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Report Writing

How to create professional reports that meet academic standards

Deborah Adshead

on 25 January 2011

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Transcript of Report Writing

Writing Professional Reports to Meet Academic Standards Why bother? A common complaint from employers and lecturers is that students are unable to produce reports (whether technical or investigative) to an acceptable level.

In some cases it is the standard of English that is the problem but for the majority of students, report writing can improve by sticking to certain rules.

You will be producing reports of various kinds throughout the course and in many cases at work too. It is important therefore to develop a good style which can be broadly applied. What is a report? Fundamentally it is a written record of an investigation or process. This could be a computing project, a business problem, an instruction booklet - the varieties are numerous; whatever the objective, there are three main factors to consider. The Purpose why it has been requested and what it is about The Method how the information was gathered and the main factors considered The Result the outcome and any necessary action to be taken All of the above detail should be presented in clearly labelled, consecutive sections designed to help the reader comprehend the text. If you always work on the principle that the audience does not have the inclination or time to spend on the report then it should encourage you to present the material in a more appealing way. Masses of information can be hard work and boring even if it is relevant. Be comprehensive but be concise. The Format The format looks at the main sections involved in a formal report. Below is a suggested order - it is not an absolute rule that you follow this but it will help you to organise the text. Note how the sections are classified throughout as each new point of information is numbered. Title Page Table Of Contents Table Of Illustrations Acknowledgements Executive Summary Main Report Recommendations References Appendix Bibliography How to Prepare a Report Presenting the Report Referencing this is most important to make an immediate impression and attract the reader. The design and detail is of utmost importance. You need to include four main points. The title of the report in brief with it being the focal point of the page.
The authorisation - the name of the commissioning person(s) or organisation.
The authors’ names. If a group effort, then list alphabetically. If you are representing a company then the name or logo may appear.
The date of completion.
important because the reader will often turn to this and spend time checking what the report involves. So, remember to represent sufficient detail - the main sub-sections - and use the page thoughtfully. Use space and indentation appropriately. Three things to include are section number, section heading and page reference. include only if the main report incorporates several diagrams or illustrations and present similarly to the table of contents an opportunity to thank those people who indirectly contributed to the report. This may be someone who gave advice and support, or more practical assistance such as testing equipment, proof-reading or word-processing. It is a good idea to include this section as it gratifies people and suggests an appreciative approach sometimes called the synopsis or abstract, it seems to be the most difficult section for the novice report writer. Quite simply it is a overview and is designed to give the reader in a hurry a broad picture of the content. In most cases, for smaller reports, a half page will suffice but remember to include something of the purpose, the main points and the outcome. A good tip is to write the executive summary after you have completed the report. Does it give the reader all the important facts so he can make a make a true judgement of its findings?
Is it a true summary of the report?
this is where the meat of the report comes and it is where you start to number the various sections. Ensure that the information is presented in a logical order. In all cases, section 1.0 will be Introduction. Introduction - aim to give a good background to the report - this might be a relevant history to the situation or simply the set-up to the problem; the existing conditions. Always attempt to define the purpose in this section i.e. why the report has been called for. Finally explain the terms of reference of the report, that is the scope and limitations of the investigation. These may be imposed by the commissioning authority or limited by requirements such as access, time or the audience. This is not an opportunity for excuses!

The main body of the report is then divided into consecutive, ordered sections and sub-sections providing all the necessary information.

