Reports generally involve presenting your investigation and analysis of information or an issue, recommending actions and making proposals.
There are many different types of reports, including business, scientific and research reports, but the basic steps for writing them are the same. These are outlined below.
Step 1: Decide on the 'Terms of reference'
To decide on the terms of reference for your report, read your instructions and any other information you've been given about the report, and think about the purpose of the report:
- What is it about?
- What exactly is needed?
- Why is it needed?
- When do I need to do it?
- Who is it for, or who is it aimed at?
This will help you draft your Terms of reference.
Step 2: Decide on the procedure
This means planning your investigation or research, and how you'll write the report. Ask yourself:
- What information do I need?
- Do I need to do any background reading?
- What articles or documents do I need?
- Do I need to contact the library for assistance?
- Do I need to interview or observe people?
- Do I have to record data?
- How will I go about this?
Answering these questions will help you draft the procedure section of your report, which outlines the steps you've taken to carry out the investigation.
Step 3: Find the information
The next step is to find the information you need for your report. To do this you may need to read written material, observe people or activities, and/or talk to people.
Make sure the information you find is relevant and appropriate. Check the assessment requirements and guidelines and the marking schedule to make sure you're on the right track. If you're not sure how the marks will be assigned contact your lecturer.
What you find out will form the basis, or main body, of your report – the findings.
Step 4: Decide on the structure
Reports generally have a similar structure, but some details may differ. How they differ usually depends on:
- The type of report – if it is a research report, laboratory report, business report, investigative report, etc.
- How formal the report has to be.
- The length of the report.
Depending on the type of report, the structure can include:
- A title page.
- Executive summary.
- An introduction.
- Terms of reference.
- The sections, of a report usually have headings and subheadings, which are usually numbered
The basic structure of a report (PDF 262 KB; opens in a new window)
Step 5: Draft the first part of your report
Once you have your structure, write down the headings and start to fill these in with the information you have gathered so far. By now you should be able to draft the terms of reference, procedure and findings, and start to work out what will go in the report’s appendix.
The findings are result of your reading, observations, interviews and investigation. They form the basis of your report. Depending on the type of report you are writing, you may also wish to include photos, tables or graphs to make your report more readable and/or easier to follow.
Graphs - BBC Skillwise website (opens in a new window)
As you are writing your draft decide what information will go in the appendix. These are used for information that:
- is too long to include in the body of the report, or
- supplements or complements the information in the report. For example, brochures, spreadsheets or large tables.
Step 6: Analyse your findings and draw conclusions
The conclusion is where you analyse your findings and interpret what you have found. To do this, read through your findings and ask yourself:
- What have I found?
- What's significant or important about my findings?
- What do my findings suggest?
For example, your conclusion may describe how the information you collected explains why the situation occurred, what this means for the organisation, and what will happen if the situation continues (or doesn't continue).
Don’t include any new information in the conclusion.
Step 7: Make recommendations
Recommendations are what you think the solution to the problem is and/or what you think should happen next. To help you decide what to recommend:
- Reread your findings and conclusions.
- Think about what you want the person who asked for the report should to do or not do; what actions should they carry out?
- Check that your recommendations are practical and are based logically on your conclusions.
- Ensure you include enough detail for the reader to know what needs to be done and who should do it.
Your recommendations should be written as a numbered list, and ordered from most to least important.
Step 8: Draft the executive summary and table of contents
Some reports require an executive summary and/or list of contents. Even though these two sections come near the beginning of the report you won't be able to do them until you have finished it, and have your structure and recommendations finalised.
An executive summary is usually about 100 words long. It tells the readers what the report is about, and summarise the recommendations.
Step 9: Compile a reference list
Step 10: Revise your draft report
It is always important to revise your work. Things you need to check include:
- If you have done what you were asked to do. Check the assignment question, the instructions/guidelines and the marking schedule to make sure.
- That the required sections are included, and are in the correct order.
- That your information is accurate, with no gaps.
- If your argument is logical. Does the information you present support your conclusions and recommendations?
- That all terms, symbols and abbreviations used have been explained.
- That any diagrams, tables, graphs and illustrations are numbered and labelled.
- That the formatting is correct, including your numbering, headings, are consistent throughout the report.
- That the report reads well, and your writing is as clear and effective as possible.
You might need to prepare several drafts before you are satisfied. If possible, get someone else to check your report.
Sample report (PDF 278 KB; opens in a new window)