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Study Skills

Reports

Reports help to present experimental, investigative or research findings

Reports are a means of presenting experimental, investigative or research findings.

Writing reports is used by some disciplines as a form of assessment. Report writing is also common in the workplace.

Report types and how to prepare them

Reports vs essays
Differences between essays and reports
ReportsEssays
Presents information (description and explanation)Presents an explicit argument
Makes use of numbered headings, and subheadingsDoes not require headings
Makes use of dot point presentation as well as short concise paragraphsWritten in paragraphs which are linked clearly to each other
Can be scanned quickly for specific informationNeeds to be read in detail to gain understanding of the argument
Uses graphics where possibleUsually no use of graphics
May end with recommendationsRarely has recommendations
Research may be primary and secondaryResearch usually secondary/tertiary sources
Similarities between essays and reports
Written in an academic style
Appropriate referencing in-text and reference list

Learn how to transform a journal reference to an APA 7th referencing style.

 

Report formats

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

Preliminary information

  • Title page
  • Executive summary/synopsis
  • Table of contents
  • List of illustrations
  • Acknowledgments.

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 the 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).

Supporting material

  • References
  • Appendices
Business reports

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.
Science laboratory reports

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.
Research report

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.

Reading and writing about data

Academic writing in many subject areas requires the use of graphics. This may include technical diagrams, illustrations or data presented in graphs and tables. It is important if you include graphics that you include them appropriately in your writing.

This information will introduce you to some ways of integrating graphics into your academic written work.

Reading and writing about graphics

What do graphics do?

Graphics can convey complex information, showing relationships and trends, and sort and classify data. They can also clarify technical ideas and help to emphasise important points.

There are different types of graphics. These may include:

  • graphs and tables showing data
  • technical diagrams
  • photograph or illustration.

Before using graphics in your assignments you need to consider:

  • what they will contribute to the reader
  • how best to represent the information that you want to show.

Once you have included graphics, you will need to ensure that you accurately describe them pointing out the key information that you want to be noticed. This next section looks at writing about data which may be represented in graphs or tables.

Writing about data

Getting the main idea

One of the most important things to do before you start writing about data is to ensure that you have understood the main idea of what the data shows, or of what you want the data to show. In order to do this, you should first identify the main features of the graph or table you are going to describe.

Ask the following questions:

  • What is the data about?
  • What are the highest/lowest numbers/percentages?
  • If it is a time graph, what are the biggest changes?
  • What are the trends?

Ideally, you need to find one main idea and, if possible, one or two smaller points.

In your analysis:

  • don’t have too much information
  • don’t analyse or explain everything in the graph
  • don’t go from left to right, explaining everything. Instead pick the main ideas (pointing out the most important or the most significant first).
Example one - Why children in Afghanistan leave school
Example graph of school dropout rates

Ref: Aga Khan Foundation 2007, Why do children leave school?, Afghanistan

It’s interesting to see the differences between boys and girls when looking at reasons for dropout. The reason cited most often by boys for leaving school is that they have to work to help their families whereas girls are leaving predominantly because they are targets of traditional practices or customs, including underage marriage.

The data shows that 61% of boys left school because of the work while only 12% of girls left school because of the work (mainly household chores). 53% of girls dropped out because of their parents while only 6% of boys left school for the same reason. Other factors affecting girls’ survival rates in school are distance to schools and security. Most of the girls said that the long distance between home and school is not secure for them to travel alone, and hence they leave school.

Example two - dropout differences by calendar
Example graph dropout differences

Ref: Aga Khan Foundation 2007, Why do children leave school? Afghanistan.

When analysing the dates of dropout, an interesting trend emerges.  Most children drop out from school during the main farming seasons – between March and June. From those students interviewed, 68% of them left school during that time. (Note that 68% is a total of the dropout rate from March to June).

Example three - getting children back into school
Example graph of dropout solutions

None of the students interviewed were happy about leaving school and all of them wanted to go back to school at some point if they had the chance to go.

Less than half of the students think that they would be able to return to school at a later date. Overwhelmingly, the students that have dropped out voiced uncertainty about their future plans, since the decision to dropout out of school did not seem to be theirs to begin with, but rather a parental decision.