Conclusions - all reports require a section which will pull together the main findings and outline the results. This needs to be presented in a concise manner but give enough to afford the reader a complete view. Do not introduce new information here.
lying outside the main report, the recommendations should appear as a list of action steps. Number them if you wish, they must be immediate and obvious to the reader. Do not combine with conclusions. You may have used books, the internet, journals, and other sources of information in the preparation of the report. List them here by types of reference and alphabetically by author. Include the title of the reference, the author, date and publisher with page and chapter references if necessary. literally the last part of the report and this is where you can include supporting information which is bulky and too distracting to be inserted in the main report itself. Always front with detail of contents. You may wish to use a glossary (list of technical terms ) diagrams, extracts from other publications, results tables etc. Appendices which are not referenced in the main text are not valid! Study Plan Compose Edit The preparation of the report can be difficult but is conveniently dealt with in four stages. be absolutely certain of the needs of the report. Firstly, why is it wanted ? It may be helpful to write a thesis sentence. That is one line which incorporates the overall objective of the report. Then be certain of the terms of reference- exactly what is needed and stay within the requirements - it is not clever to cover more than you need to. think about the lines of enquiry- you may need to conduct interviews, so work out who may be helpful and decide on questions that need asking. What about reference material ? Maybe you have to write to various organisations or visit libraries. A range of technical materials might be required so organise in advance. Also once you have decided on an approach, plan how you are going to divide the material with section headings. it is useful to start off by writing the synopsis, this will give you an overall feel for the report and possibly alert you to something that has been omitted.Thereafter draft the report ensuring that the sections in the main report follow through in a logical order so that one idea or subject leads into another. It is a good idea to attempt to mirror sections;.that is each main section is sub-sectioned in a similar way. By developing a consistent pattern you can help the reader to identify your intentions and ideas. once the draft is completed it is time to check for errors, waffle, bad style etc. If you are working in a group check each others drafts as you are less likely to see your own mistakes. Editing might also mean that you change the layout and order. Whatever, give enough time and thought to this function - a single spelling error will tarnish credibility. The way the report is presented is crucial - a well produced, smart document gives you a head start. Printing Layout Illustrations/diagrams word-process on one side only making sure that the text is thoughtfully spaced. This could mean single or one-and-a-half depending on the general layout. The use of upper case, underline or bold is really a personal choice as long as it is used in a consistent, logical way. Get a decent printer so that the type is readable. learn to leave 'white' between sections and leave margins at the top and bottom as well as the sides. ( Remember most reports are bound ). Avoid a full page without a print break; on the other hand, too many gaps and title pages for individual sections, especially in short reports, break up the flow. Try not to split sub-sections over two pages. take care with production. A messy, badly designed diagram will be counter-productive. Generally though an illustration can get ideas across much more effectively than written text. Each one should have a title and be numbered consecutively throughout the report ( Fig 1 etc.). Include in the main text only when the diagram relates directly to the point or argument. If it has lesser relevance then insert in the appendix. This may well be a new technique for students but one that has to be learned and used in reports to indicate sources of information and help to avoid plagiarism. We have already explained the need to reference all sources of information used in the compilation of a report. The reader will want to get an idea of the scope of the investigation and, if necessary, follow up and check these references. Remember to present in distinct groupings, separating books, journals, websites etc. Books Accurate and consistent referencing is essential in all
academic work. Whenever you refer to either the work
or ideas of someone, or are influenced by another’s
work, you must acknowledge this. If you make a direct
quotation from someone’s work, this should be referred
to accurately. You should acknowledge the materials
which are the sources of your information in two places
• in the main body of the text (citing references)
• in a bibliography or a reference list at the end of the
piece of work
You are strongly advised to keep detailed records of all
materials used, and to do this at the time you use
them. According to the Harvard Method, references are arranged in one alphabetical sequence, by name of author, followed by date of publication. Not all materials have individuals as authors; an
organisation, company or institution can be the author.
If there is no author, the item should be listed by title. If
available, include the family name and full given name(s)
