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Structuring a report

Reports are formally structured in sections. You need to understand the function of each section so that you can structure your information appropriately.

Click on the tabs below for examples of sections commonly used in reports and a description of the purpose of that section.

Please note: Reports for different briefs require different sections, so always remember to check any instructions you've been given.

 

Abstract

This is sometimes called the Summary or Executive Summary. It is a short overview, to help the reader to make an informed decision about whether to read the whole report. The length depends on the extent of the work but it is usually a paragraph or two and always less than a page.

Think of an abstract as a series of short answers to questions. For example:

• What is the purpose of the work?
• What methods did you use for your research?
• What were the main findings and conclusions reached?
• Did your work lead you to make any recommendations for future actions?

Introduction

The Introduction may also be called Background or Context. Explain the rationale behind the work, what you have been asked to do (or what you have chosen), the reasons for doing it and the background.

State what the report is about. What question are you trying to answer? If it is a brief for a specific reader (e.g. a feasibility report on an AI project for a client), say who they are. Describe your starting point and the background to the subject, explaining the research that has already been done.

If you have been asked to include a Literature Survey later in the report, you only need a brief outline of previous research in the Introduction. State the relevant themes and issues. Why are you being asked to investigate them now?

Explain how you are going to respond to the brief. If you are going to test a hypothesis in your research, include this at the end of your introduction. Include a brief outline of your method of enquiry. State the limits of your research and reasons for them, for example: ‘Research will focus on native English speakers only, as a proper consideration of the issues arising from speaking English as a second language is beyond the scope of this project.'

 

Literature survey

Also called a Literature Review or Survey/Review of Research, it provides the background to your research. It is a survey of books, journals, authoritative websites and sometimes conference papers that have been published on the topic of your report. It should only include studies that have direct relevance to your research.

A literature survey should be written like an essay in a discursive style, with an introduction, main discussion grouped in themes, and a conclusion.

Introduce your review by explaining how you went about finding your materials, and any clear trends in research that have emerged. Group the texts you found in themes. Write about each theme as a separate section, giving a critical summary of each piece of work and showing its relevance to your research.

Conclude with how the review has informed your research (things you'll build on, gaps you'll fill etc).

 

Methods

Also called Methodology. The Methods section is a factual account of the activities you used to collect your evidence. You are stating facts. Write your Methods section in such a way that a reader could follow your description to replicate your research.

State clearly how you carried out your investigation. Explain why you chose this particular method (questionnaires, focus group, experimental procedure etc), including techniques and any equipment you used. If there were participants in your research, who were they? How many? How did you select them?

Write this section concisely but including all essential details. Say what you did, step by step, including everything that is relevant.

 

Results

(Also called Data or Findings) In this section, you state your findings. Use the format that will achieve this most effectively, e.g. text, graphs, tables or diagrams.

Think about how the data will look to the reader. Choose one format and don't repeat the same information in two forms. Label your graphs and tables clearly. Give each figure a heading and describe what the figure demonstrates.

Writing in this section should be clear, simple and informative. Save your interpretation of the results for the Discussion section.

 

Discussion

The Discussion places your evidence in the context of the background. It will probably be the longest section and may take the most time to write.

Here, you bring everything together. You show how your findings relate to the brief and the previous research in your literature survey. Write in a discursive style. You need to discuss the reasons for your findings, using evidence from previous research to back up your explanations.

You can mention if there were any problems (for instance, if your results were different from expectations, you couldn't find important data, or you had to change your method or participants). Explain how they were or could have been solved.

 

Conclusion

The conclusion is a short section with no new arguments or evidence. Sum up the main points of your research. How do they answer the original brief?

This section may also include recommendations for action and suggestions for further research.

 

 

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Activity - Which section of the report?

Make sure you're familiar with the different sections of a report. Now read the short extracts in the quiz and decide which section of the report they come from.

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