Academic assignments: Reports

Report formats

Reports are a means of presenting experimental, investigative or research findings. Reports are usually divided into three parts:

  1. Preliminary information
    • title page
    • executive summary/synopsis
    • table of contents
    • list of illustrations
    • acknowledgements.
  2. Body of the report
    • A statement of aims including a hypothesis (that is what you intended to do).
    • A rationale for your research (that is why you did it).
    • A description of methodology (that is how you did the research).
    • Your results (that is what you found out).
    • Some analysis (that is an interpretation of what the results meant).
    • Conclusion (and recommendations for action).
  3. Supporting material
    • references
    • appendices.

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Business reports vary in their subject matter and length, but their structural layout is much the same as other reports.

Preliminaries

  • Title Page
  • Acknowledgments
    The names of people and organisations that contributed in any way to your research and analysis should be mentioned here. This would ordinarily not include participants who were part of your research.
  • Table of contents
    This lists everything contained in the report excluding the title page and the table of contents page itself. Page numbers must be included for every section listed. Short research reports of less than six pages (that is about 2000 words) would usually not include a table of contents. However, you should check with your lecturer before submitting your final draft for assessment.
  • List of illustrations
    Lists of illustrations, diagrams or tables of figures are provided after the Table of Contents on a separate page with the heading 'List of Tables' or 'List of Figures' or similar.
  • Executive summary
    A summary of the scope and purpose of your report, your methodology, main findings or results and the significance of these. The executive summary is written last after you have finalised your main findings.

Body of the report

  • Introduction
    This sets the context for the report. State what you plan to do in this report and why you have done this research (aim/purpose/your research question(s), important background information, key terms, and scope of the report.
  • Findings
    This is the bulk of the report. It is where the relevant data is analysed, and the main findings of the report are examined. The layout of the findings should be logically organised with each section and sub-section clearly labelled. Competing arguments, interpretations and solutions should be discussed and their relative merits evaluated.
  • Analysis
    This section may not always be necessary. But include this if you want to draw aspects of your findings together and present an explicit argument which will provide a firm basis for the conclusions and recommendations.
  • Conclusion
    This section is quite brief and covers the significance of the findings and implications for future research or practice. It might also mention alternative research tools or research questions to follow on from this topic.
  • Recommendations
    These are included if your research was investigative and your aim to make recommendations. These are based on the findings and analyses. Recommendations can be numbered and placed in priority order. With longer reports, in addition to providing a separate list of recommendations, some writers also prefer to place their recommendations at the end of the relevant sections within the body of the report.

Supporting Materials

  • Appendices
    Include materials which support your research such as raw data, details of surveys or questionnaires.
  • Reference List
    This should include books, journal articles or other texts that you have referred to in your report. Check the referencing style required by your lecturer.
  • Glossary
    If your report uses terminology that is specialised then it will be necessary to provide a list of these terms and their meanings in a glossary.
  • Abbreviations
    If you use a number of abbreviated terms for names of organisations, programs etcetera in your report, you should provide a list of abbreviations which make it easy for the reader to keep track of what these mean.

Laboratory reports describe experiments that you have carried out and explain the results.

Different lecturers may have their individual requirements for lab report layouts. However, most lab reports will require the following sections in the order presented:

Preliminaries

  • Title Page
  • Acknowledgments
    The names of people and organisations that contributed in any way to your research and analysis should be mentioned here. This would ordinarily not include participants who were part of your research experiment.
  • Table of contents
    This lists everything contained in the report excluding the title page and the table of contents page itself. Page numbers must be included for every section listed. Short research reports of less than six pages (that is about 2000 words) would usually not include a table of contents. However, you should check with your lecturer before submitting your final draft for assessment.
  • List of illustrations
    Lists of illustrations, diagrams or tables of figures are provided after the Table of Contents on a separate page with the heading 'List of Tables' or 'List of Figures' or similar.
  • Abstract
    A summary of the scope and purpose of your report, your methodology, main findings or results and the significance of these. The abstract is written last after you have finalised your main findings.