of any authors or editors. When only initials are given,
use the family name and initial(s). A bibliography is similar to a reference but also
includes any other items used in your research that have not been discussed in the report. Each reference should give enough information to easily trace the item. Citing references Referring to someone else’s work or ideas in the text of your own work is known as ‘citing’. This should be acknowledged by quoting both the author’s last name (family name) and the date of the work in brackets. List all your references in alphabetical order by author and by type If the author’s name occurs naturally in the sentence,
the year only is given in brackets. Gibbs (2009) believes that … Page numbers should be included for direct quotations or reference to a particular part of an item. Gibbs (2009, p14) states that “traditional ...” For two or three authors, the names of all should be given. Hill and Peterson (2010) describe ... In the case of more than three authors, the first author
only should be given, followed by et al. Madigan et al. (2009) discuss the ... If you cannot identify the author, cite by the title. The Dictionary of biology (2004) defines ... The main elements you need are author(s), year, title, edition (other than first edition), place of publication (if required) and publisher. You will usually find the relevant information on the book’s title page and back of the title page. BROWN, Carol V., et al. (2009). Managing Information Technology. 6th ed., Upper Saddle River, Pearson Education.
CHAPPELL, David and WILLIS, Andrew (2005). The Architect in Practice. 9th ed., Oxford, Blackwell.
CONNOLLY, Thomas M. and BEGG, Carolyn E. (2004). Database systems : a practical approach to design, implementation and management. 4th ed. Addison-Wesley
MACDONALD, J (1994) Effective Report Writing. Croner Publications
SUSSAMS, J (1993) How To Write Effective Reports. Gower
CROUCH, David, JACKSON, Rhona and THOMPSON, Felix (eds.) (2005). The Media and the Tourist Imagination: Converging Cultures. London, Routledge.
Electronic books Include author(s), year, title, [online], edition (other than first edition), place of publication (if required), publisher, information database or source, last date accessed and location (URL). MORGAN, Nigel and PRITCHARD, Annette (2001). Advertising in Tourism and Leisure. [online]. Oxford, Butterworth-Heinemann. Book from NetLibrary last accessed 19 June 2009 at:http://www.netlibrary.com/ Journal, magazine and newspaper articles To reference a journal or magazine article, include author(s), year, title of article, journal/magazine title (in full), volume number, issue number and page numbers. GRUBER, Jonathan and FRAKES, Michael (2006). Does falling smoking lead to rising obesity? Journal of Health Economics, 25 (2), 183-197.
DAVIS, Simon (2004). Project Management in Local and Central Government: An Interim View. Project Manager Today, XVI (5), 4-5.
For newspaper articles, give the date of the newspaper instead of the volume/issue. DAVEY, Jenny (2000). Does free internet access really exist? Sunday Times, 23 April, 7. Electronic journal, magazine and newspaper articles Include author(s), year, title of article, [online], journal title, volume, issue number and page number(s), information database or source (if applicable), date you last accessed the material and location (URL). Use the URL for the database or homepage, as the URL for a particular article may not stay the same on return visits. If the journal/magazine is electronic only, there may be no page numbers and/or the numbering may not be by volume and issue. Give as much information as you can. Give as much information as you can for newspaper articles. REITZIG, Markus (2004). Strategic Management of Intellectual Property. [online]. MIT Sloan management Review, 45 (3), 35-40. Article from Business Source Premier last accessed 18 February 2010 at:http://search.epnet.com/ CHARAVARYAMATH, Chandrashekhar and SINGH, Baljit (2006). Pulmonary Effects of Exposure to Pig Barn Air. [online]. Journal of Occupational Medicine and Toxicology, 1:10. Article from Biomed Central last accessed 26 June 2010 at: http://www.biomedcentral.com/ TOIBIN, Colm (2006). Pure Evil. [online]. The Guardian, 3 June. Last accessed 13 March 2010 at: http://www.guardian.co.uk/ Web pages Include author(s), year, title, [online], date you last accessed the material and location (URL). Web pages often do not have individual authors. In this case, use the company, institution or organisation responsible for the web page. Reference the web page by title if the author is the same as the title or if you cannot identify an author. CRICK, Bernard (2009). George Orwell: voice of a long generation. [online]. Last accessed 3 May 2010 at: http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/british/britain_wwtwo/orwell_01.shtml NATIONAL OSTEOPOROSIS FOUNDATION (2010). Osteoporosis: bone basics. [online]. Last accessed 24 April 2010 at:http://www.nof.org/osteoporosis/bonehealth.htm Sheffield Botanical Gardens. (2010). [online]. Last accessed 23 February 2010 at:http://www.sbg.org.uk/ Media For a recording from TV or radio, include the programme title, part title if applicable, year, format, channel and date of broadcast. Panorama. Return of the real apprentices (2010). [DVD off-air]. BBC1. 19 April. For recorded feature films, provide film title, year of
release, format, director, broadcaster and version date. Changeling. (2008). [DVD off-air]. Directed by Clint Eastwood. Sky Movies Premier. 7 November 2009. You can get more information from Blackboard
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