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Writing style for reports

Essays are written in a single narrative voice from beginning to end, while reports are written in sections that use different styles of writing, depending on the purpose of the section.

Writing styles

Methods and Results sections: factual and descriptive
Introduction: explanatory
Literature Survey and Discussion: discursive and analytical

Factual writing - states the facts of the case exactly as they are.
Descriptive writing - a detailed account of the characteristics of things
Explanatory writing - makes things clear and gives the reasons for them
Discursive writing - investigates things by reasoning or making a reasoned examination
Analytical writing - examines complex things to discover how they work


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

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

So you might write: 

‘Smith (2015) 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.'

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 25 minutes'; ‘80% of the participants').

3. Write for your reader - identify the purpose of the report and your audience. Provide the information they need to understand your work.

4. Edit ruthlessly - delete any unnecessary words, phrases or sentences. Make sure that your work is grammatically correct, well punctuated and spelt correctly.

5. Proofread and check references - allow time to look at your work with ‘fresh eyes'. Make sure you reference all information/ images / ideas that come from others.


Make sure you allow enough time for writing and editing your work. Look at Drafting: Stage 2 and Copy-editing for more details.

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