At some point in your educational career, you will be required to do report writing, particularly if your area of study is in science and technology, engineering, medicine, or business. If you have been assigned a report to write and you are wondering how to write a report, then you are in luck. It’s easier than you think!
The key to report writing is:
You need to be organized and have all your data collected and analysed so you can write a report that is accurate and conveys the information you want to get across in the most factual and authoritative manner. That said you first need to have a solid understanding of what a report is.
What is a report?
A report is precisely as its name suggests. It is a way to report on data that you have collected and analyzed so that the intended audience can understand the information in relation to a specific issue or problem. Reports always follow a clear and defined structure that includes sections and subsections you have designed to allow the information to be organized in a logical manner.
But that’s not all:
There are a number of very good reasons why you are learning to write reports as detailed below:
- You must thoroughly understand everything you have learned from the work you have done or the reading or research you have conducted
- You must have learned how to adequately collect relevant data and analyze it.
- You must have learned how to organize the data and analysis in a way that is logical and makes sense.
- You should be able to come to reasonable conclusions based on the evidence and analysis of the data.
- You should be able to provide recommendations for future work in the area of research, where appropriate.
The history of reports
You might be surprised to learn that your merciless instructor did not make up report writing simply to torture you. Instead, the police were the first to use it in a professional capacity. Writing reports evolved from the need for police to report on actions they took to preserve the law and protect citizens. The first police reports were provided to Caesar in 27 BC by his police, the Roman Vigiles.
The British Bobbies have the honor of being the first professional police force in the world. This force was established in 1829 and they conducted themselves with strict discipline, taking pride in a professional appearance. They took in recruitment and report writing very seriously. It wasn’t until 1902 when the International Association of Chiefs of Police was launched in the U.S.
So, who specifically do you have to thank for your report writing assignment?
August Vollmer! Vollmer was the chief of the Berkeley P.D. and he was also the patriarch of police professionalism. Thanks to Vollmer, the U.S. acquired crime labs, fingerprint repositories, and standardized crime reporting.
Vollmer was also responsible for establishing the first police training academy, which he thought was necessary because universities didn’t offer adequate training for police officers. The academy was the home of the first department of criminology in the country and they taught methods of effective report writing.
Our modern form of writing reports evolved in part from the harsh and strict atmosphere of police training and this strict form of education and professional expectation continues today. In fact, the Law Enforcement Resource Center points out that you can actually take a police report writing course via online training to learn the proper report writing skills.
Now that you have a sense of where the concept of the report comes from, it is time to learn how to structure a report.
General structure of a report
While there are many different styles of reports that depend on the various disciplines for which they are written, there is a basic report writing structure that is a minimum requirement for any report you will write. Let’s take a look at the writing structure and organization of a basic report:
- Overview: This is where you will write a summary of the whole report that informs the reader what is covered in the report. At the very least, this summary will introduce the purpose of the report and the primary features. You might also mention any conclusions reached and offer up recommendations.
- Background: This is the section in which you provide the purpose of the report in greater detail. The background information for the report is also introduced here. This background addresses the 5 Ws: Who, What, Where, When, and Why.
- Discussion: This is where you present your results and findings. You will include all your evidence, all data, results, and arguments, in this section and it must be well-organized. Use headings and subheadings to ensure your information makes sense to the reader.
- Conclusion: This is where you review the primary points from your discussion and state all conclusions to which you have arrived. You should discuss the main conclusion first, followed by the remaining conclusions, presented in a logical order. You can also provide recommendations, it this is relevant to your report.
While each of these must be present in a general report structure and format, specialized types of report writing might call these sections by different names and they might include additional sections to help deliver the required information.
At the very least, you should generally include a title page, a table of contents, and appendices. The University of Surrey and De Montfort University provide great examples of a report writing format.
With that in mind, let’s take a look at some specific and common types of reports that you might be asked to write.
Regardless of whether you see a specific format for report writing here or elsewhere, you have to ensure that it fits with the type of report you are required to write. To make sure this is the case, here are some helpful tips:
- Read all formatting guidelines carefully and pay close attention to the language used in report writing guidelines. It is rare for an official website to use colloquialisms, so if you see these, the guidelines might not be reliable.
- Make sure the guidelines are suitable for the type of report you will be writing. Since there are many types of reports, there is a good chance that the guidelines you have come across are for a different type of report.
- Do not carelessly follow any guidelines. Even if the guidelines for writing a report essay are written according to high standards, it does not mean that you need to include all sections recommended in the guidelines. Only include the sections that are relevant to your report and modify them if necessary.
Now that you know the general structure of a report and what to watch out for when referring to report guidelines, you need to remember that the academic report writing format varies with the type of report. Therefore, it’s time to start learning about some of the specific types of reports you might be required to write, starting with financial reports.
Financial statements and records have been produced for as far back humans have been writing. The people in ancient Mesopotamian societies operated both insurance and credit corporations and had the obvious need of record keeping. Today, that need for record keeping is as strong as ever and people write financial reports every day in the world of business and finance.
What does this mean for you?
If you are a student of business, then you need to learn how to write financial reports. A financial report is basically a type of business report writing and its structure is very similar to the basic structure provided above. The main elements of the structure of a financial report are as follows.
- Title Page: This includes the title of your report, your name, and the date of submission.
- Executive Summary: This is essentially the Overview discussed above, with which you present a summary of the entire report, including the methods of analysis used, findings, and recommendations.
