The Fundamental Principles of Report Writing
Whether it's a book report, a lab report, a memo or a formal report, all reports share common principles, or rules. The purpose of a report in an academic setting is to communicate what was done by whom, how she did it, what the results were and what conclusions can be drawn from it. Reports can be written in any field about any subject, from science experiments to mathematical proofs to analyses of literary works.
The subject of your report should be timely and relevant to your field. Thoroughly research the existing literature about your topic, and clearly define the problem your report will address. In your introduction, discuss why your topic is relevant and any research holes or missing information it will fill or supply. Explain how your approach to the problem is different from other methods of investigation and how your report will answer gaping questions in your field.
A report must be organized in a logical and formulaic format. The introduction of your report must state the problem you are addressing and your explanation of the need for the report.
The methods section of your report must articulate what you did and how you did it. The methods section must be clear enough for anyone else to follow your steps.
The results section defines the numerical findings of your investigation. These numbers may be presented in graphs and tables for interpretation by the reader.
The discussion section is where you interpret your findings and discuss how they either answer or do not answer your original question or problem.
A report must be well researched and contain factual information. If your findings are not what you expected, you must discuss the difference in the report. Never skew data -- your findings -- or try to fit the data to match what you originally thought. A report should be objective and accurate.
Including false information or trying to skew your findings to one angle or another will invalidate your whole report. Carefully conduct your research and check all facts thoroughly.
The reader should be able to look in both your introduction and your discussion to find a summary of your report, including the main focus, or problem, and the results of your investigation.
While your introduction should include a thorough explanation of the topic and the reason why your report is important, you may also include a brief description of your findings. This summary should only be a general statement, without any detail or explanation.
Once you have explained your results, begin your discussion section with a reminder of the main topic of your report. Remind the reader of what and why you were originally investigating before launching into your interpretation of the results.
- Purdue University Online Writing Lab: Checklist for Reports
- Massachusetts Institute for Technology: Tips for Writing a Good Report
- Vanier College: How To Write a Report -- The Four Basic Parts
- School Library Media Research: Students as Authentic Researchers -- A New Prescription for the High School Research Assignment
- Purdue University Online Writing Lab: Purposes and Types of Report Formats
Hannah Richardson has a Master's degree in Special Education from Vanderbilt University and a Bacheor of Arts in English. She has been a writer since 2004 and wrote regularly for the sports and features sections of "The Technician" newspaper, as well as "Coastwach" magazine. Richardson also served as the co-editor-in-chief of "Windhover," an award-winning literary and arts magazine. She is currently teaching at a middle school.