and organisations (e.g. regarding the ethics or conduct of the project).
- Background reports.
- Detailed calculations.
Different types of data are presented in separate appendices. Each appendix must be titled, labelled with a number or letter, and referred to in the body of the report.
Appendices are placed at the end of a report, and the contents are generally not included in the word count.
Fi nal ti p
While there are many common elements to research reports, it’s always best to double check the exact requirements for your task. You may find that you don’t need some sections, can combine others or have specific requirements about referencing, formatting or word limits.
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Business Communication - How to Write a Powerful Business Report
Business communication -, how to write a powerful business report, business communication how to write a powerful business report.
Business Communication: How to Write a Powerful Business Report
Lesson 8: how to write a powerful business report.
How to write a powerful business report
When a company needs to make an informed decision, it can create a business report to guide its leaders. Business reports use facts and research to study data, analyze performance, and provide recommendations on a company's future.
Watch the video below to learn how to write and format a business report.
The basics of a business report
Business reports are always formal , objective , and heavily researched . Every fact must be clear and verifiable, regardless of whether the report focuses on a single situation or examines the overall performance of an entire company.
Because objectivity is crucial in a business report, avoid subjective descriptions that tell the reader how to feel. For instance, if sales were down last quarter, don’t say “Sales were terrible last quarter,” but rather let the sales data speak for itself. There should also be no personal pronouns, such as “I think we should invest more capital.” A business report should remain impersonal and framed from the company’s perspective.
The structure of a business report
Although the size of a report can range from one page to 100, structure is always important because it allows readers to navigate the document easily. While this structure can vary due to report length or company standards, we’ve listed a common, reliable structure below:
- Front matter : List your name, job title, contact information, and the date of submission. You can also create a title for the report.
- Background : State the background of the topic you’ll be addressing, along with the purpose of the report itself.
- Key findings : Provide facts , data , and key findings that are relevant to the purpose stated in the background. Be clear and specific, especially because the entire report depends on the information in this section.
- Conclusion : Summarize and interpret the key findings, identify issues found within the data, and answer questions raised by the purpose.
- Recommendations : Recommend solutions to any problems mentioned in the conclusion, and summarize how these solutions would work. Although you’re providing your own opinion in this section, avoid using personal pronouns and keep everything framed through the company’s perspective.
- References : List the sources for all the data you've cited throughout the report. This allows people to see where you got your information and investigate these same sources.
Some companies may also require an executive summary after the front matter section, which is a complete summary that includes the report’s background, key findings, and recommendations. This section lets people learn the highlights quickly without having to read the entire document. The size of an executive summary can range from a paragraph to multiple pages, depending on the length of the report.
As mentioned in Business Writing Essentials , revision is key to producing an effective document. Review your writing to keep it focused and free of proofreading errors, and ensure your factual information is correct and presented objectively. We also recommend you get feedback from a colleague before submitting your work because they can spot errors you missed or find new opportunities for analysis or discussion.
Once you’ve revised your content, think about the report’s appearance . Consider turning your front matter section into a cover page to add some visual polish. You can also create a table of contents if the report is lengthy. If you’re printing it out, use quality paper and a folder or binder to hold the report together. To diversify the presentation of your data, try using bulleted lists, graphics, and charts.
Example of a business report
To demonstrate the principles of this lesson, we’ve created a brief business report for you to review.
Let's start by looking at the first page of this two-page report.
The layout of the front matter is simple and effective, while the background sets the stage in a quick, specific manner. The key findings provide the main takeaways that warrant further investigation, along with a chart to add emphasis and visual variety.
Now let's look at the following page.
The conclusion features a little of the writer's opinion on the key findings, although the writing is still centered around the company's perspective. The recommendations are clear and supported by the data, while the references are thorough.
While business reports may seem intimidating, you have the ability to create a thorough, informative document through practice and careful research. Collect the facts and present them in an organized, objective manner, and you’ll help your business make informed decisions.