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Study Skills

Reports

Reports present experimental, investigative or research findings

One of the most common types of assessment at university is the report. The reports you write at university prepare you for life after graduation when your professional communication skills will be invaluable. 

This page will help you to:  

  • understand the difference between essays and reports 

  • understand how the audience and purpose of a report influences its structure and language. 

  • structure your reports appropriately 

  • write about graphics and data in your reports. 

study skills task icon

Before you continue, reflect on your previous writing experiences and the feedback you have received. How would you rate your ability in the following skills? Rate your ability from ‘good’ to ‘needs development’. 

Reflect on your answers. Congratulations if you feel confident about your skills. You may find it helpful to review the materials on this page to confirm your knowledge and possibly learn more. Don't worry if your skills need development. All students must learn academic skills and these materials will help you. 

Introduction to report writing

This section will introduce you to the common features of reports. 

An overview of reports

Watch this video to learn more about report writing. 

What have you learned from the video? Decide if these statements about reports are true or false. 

 

Reports vs essays

Essays and reports have several differences.  Understanding the differences will help you to avoid confusion when you have an assessment task to complete.

Remember: some disciplines sometimes follow different writing conventions. For instance, Law and Environmental Science often use headings in essays although most disciplines rarely do. The following task reviews what is mostly true about essays and reports. You need to read examples from your discipline to check for differences.

 

study skills task icon

Read these writing features and drag them to the most appropriate column on the table. Is each feature:

  • mostly true of essays
  • mostly true of reports
  • equally true of both essays and reports.

 

reflection icon

Over to you  

  • Stop and reflect on what you’ve just learned.  

  • Write down three things you want to remember. 

  • Read the instructions in your assessment tasks to ensure you know what your lecturer requires.

 

Reports in the disciplines

Most reports are similar in that they are often descriptive documents rather than argumentative like essays. However, their layout can vary substantially, depending on the discipline. The following is a brief overview of four common types of report that you may encounter as a student. 

Business reports 

Business reports vary in content and format. You may write reports such as case studies, progress reports, market research reports, or financial reports. However, they all share a similar purpose: they are written in the professions to make useful information available to managers, stakeholders, and decision makers.  

Laboratory reports 

Laboratory reports are a common type of assessment in the STEM disciplines. Their content and format often follow a common pattern: introduction, method, results, discussion. The purpose is for students to share the results of small-scale experiments or investigations conducted as part of their learning. 

Research reports 

The purpose of a research report is to provide an account of your original research. This might be: 

  • quantitative research involving numerical data that is produced in an experiment, observation or field study 

  • qualitative research involving data based on interviews, focus group findings, archival materials, or library data-base research

  • a combination of the two. 

The longest research report you may write at university is your thesis. If you are a research student, you can learn more about research reports in the Study Skills pages on Research Communication.

Technical reports 

Technical reports are common in the Engineering and IT disciplines. After you graduate, you may need to write technical reports in your workplace to help your managers with decision making. One common purpose is to present a solution to a technical problem and to recommend action.  

reflection icon

Over to you.

Reflect on the reports you need to write this semester. What type of reports are they? Read the instructions carefully and ensure you understand the purpose of each.

Report Format

Most reports contain three major elements: preliminary matter, the body of the report, and end matter. The content of these three elements may vary, so you must pay close attention to the instructions for your task.

  • As a student, your lecturer may require a specific report format with set headings and sub-headings; however, some may expect you to write your own headings. If you need to write your own, you can visit the Cohesion page to learn more about writing effective headings.
  • After you graduate, your future employers may require you to use a specific report structure and layout with set headings.

This section gives a general overview of the more common content and headings for each section of reports.

Preliminary information

The following table gives an overview of common content in preliminary matter. 

 Business reportLaboratory reportResearch reportTechnical report

Letter of Transmittal

This is a brief letter attached to a longer reports to introduce the reader to the purpose. It is common in reports written in the workplace.

 

common

 

less common

 

less common

 

common

Title page

This includes the title, your name, the name of the reader and the completion date.

common

common

common

common

Acknowledgments

You should mention the names of people and organizations that contributed to or supported your research.

common

less common

common

less common

Executive Summary or Abstract

This is a summary of the scope and purpose of your report, your methodology, main findings, and their significance.

common

less common

common

common

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.

common

less common

common

common

List of Illustrations/Tables of figures

These are placed after the Table of Contents on a separate page.

common

less common

common

common

The body

The following table gives an overview of common content in the body.

 Business reportLaboratory reportResearch reportTechnical report

Introduction

This includes the aim, research question/hypothesis, background, outline, and scope. Reports without a Literature Review may review important research.