Body of the report

  • Introduction
    Include:
    • A brief statement of what your experiment has been designed to test.
    • An overview of the important research that has already been undertaken on your issue.
    Your overview should identify the major theories responsible for, or arising from, the existing research data. This section of your introduction provides the necessary background information for the statement of your hypothesis. This sets the context for the report.
  • Method
    Describe what was done (who or what was involved in the research) and how it was done including the equipment or materials used and the approach taken. The three most common subdivisions are of participants, apparatus, and procedure.
  • Results
    A summary of your findings but not a discussion of these. The raw data of your results should also only appear as an appendices, not in this section.
    If you were exploring more than one hypothesis, then the presentation of your results should reflect the order in which you laid out your hypotheses in your introduction.
    This section may contain graphics as well as text. But data must be clearly represented and explained. Only use graphics when it is the most efficient way of representing the results.
  • Discussion
    Your discussion should analyse how your findings relate to your research question(s) and aims. This section includes an interpretation and explanation of your results and why they are important.
    If the results were statistically significant then you need to reflect on the generality or applicability of the results. Any errors, whether of method or experimental design, should be noted and their influence of the outcome discussed. Similarly, any defects in the application of experimental procedures also need to be noted and their influence on the outcome accounted for.
    Your discussion should link your results and conclusions back to the theory or theories that informed your area of investigation. Here you can consider any implications that your findings might have for subsequent research. (This last section may replace the conclusion).
  • Conclusion
    This section is quite brief and covers the significance of the findings and implications for future research or practice. It might also mention alternative research tools or research questions to follow on from this topic.

Supporting Materials

  • Appendices
    Include materials which support your research such as raw data, details of surveys or questionnaires. Each set of data must be separately identified and labelled accordingly (that is 'Appendix A: Raw Data', 'Appendix B: Transcripts of Interviews').
  • References
    Check the referencing style required by your lecturer.

The purpose of a research report is to provide an account of your research in a particular area. This might be quantitative research (involving data that is measured and recorded with numbers in a laboratory or an experiment) or qualitative research (data based on interviews, focus group findings, archival and library based materials), or a combination of the two.

Your report will need to provide your reader with the following core information:

  • What was the purpose of your research?
  • What method(s) did you use?
  • What were the results?
  • What does it mean?

Different lecturers will have their individual requirements for report layouts. However, most research reports will require the following sections in the order presented:

Preliminaries

  • Title Page
  • Acknowledgments
    The names of people and organisations that contributed in any way to your research and analysis should be mentioned here. This would ordinarily not include participants who were part of your research experiment.
  • Table of contents
    This lists everything contained in the report excluding the title page and the table of contents page itself. Page numbers must be included for every section listed. Short research reports of less than six pages (that is about 2000 words) would usually not include a table of contents. However, you should check with your lecturer before submitting your final draft for assessment.
  • List of illustrations
    Lists of illustrations, diagrams or tables of figures are provided after the Table of Contents on a separate page with the heading 'List of Tables' or 'List of Figures' or similar.
  • Abstract
    A summary of the scope and purpose of your report, your methodology, main findings or results and the significance of these. The abstract is written last after you have finalised your main findings.

Body of the report

  • Introduction
    This sets the context for the report. State what you plan to do in this report and why you have done this research (aim/purpose/your research question(s), important background information, key terms, and scope of the report.
  • Literature review
    An overview of the sources relevant to the research (e.g. books, journal articles, government documents).
    May not be necessary in a shorter report.
  • Method
    Describe what was done (who or what was involved in the research) and how it was done including the equipment or materials used and the approach taken.
  • Results
    This section includes an interpretation and explanation of your results and why they are important. It may also explain why results were not as expected.
  • Discussion
    Your discussion should analyse how your findings relate to your research question(s) and aims.
  • Conclusion
    This section is quite brief and covers the significance of the findings and implications for future research or practice. It might also mention alternative research tools or research questions to follow on from this topic.

Supporting Materials

  • Appendices
    Include materials which support your research such as raw data, details of surveys or questionnaires.
  • References
    Check the referencing style required by your lecturer.

 

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