Vocabulary: The numbers of graphs

When we describe data, we need to be able to talk about differences in numbers, fractions and percentages. Common language that can be used includes:

NumberMost
The majority of ...
The greatest number of ...
More than
The least
A minority of ...
The least number of ...
Less than
PercentageA high percentage of ...
A higher percentage of ...
A low percentage of ...
A lower percentage of ...
FractionsThe greatest partThe smallest part

Sometimes we need to talk about changes in numbers, fractions and percentages. For example:

20002005
12001800
  • The number went up by 600, from 1200 to 1800. (Number)
  • The number went up by half, from 1200 to 1800. (Fraction)
  • The number went up by 50%, from 1200 to 1800. (Percentage)
  • The number went up 150%, to 1800. (Percentage)

Look at another example showing an increase over six years:

2002200420062008
5001000300012000

Use "trebled," "-fold," and "times:"

  • The number doubled between 2002 and 2004.
  • The number trebled between 2004 and 2006.
  • There was a twofold increase between 2002 and 2004.
  • The number went up sixfold between 2002 and 2006.
  • The figure in 2006 was six times the 2002 figure.
  • The figure in 2008 was four times the 2006 figure.

Look at another example showing a decrease over six years:

2002200420062008
1000800400100

Use Fractions:

  • Between 2002 and 2004, the figure fell by one-fifth.
  • Between 2004 and 2006, the number dropped by a half.
Example four - graph example
Example of the London underground graph

Ref: IELTS graph # 31

The graph shows the fluctuation in the number of people at a London underground station over the course of a day.

The busiest time of the day is in the morning. There is a sharp increase between 06:00 and 08:00, with 400 people using the station at 8 o'clock. After this, the numbers drop quickly to less than 200 at 10 o'clock. Between 11 am and 3 pm the number rises, with a plateau of just under 300 people using the station.

In the afternoon, numbers decline, with less than 100 using the station at 4 pm. There is then a rapid rise to a peak of 380 at 6pm. After 7 pm, numbers fall significantly, with only a slight increase again at 8pm, tailing off after 9 pm.

Overall, the graph shows that the station is most crowded in the early morning and early evening periods.

Other useful expressions which will help you to describe change

Movement down
(verbs)

  • fall
  • decline
  • drop
  • decrease
  • sink
  • go down

Strong words
(use carefully!)

  • plummet
  • plunge

Movement down
(nouns)

  • fall
  • decline
  • drop
  • decrease

Movement up
(verbs)

  • rise
  • go up
  • increase
  • grow

Strong words
(Use Carefully!)

  • shoot up
  • rocket
  • surge

Movement up
(nouns)

  • rise
  • increase
  • growth

No movement

  • remain steady
  • is unchanged
  • does not change
  • remain constant
  • remain stable
  • stabilise

Changing movement

  • fluctuate

Reached the highest point or lowest point

  • reach a peak
  • peak
  • reach their highest level
  • reach a high
  • fall to a low
  • sing to a trough

Adjectives

  • slight
  • a little
  • sharp
  • sudden
  • steep
  • gradual
  • gentle
  • steady

Adverbs

  • slightly
  • sharply
  • suddenly
  • steeply
  • gradually
  • gently
  • steadily

Prepositions: Time Expressions: Past

  • between 1995 and 2000
  • from 1995 to 2000
  • up until 1960,
  • before 2006

Time expressions: Future

By 2020, it is expected to have reached ...

By 2020, the total is projected to be ...

Example five - compare and contrast
Example graph dropout regions

The causes of dropout are different from one region to another. As is evident from this graph, parents were cited as the main reason for children not continuing education in Bamyan and Badakhshan.  This aligns with external reports of the high rates of marriage for young girls in these two provinces. 

In contrast, work is the main cause of dropout in Baghlan province. Baghlan is one of the most productive and populated provinces of Afghanistan where there is a lot of fertile land and industry.  These attributes create many more work opportunities for young children in this province as compared to the other two provinces.

School quality is also a serious problem in Baghlan compared to the two other regions. Evaluation surveys show that the number of students in a classroom in Baghlan is three times more than Badakhshan and Bamyan province.

In contrast, illness is a more serious problem in Badakhshan compared to Baghlan and Bamyan.  Badakhshan reports indicate that while working in the fields, some students have become addicted to opium in Badakhshan, which leads them to drop out of school. 

Words and phrases for comparing
Compared to X, ……….
Compared with Y, ………
X is more than Y
X is less than Y
In comparison, X is …
In contrast, Y is …
X is - er than Y (higher than, stronger than)
X is not as much as Y
In comparison with X, …..
In comparison to X, …..
In contrast to X, ….
On the other hand, …
 
X in comparison to Y is …
X in comparison with Y is…
X in contrast to Y is
more/less likely to …
X is similar to/comparable to/with Y in that …
There are similarities between X and Y.
In the same way, ….
Equally, ….
Similarly, ….
X is different to Y in that …
There are differences between X and Y.
X differs from Y in that …
X is …. whereas/while Y is ….
 

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