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Study Success at Sussex (S3)

Writing style for reports

An important difference between essays and reports is that while essays are written in a single narrative voice from beginning to end, reports are written in sections which may use different styles of writing, depending on the purpose of the section. There are also conventions for when you should use different tenses.

Five Writing Tips

  1. Write Objectively – report what the evidence tells you. Don’t present unsupported or personal opinions. Take a balanced view.
  2. Write Accurately – give clear non-subjective descriptions (‘light blue’ is better than ‘sky blue’) and definite figures (‘after twenty five minutes’, ‘80% of the participants’). Avoid vague or ambiguous terms like ‘a long period of time’ or ‘most of the participants’.
  3. Write for your reader - identify the purpose of your communication and the audience you are communicating to. Give them the information they need to understand your work.
  4. Edit ruthlessly - Go through a paragraph that you have written and cross out any words or phrases, or even a sentence, that may be unnecessary.
  5. Proofread and check references - leave time to look at your work with 'fresh eyes' and make sure any information/images / ideas that are not your own are referenced.

Make sure that your work is grammatically correct, well punctuated and spelt correctly.

Writing styles and tenses

Different sections of your report will require different styles of writing e.g. your Methods and Results sections will be factual and descriptive, your Introduction will be explanatory, and your Literature Survey and Discussion sections will be discursive and analytical.

Descriptive writing - gives a detailed account of the characteristics of things.
Discursive writing
- investigates things by reasoning or making a reasoned examination.
Factual writing - states the facts of the case exactly as they are, without embellishment.
Analytical writing - examines complex things to discover how they work.
Explanatory writing
- makes things clear and gives the reasons for them.

There are also conventions for when you should use different tenses. The general rules are:

  • When you are reporting your findings, use the past tense (as you are reporting on something that has happened).
  • When you are reporting other people's research, use the present tense (as you are relating something that is established knowledge).
  • When you are discussing your findings, use the present tense.

So you might write:

‘Smith (2005) argues that the precise dimensions of this variable are not crucial. However, our experiment showed wide variations in results when the variable was altered even slightly. We conclude that the correct choice of dimensions is a significant factor in achieving success with this procedure.’