 

common

 

common

 

common

 

common

Literature Review

This is an overview of the published sources relevant to the research. It establishes the context, the importance of the topic, and the knowledge gap you are filling.

less common

less common

common

less common

Method & Materials/Procedure

This describes the investigation. It may include the approach, theoretical framework, process, equipment, participants, or analysis

less common

common

common

less common

Findings/Results

This presents the results of the investigation. It is logically organized with clearly labelled headings, sub-headings and graphics

common

common

common

common

Analysis/Discussion

This interprets the results and how they answer the research question(s). It explains unexpected results, limitations, and links to theory or other research.

less common

common

common

less common

Conclusions

This briefly reviews the important outcomes. It may explain the significance of the findings and may include implications for future research or practice.

common

common

common

common

Recommendations

These are included if your research aims to solve a problem. Recommendations can be numbered and placed in priority order.

common

less common

less common

common

End matter

The following table gives an overview of common content in the end matter. 

 Business reportLaboratory reportResearch reportTechnical report

Appendices

This includes materials such as raw data, details of surveys or copies of questionnaires. Each appendix must be separately identified, such as Appendix A: Maps or Appendix B: Transcripts of Interviews.

 

common

 

common

 

common

 

common

Reference List

This section includes all published sources that you have referred to in your report. Check the referencing style required by your lecturer.

less common

less common

common

common

Glossary

If your report uses specialised words, providing a list of these words and their meanings will help readers from outside your discipline

less common

less common

common

common

Abbreviations

If you use many abbreviated terms in your report, you should provide a list to help your reader.

common

less common

common

common

Report format: a recap

Download this PDF document Report Structure Overview and put it above your desk as a handy reference. 

Test your knowledge of the content of the three elements of a report.

Over to you 

  • Go to your units on Learnline and carefully read the instructions for a report you need to write. 

  • Check whether your lecturer provided a template or guidelines on the structure of the report. If not, ask your lecturer what they expect. 

Audience and purpose

When writing a report, you should think carefully about your readers and the purpose of your report. This will help you decide what content to include, what language to use, and how you format your report.

Considering your reader: language choices

You will spend many years studying your discipline at university. During this time, you will learn technical or discipline-specific vocabulary (words). After you graduate, you may start using professional jargon with your colleagues.

A. Business jargon​  It’s mission-critical to be plain-spoken, whether aiming for outside-the-box thinking or simply incentivizing colleagues to achieve a bettering paradigm shift in core-performance in target value-adds. B. Scientific language​  Our findings support a particular role for IL-6-driven CD4+ T cell activation via STAT3 during the induction of RA, particularly as a feature of ACPA-negative disease. This shows promise as biomarkers of RA progression and now requires independent validation.

Jargon should always be avoiding in report writing. Technical or discipline-specific vocabulary should be avoided if your readers don't share your educational background. Ask yourself these questions: 

  • What is my report trying to achieve? 

  • What knowledge or education does my reader have in my field? 

  • What word choices will my reader most easily understand? 

Imagine you are a medical professional writing a report for a manager with a business background. Which report extract would be most helpful?

The patient was monitored for any of the following signs: unintentional weight loss persistent cough hematochezia hematuria profound fatigue. The patient was monitored for any of the following signs: unintentional weight loss persistent cough blood in stools blood in urine profound fatigue.

If you chose B, you probably recognised that hematochezia and hematuria are probably not easily understandable for a reader without medical knowledge.

If you must use technical words in your report, you should provide a glossary in the end matter for your reader.

Considering your reader: content and format

As with language, you need to consider your reader when you choose content and format for your report. Ask yourself these questions: 

  • What is my report trying to achieve? 

  • What does my reader already know? 

  • What does my reader need to know? 

  • How can I help my reader? 

The answers to these questions will help you make decisions about layout and content to ensure that your key message is accessible and clear. 

study skills task icon

Consider the needs of the reader in each of the following situations and decide which report element is LEAST useful for them. 

reflection icon

Over to you 

  • Read a report draft you are currently writing for one of your units. 

  • Have you considered the needs of your reader? 

  • What could you change to help them understand your message? 

Writing about data in reports

Because reports usually present data collected in an investigation, they often use graphics. Graphics may include technical diagrams, illustrations or data presented in graphs and tables. If you include graphics, it is important that you incorporate them appropriately in your writing. 
 
What do you already know about writing about data? 

This material will introduce you to ways of integrating data and graphics into your reports. 

Incorporating graphics into your text

Graphics can convey complex information, show relationships and trends, and classify data. They can also clarify technical ideas and help to emphasise important points. When you use graphics in your reports, you must: 

  • decide what type of graphic will best convey the information you want to share 

  • synthesise the graphic into your text so your reader understands your point. 

We will now look at an example.

reflection icon

 Consider these questions: 

  • What is the purpose of report titles? 

  • Are report titles usually sentences or phrases? 

  • What do you think makes a report title effective? 

study skills task icon

Examine this table which presents data from a small study that analysed report titles. Which results seem significant?

A table presenting the results of an analysis or 10 report titles.

Read this paragraph which is taken from a report on student writing. The paragraph explains Table 1 for the reader. Consider:

  • How does the writer structure their commentary?  

  • What is the function of the language in blue? 

Click on the hotspots to confirm your thoughts. 

To recap, when you incorporate graphics into your report, you should: 

  1. direct your readers’ attention to the graphic 
  2. highlight the important data in the graphic 
  3. comment on the important data: explain it, interpret the significance, and/or link it to other data or research. 

