Report writing is an essential skill for many jobs and educational courses. This page shows you correct report writing formats, and gives you 10 top tips to help you write a report.
Report Writing - An Introduction
You might have to write a report at university (an academic report) or as part of your job (a business or technical report).
There are also different reasons for report writing: to present information (such as a lab report or financial report); to present research findings; or to analyse a problem and then recommend a particular action or strategy.
A report can be long or short, formal or informal. The style and vocabulary choice will depend on who is going to read your report, and their level of understanding or expertise.
Reports should be clear and concise, with the information presented logically in sections, with headings and (if necessary) sub-headings.
Report Writing Formats
Reports don't always follow the same formats or include all the possible, different sections. If you're unsure about the correct report writing format to use, check with your tutor (at university) or find out the preferred layout that your company uses.
As part of your academic course (especially if you're studying a scientific or technical subject), you may need to write a research report.
In it you'll address a particular situation (saying why it's worthy of research and referencing other studies on the subject); describe your research methods and evaluate the results of your research; then finally make conclusions or recommendations.
What are the report sections?
Title page - the title of your report, your name, the date, academic information (your course and tutor's name).
Acknowledgements - if you've received help (ie from experts, academics, libraries).
Terms of reference (optional)
This gives the scope and limitations of your report - your objective in writing and who it's for.
Summary / Abstract - in brief, the most important points of your report: your objectives (if you don't include a terms of reference section), main findings, conclusions and recommendations.
Table of Contents
All the sections and sub-sections of your report with page references, plus a list of diagrams or illustrations and appendices.
Why you're researching the topic, the background and goals of your research, your research methods, plus your conclusion in brief.
Methods / Methodology / Procedure (optional - if not included in the introduction)
How you carried out your research, techniques, equipment or procedures you used.
Main body / Discussion (the longest part of your report)
Contains an analysis and interpretation of your findings (often linked to current theory or previous research) divided into headings and sub-headings for clarity. You can also include visual information, such as diagrams, illustrations, charts, etc.
Results (can also go before the main body of the report)
The findings of your research (also presented in tables, etc) but without any discussion or interpretation of them.
What you can say about the results - your deductions, and the most important findings from your research.
Recommendations (can also be part of the conclusion section)
Number these if you have more than one.
Extra information which is too long for the main body of your report, such as tables, questionnaires, etc.
All the sources you refer to in your report.
Books, journals, etc which you read or used during your research.
Technical or jargon words which your reader might not understand.
You might need to write a report in order to examine a problem and offer ways of solving it or recommend a course of action.
Or you might just need to write a shorter, information-type report.
What are the report sections?
The report title, your name, the date, the name of the person commissioning the report, the objective of the report.
Management / Executive Summary
You can give this to people instead of the whole report. It's often less than one page and contains the main information - the summary, conclusions and recommendations.
Table of Contents
For longer reports, including sections and page references.
The background of the report, what is included, methods and procedures for getting the information, acknowledgements of help.
Main Body / Discussion
This is the longest part of your report, including all the details organised into headings and sub-headings. For example, a description of the current situation / problems.
Summary and Conclusions (can also go before the main body)
Summarise the reason for your report, and your conclusions, such as the potential solutions to a problem.
Recommendations (can also go before the main body)
Identify your preferred course of action. Number your recommendations if you have more than one.
Any extra information, such as illustrations, questionnaires used in preparing the report, or a bibliography.
For shorter reports, or information-type reports (such as financial reports or sales reports) the report sections may be:
Main Body / Discussion
10 Report Writing Tips
These report writing tips will save you time and make sure that what you write is relevant. There are five writing tips followed by five language tips.
1. Write your executive summary and table of contents at the end
This means that the section headings and page numbers will be consistent. The executive summary is much easier to write if you have already written the rest.
2. Focus on the objective
Make sure you understand the purpose of your report and who you're writing it for. If you're writing a report as part of your university course, read the brief carefully and refer back to it so that everything you write and include is relevant.