- Table of Contents: Here you provide a thorough list of the sections and subsections in the report.
- Introduction: This is the equivalent of the Background discussed in the general structure. You should include not only an outline of the report, but any relevant background information and terms of reference the reader needs.
- Body: This is the equivalent of the Discussion presented above. You should divide the discussion of the data and findings into organized sections and subsections.
- Conclusion: As discussed above, in the conclusion you will summarize the main points of the report, the findings, the conclusions drawn, and any recommendations, if relevant.
You can refer to the University of Wollongong for detailed information on how to write financial report. Stanford University even teaches you how to read a financial report, which will certainly help when writing one.
Conducting experiments can be fun. Why not enjoy yourself when mixing up some chemicals or carrying out physics experiments? However, the time will come when you have to present the results of your lab in the form of a formatted laboratory report. This is where you might be wondering how to write a lab report. Relax. It’s easier than you think.
The purpose behind lab reports is to demonstrate to your instructor that you understood the lab and can present your findings adequately. A lab report is a scientific paper that summarizes the goal of the lab you conducted, including your methods and findings. A lab report generally consists of seven primary sections, as follows.
- Title page: This is where you will include the title of your experiment, your name (and the names of other group members), the name of the course, your instructor’s name, and the date of the experiment.
- Introduction: This is a summary of the experiment and why you are conducting it. You should include any research questions or hypotheses addressed in the experiment. Remember that a research question and hypothesis are essentially the same thing expressed in different ways. Therefore, you only need to use one of them.
Here is an example:
A research question is, “Can background rock music improve students’ math performance?”
The equivalent research hypothesis is, “Background rock music can have a positive impact on students’ math performance.”
It is important to note that the question allows for both a positive and a negative answer, while the hypothesis gives a specific direction for the answer.
- Methods and materials: It is here that you present the methods and materials you used in the experiment. You must explain why you have chosen these methods and materials using appropriate terminology.
- Results: Briefly state what you found when conducting your experiment. You can use a number of methods to display your data, including use tables and graphs, to ensure your results are easy to understand.
- Discussion: This is the most important section of your lab report, which means it will be the longest. It is here where you will discuss the critical analysis of your findings and provide an interpretation of them. Be sure to link this discussion to your original research question or hypothesis and discuss the potential limitations of your methods.
- Conclusion: Briefly summarize the experiment or lab you conducted and the results. This is not a section in which to include new information.
- References: Consult the required citation style guidelines and be sure to include all your sources in this section. Find out more about format styles and APA citation style.
Naturally, you might be writing lab reports in any number of sciences, such as physics, biology, chemistry, and geology. However, they, along with technical report writing, tend to follow the same basic format.
Here is an excerpt from a psychology lab report that is useful, regardless of the type of lab report you need to write:
Students’ math performance depends upon a number of factors. Among these, the learners’ innate abilities, the effectiveness of instruction, and the psychological climate in the classroom are the most important. Manthei and Kelly (2010) concluded that classical and popular music has no effect on academic performance.
The goal of this research is to investigate the impact of rock music on math performance of high school students. The hypothesis of this study is that background rock music can have a positive impact on the psychological climate in the classroom and on students’ math performance. The same math test was carried out in two different classes with and without background rock music…
The University of Toronto provides a great breakdown of the structure of a lab report. For a sample lab report, check out the University of Delaware. PennState University also has a great lab report example.
Now last, but not least:
Let’s take a look at how to write a medical report.
If you are a medical student, then you are bound to be required to write medical reports. Since prominent medical doctors began to report on their important findings concerning their medical progress, medical reports became an essential part of delivering responsible medical care.
Unlike many other types of reports, when writing a medical report that you intend to share with a third-party, you will need the consent of the patient or their legal guardian prior. A formal request for a report might also be a reason to write a report in the medical profession.
A case study is one of the most common types of medical report and the structure or the case study can be used as a foundation for all other types of medical reports. The following is the general medical report format of a case study medical report:
- Background: The Background provides an introduction to the report. In it, you should outline all the background information that is relevant to the patient’s situation. This includes the date, time, place, and reason for all examinations and consultations.
- Medical History: The Medical History provides you with an opportunity to briefly describe the patient’s medical history. Here you will include all personal and family medical history and how that relates to the current situation.
- Examination: Here you will present information on the results of the examination, including the mental, emotional, and physical state of the patient at the time of examination. You should also note the condition of any areas of the body relevant to the reason for the examination.
- Specimens: If any specimens are taken or tests are conducted, you must detail this first.
- Management: If you have any comments on patient management, you should include them here.
- Opinion: While the facts must be presented, the physician’s professional opinion is also of interest and you should provide this. You should formulate this opinion from an objective and impartial position.
Remember that it is important for all original notes to accompany a medical report. The Royal Children’s Hospital of Melbourne provides an excellent set of guidelines for writing a medical report. Monash University also provides a tutorial on how to write a case report with the use of a medical report sample.
The above guide offers you a great way to start learning how to write reports. If you are still having trouble with report writing once you start typing a report and you see a service to write a report online free or to write a report free, do not trust it. These types of services can cause you trouble when it comes to quality and plagiarism.
This video from Masset University is another incredible reference when learning how to write a report.
Of course, when all else fails, you can always hire a custom writing service to write a stellar report on your behalf.