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Academic Communication

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Report writing

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How to structure your report

Your report should be written in sections with headings. Longer reports (more than a few pages) should have numbered headings, and sub-headings where helpful.

Use the relevant features in Word to structure your document and produce a table of contents. See our topic ‘Dissertation IT kit’ for advice about creating a structured document (note that a dissertation is simply one type of report). Here is a list of typical sections which might be found in a formal report:

Cover sheet

Table of contents

Executive summary or abstract

Introduction

Background information

Main body of the report – divided into sections and sub-sections

Summary / Conclusions

Recommendations

Bibliography or list of references

List of appendices followed by appendices (if required)

The sections of your report

Cover sheet

This should include:

  • Title of the report
  • Your name
  • The words of your degree title, for example ‘BA (Hons) Tourism Management’
  • Any other information required by your module or course.

Table of contents

Unless it is a very short report, include a contents page listing the section headings, and page numbers where they can be found. Use Word to generate this automatically from your headings. The layout for the contents page may vary according to the requirements of your module, so check any guidance you have been given.

Write your section headings carefully so that the contents page gives a clear overview of the report.

Executive summary or abstract

For long reports, provide a brief summary of the main contents, findings, conclusions and recommendations in the report. This enables the reader to quickly scan the report for relevance.

For more information on this, see our topics ‘Executive summaries’ and ‘Abstracts’.

Introduction

This should introduce the main part of the report. Tell the reader what the report is about and outline the main issues and concerns. The introduction should be fairly concise and should include:

  • Explanation of what the report is about
  • Brief summary of the background and justification for the project
  • Outline of the contents of the report
  • Indication of the conclusions and recommendations.

Background information

This is where you justify the need for the work which is explained in the report. The background information will vary depending on the topic of the report, but could include an explanation of the current situation or problem, some statistical information, or details of practices in other organisations or locations. This is where you are most likely to refer to published sources, which you need to cite and reference correctly.

In a dissertation or research report, the equivalent section would be the literature review justifying the need for the research project.

Main body of the report

This is where you explain the work you have done, or give your analysis of a problem or situation. It should be divided into sections and sub-sections, depending on what is appropriate for the topic and your module requirements.

Summary or conclusions

This section should highlight the findings of the report. It should pick up the themes raised in the introduction and summarise what has been established. Review the evidence and arguments contained in the main body of your report and relate them directly to the purpose of the work which has been done. The conclusions you reach should be based on the evidence you have considered in the main body of the report.

Your reader should be able to understand the major issues, points and findings of your work simply by reading this section alone.

Recommendations

Having drawn your conclusions you are now in position to recommend a course(s) of action. At the very least you should be able to recommend further work which might be necessary to understand the problem or issues better. You may, in addition, be in a position to recommend practical proposals. Whether you make recommendations or not will ultimately depend on the design of your report. If recommendations are made, ensure they relate to the content of your work.

Bibliography or list of references

Most reports written as part of your course will refer to published sources. Include a list of references or a bibliography listing the publications you have mentioned (cited) in the text of your report. For more information on this, see our topic ‘Harvard referencing’.

Appendices

The Appendices provide further or background information which is either not appropriate, or is too long, for the main body of the report. For example, minutes of meetings, copies of policy documents, or copies of questionnaires.

One single document is called an ‘Appendix’. More than one are called ‘Appendices’, and should be numbered (Appendix 1, Appendix 2 etc.) so they can be referred to in the main body of the report.

Example:

The membership of the working group included representatives from all sections of the workforce (see Appendix 3, ‘List of members’). This meant…