If you're writing a business report, write an objective statement first. This helps you decide what's going to be relevant and important for the reader. You can use the objective as the title of the report, or put it in the introduction. For example:
3. Plan before you start writing
Gather all your research and relevant information. You might need to interview people, do some background reading or carry out experiments.
Decide on a structure for your report. How are you going to organise the information you have into sections? How can you divide these sections into headings and sub-headings?
Plan your structure by writing all your points on a piece of paper, then grouping these ideas into sections and headings. Alternatively, try a "mind map". Write a subject word in a box, and then write ideas around this subject word, drawing lines to connect them to the subject word. Doing this can help you see where information is related and where it can be grouped.
Make sure you keep a note of all your references so you can write the references section afterwards. As you plan out the structure of your report, think about how it's linked to the objective of your report. What conclusions or recommendations can you make? Is there anything unusual that you might need to explain?
4. Use a clear layout
Make your report look more readable and inviting. Here are some ways to help you do this:
Use headings and sub-headings to break up the text. Remember to number these consistently. Here are two alternatives:
Sub-section 1(a), 1(b)
Sub-sub-section 1 (a) (i), 1 (a) (ii); 1 (b) (i), 1 (b), (ii)
Sub-section 1.1, 1.2
Sub-sub-section 1.1.1, 1.1.2; 1.2.1, 1.2.2
Include adequate spacing and margins to make the text look less dense
Write well-structured paragraphs. Paragraphs shouldn't be more than five sentences long. For example, your first sentence is the topic sentence - the main idea of the paragraph. The second to fourth sentences expand on this idea, giving supporting or additional information, commenting on the points raised, or referring to other data. The final sentence concludes the ideas presented, or leads on to the following paragraph.
5. Edit and proof read!
Here's a check list of what you should ask yourself before submitting your report:
- Is it free of grammatical mistakes, concise and easy to read?
- Do the sections follow on logically from each other?
- Is each point supported with evidence or data?
- Are the conclusions and recommendations persuasive?
- Are all the sources correctly referenced?
And finally - have you kept to the report objective or brief?
Report Writing - Language Tips
Aim to write clearly and concisely. Here are five ways to help you do this:
6. Keep sentences short and simple
Include only one main idea in each sentence, with extra information in following sentences, introduced by a appropriate linking word (see below). Avoid writing long sentences with lots of sub-clauses which will make it difficult for your reader to follow you. Aim for sentences which are no longer than 15-20 words.
7. Use linking words
Words and phrases like "Therefore", "However", "For this reason", etc help your reader follow your ideas. For a complete list of linking words (and examples of their use) check out our page on linking words.
8. Use everyday English
Explain jargon or technical language (if you're writing for a non-technical audience) and include these terms in a glossary.
9. Avoid passive forms where possible
Scientific and technical reports often include passive forms instead of subject pronouns like "I" and "you", but for business reports you can write more simply and directly.
To make your business report sound more objective, you can use the "third person". For example, "This report outlines the advantages and disadvantages of company pension schemes." Other verbs you can use in the "third person" are:
analyze (analyse BrE)
"This section analyzes the differences between the two markets."
"This report describes the procedures commonly used in assessing insurance claims."
"This report discusses the implications of the new building regulations."
"This report examines the impact of natural disasters on our production facilities."
"This section explains the decisions to suspend investment in Europe."
"This report identifies the advantages and disadvantages of relocating our head office."
"This report illustrates the main difficulties in opening new branches in Asia."
"This section outlines our R&D priorities."
"This report reviews our franchising operations."
summarize (summarise BrE)
"This report summarizes the main points raised at the Shareholders Meeting."
10. Keep an eye on punctuation
Correct punctuation helps your reader move more easily through your report. If you're not sure on when to use commas or semi-colons (for example), check out our punctuation guide.
For more help with writing skills, take a look at Business Writing Essentials: How to Write Letters, Reports and Emails.