How to Write a Report
Knowing how to write a report and presenting it accordingly will ensure that your work will be taken seriously. There are many different types and styles of report depending on what you intend to write about. Templates for these can be found online. A good tip here is to look at the relevant governing body’s website for that discipline (i.e. CIM for marketing), as they will often have an industry standard to follow, however this article should provide you the general rules that you should keep to.
1- Ensure that you understand what it is that you’ve been asked to do. Whether at work or at college, make sure that you understand the topic and the question. If appropriate, ask, if not, search on the internet for definitions.
2- Define key words and research relevant theories around them. Some theories, findings or models will be more relevant than others so make a note of them and properly reference (if you have not been told what type of reference method you should adopt, a safe bet is always to use the ‘Harvard referencing system’)
3- Refine the top-line message that you wish to communicate. Is it a theory/thesis/hypothesis or an antithesis/null-hypothesis? Is it a recommendation or a call to action for management? Now that you better understand what you’ve been asked to do and you have the general theory from which you can proceed, state your intent.
4- Prepare an outline. There should be: An executive summary/abstract (to be written last but placed first. This is an overall summary of the entire report), an introduction (history about the subject/company/sector which should include relevant theory), methodology/approach (how you went about gathering your findings), results and analysis (evidence and your evaluation of it), and a conclusion (what the take home messages are and areas to look into going forward).
5- Start writing! Often the hardest thing to do is to actually start! As soon as things are prepared and planned, start putting things down on paper. If you’re not entirely sure of your direction at this stage, writing will help you find it. Once you have an outline that can serve as your roadmap, start writing the report.
6- In order to appear professional, properly format the report. Using a template (as suggested in my introduction) will help, however failing that, at the very least properly number your sections i.e: 1 Introduction, and then any sub headings underneath this might be 1.1 History, 1.2 Relevant theory. You can even divide further i.e. 1.21 Johnson’s theory, 1.23 Smith’s theory. All numbered heading should appear in your contents page (which usually, although not always, will come after your abstract/executive summary).
7- Having used a reference system, you should finish by closing the report with a list of all of your sources.
8- Complete your report in good time as viewing it ‘afresh’ a few days later will allow for new insight and a better perspective for possible amendments.
If you’re writing a scientific report, try to only use ‘peer reviewed’ sources i.e. something that has been published in a recognised journal.
If in doubt, simply start writing as it will help you to identify the gaps in your research and provide you with better direction.
Always start a report as soon as possible after being assigned it as it is very difficult to predetermine how long it will take you.
First impressions count so make sure that your report looks the part.