 

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Using what you have learned, put the following paragraph from an Engineering report into order.  Hint: look for a topic sentence to begin the paragraph. 

Focus on language: data commentaries

You can incorporate your data commentaries more seamlessly into your report if you use clear signpost language to guide your reader. To develop your language, you could: 

  • pay close attention to how writers in your discipline incorporate data into in published reports 

  • use a site such as the Manchester Phrase Bank, which is one useful source of language to help you express yourself.  

Drawing your readers' attention to your graphic

Table 1 
Figure 1 
shows 
compares 
presents 
provides 
an overview of … 
the experimental data on X. 
the summary statistics for … 
the results obtained from the preliminary analysis of X. 
The results of the correlational analysis 
The themes identified in these responses 
The data obtained from X 
are shown 
are set out 
are presented  
are summarised 
in Table 1. 
in Figure 1. 

Health outcomes improved 
The population fell 

as can be seen 
as illustrated 
in Table 1. 
in Figure 1. 

Highlighting important data in your graphic

The second pie chart in Figure 2 
The top half of the table above
The last row of Table 10
identifies 
pinpoints 
highlights

the breakdown of...

What stands out in 
Of note in
The most interesting aspect of 
What is striking in

Figure 6 
row 3 of the table 
the second image

are X and Y. 

is that the highest demand is... 

Commenting on important data in your graphic

A possible explanation for this might be that … 
This result may be accounted for by the fact that … 
These relationships may partly be explained by … 
This inconsistency may be due to … 
These results are likely to be related to … 
This discrepancy could be attributed to …

 

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Download the Useful Data Commentary Language document and use it as a guide when you are writing.

You will need this language when you do the tasks in Focus on language: numbers and comparisions and Focus on language: describing trends and change  

Focus on language: numbers and comparisions

When we describe data, we need to be able to talk about numbers, fractions and percentages and we need to be able to compare them.

study skills task icon

Examine the data from The Australian Bureau of Statistics about recent rent increases.

  1. Consider the most significant data and how it may be compared and explained.
  2. Read the data commentary 
  3. Fill the gaps with the most appropriate language. You can refer to the language in Focus on language: data commentaries  and in the tables below to help you.

 

Describing numbers

NumberMost... The most...
The majority of ...
The greatest number of ...
The least...
A minority of ...
The least number of ...
PercentageA high percentage of ...
A higher percentage of ...
A low percentage of ...
A lower percentage of ...
Fractions

The greatest part...

The smallest part...

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

  • 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)

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.

Use Fractions:

  • Between 2002 and 2004, the figure fell by one-fifth.
  • Between 2004 and 2006, the number dropped by a half.

Prepositions

on averagean average of x20% of X
between X and Yat a level/rate/speed ofincrease from x to y
increase by X%increase to Xpeak at X

Making comparisons

Words and phrases for comparing
Compared to X, ……….
Compared with Y, ………
In comparison, X is …
In contrast, Y is …
X is _____- er than Y (higher than, stronger than)
X is not as ______ as Y (high, strong)
X is more _______ than Y (significant, expensive)
X is less _______ than Y (significant, strong)
In comparison with X, …..
In comparison to X, …..
In contrast to X, Y is...
On the other hand, …

X is similar/different to Y in that …
X differs from Y in that …
X is …. whereas/while Y is ….

In the same way, ….
Equally, ….
Similarly, ….

Both X and Y are...

 

Focus on language: describing trends and change

When we describe trends and change, we need to use:

  • nouns and verbs that express movement (progression, progress)
  • adjectives and adverbs that describe that movement (quick, quickly).
study skills task icon

Examine the data from The Australian Bureau of Statistics about sales in cafes, restaurants and takeaway food services since 2019.

  1. Consider the most significant changes and how they may be explained.
  2. Read the data commentary.
  3. Fill the gaps with the most appropriate language. You can refer to the language in Focus on language: data commentaries  and in the tables below to help you.

 

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 2030, it is expected to have reached ...

By 2030, the total is projected to be ...

Applying your learning

Reflect on what you have learned in this material and consider how you can use it in your own work. 

Useful strategies
study skills task icon

Read a published report from your discipline. 

  • Highlight the headings and sub-headings. How do they help the reader follow the report? 

  • Highlight the language used to refer to graphics. Note useful phrases to draw attention to the most significant figures and explain them. 

2. 

Exchange a draft report with a peer and give each other feedback.  

  • Are all necessary elements included?  

  • Are headings and sub-headings clear? 

  • Is the content appropriate for each section of the report? 

  • Is the language clear and concise? 

  • Are graphics explained effectively? 

Be very careful with referencing. The referencing style that you use depends on the expectations of your lecturer, so always check first. 

Next steps
reflection icon

Reflect on your learning. 

Revisit the self-analysis quiz at the top of the page. How would you rate your skills now? 

Remember that writing is a process and mistakes aren't a bad thing. They are a normal part of learning and can help you to improve. 

If you would like more support, visit the Language and Learning Advisors page. 

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Did you know CDU Language and Learning Advisors offer a range of study support options?

https://www.cdu.edu.au/library/language-and-learning-support

 

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