MU-OER Project Soft Skills- Index/Report writing Skills
- Identifying the types of reports
- Knowing the stages of preparing a good report
- Learning strategies and tips for good writing
A report can be described as a statement of facts, it is also a formal or official statement of the results of an investigation.
Whether you are a student, an employee or a professional, you are very often required to write reports. A student writes reports of laboratory experiments, field visits, seminars and so on. Employees and professionals write sales reports, progress reports and other technical reports in the course of their work.
Report writing does not imply merely putting together a lot of data; it is the presentation of relevant data in a proper logical format. This brings us to the two important components of a report:
- Content - The information in a report should be complete and correct. Reliable sources of data should be used and the source should be cited wherever necessary.
- Format - Most reports have a predetermined structure and there are specific conventions to be followed while writing.
|Types of Reports|
There are various types of reports depending on the purpose for which they are written. At a very broad level, we can categorise reports into three types:
- Informative reports - They present facts or information. They are usually objective and provide details of events, processes or activities. The facts are merely presented, not analysed. No conclusion is drawn and no recommendations are made.
- Analytical reports - They provide analysis and opinions based on facts. They are aimed at problem-solving and may also recommend a course of action.
- Persuasive reports - They contain both facts and analysis and the main purpose is to sell a product, a service or an idea.
|Quiz: To which type does each of the following reports belong?|
|Stages of preparing a report|
Report-writing often seems a daunting task. With a bit of careful planning, your task becomes much easier. Just follow each of these steps one at a time to create a good report.
- Know the purpose - It is essential that you know the exact purpose for writing the report. Find out who the report is for and why it is to be written.
- Gather and select information - Now you can begin gathering information. There is a wealth of information available on all subjects. Always keep in mind the length of the report you wish to write and gather a suitable amount of data. Ensure that your sources are accurate and reliable. Also ensure that you are using current and updated information; old editions of books and old web pages may give information that is no longer relevant. Apart from secondary sources like books, journals and the internet, you may be required to use primary sources of data like interviews,questionnaires and surveys. Keep a detailed record of all your sources, it will be useful if you need more information or for writing the references for your report.
A good report is not one that gives the most information, it is the one that gives the most relevant information. From the data that you have gathered, select what is most relevant to your report. Avoid too many details unless required and eliminate repetitions.
- Organise the data - Once the information has been gathered, you need to arrange it in a logical and coherent order. First group together all the facts /ideas that are similar or related, then try to find logical links between these groups. The logic should be simple and easy for readers to understand. You may use a technique called brain-storming to find relationships between ideas. Logical organisation can be brought in using flow-charts or tree diagrams.
- Write the report - Write the main body of the report first. The abstract / summary and list of contents can be written later based on your main text. This basic structure can be followed for analytical / persuasive reports:
1. Introduce an idea.
2. Explain and elaborate the idea. Provide definitions of any key terms or technical terms that you are using.
3. Support the idea with relevant evidence.
4. Comment on the evidence and relate it to the main purpose of the report.
5. Conclude the paragraph and provide a link to the next idea.
While writing the report, keep referring to the purpose as well as the expected word limit.
- Review - editing and proofreading
This process may appear time-consuming but it is the key to preparing an accurate report. Check all the facts and figures used in the report. Ensure that all ideas are logically linked. Review the language - spellings and grammar - for accuracy. Rewrite any sentences / paragraphs that seem vague or disconnected. Eliminate repetitions / redundancies. Add or edit information keeping in mind the word limit.
- Presentation - Once the content of the report has been finalised, format the report properly. Select a suitable layout, font, colours and so on in order to create maximum impact on the reader.
|How to write a good report|
Effective report-writing requires a focus on three main areas:
1. Conciseness: Readers of reports should be able to read the report quickly and act on it as soon as possible. To ensure this, reports should be brief. Use the fewest possible words and images. Choose only what is most relevant to your purpose. However, do not make your reports so brief that they are not easily understandable for the reader.Explain complex ideas or new concepts. Include details and background information wherever necessary. A report should be comprehensive without being excessively lengthy.
2. Clarity: A report should convey proper meaning to the reader. It is thus essential to write clearly. Your language should be unambiguous; it should not give rise to confusion or different interpretations.Facts, figures and images should be understood without any difficulty. Evaluate whether the report will be clear to a reader; keep in mind that the reader does not have as much background information about the topic as you do. S/he should not be kept wondering what you wrote or why you wrote it.
3. Cohesion and Coherence: A report should provide a complete picture to the reader. A simple logical structure helps readers understand and process the content. Continuity of ideas should be maintained. Every sentence / paragraph should be properly related to the next one. Images, tables and diagrams should be carefully incorporated into the written text. Transitional words and phrases can be used to make the report more cohesive. e.g. Firstly, the next step in the process, another, thus and so on.
|Layout of a report|
A report usually contains the following elements:
* Title page / Cover page This page gives us the title of the report. The title should clearly indicate the content of the report. It also contains the name and designation of the author/s and the date.
* Acknowledgements It is important to express your gratitude for all the people / organisations that have helped you in collecting the information and creating the report. They can be thanked on the "Acknowledgements" page.
* Contents The contents provide an index to the data in the report; they are particularly handy while searching for specific information in a lengthy report. The contents should contain a list of the main sections / headings in the report along with the page numbers for the same. If there is a large number of charts, graphs, tables etc. in the report, you can provide a separate "List of Illustrations" along with page numbers.
* Abstract or Summary This is a short paragraph that condenses the main contents of the report. It is a sort of thumbnail view of the entire report. It can include the main task, the methods used, the findings / conclusions and the recommendations (if any). A good abstract is concise and informative. Review the abstract carefully after completing your report to ensure that it is still accurate.
* Introduction It defines the nature and scope of the report. It may provide a brief background to the subject of the report and the methodology used.
*Methodology It defines how you carried out your investigation of the subject. Here you can discuss how you collected your data, did you use interviews/ questionnaires, how did you select the respondents and so on. The methodology should be presented briefly but precisely.
*Results / Findings Here you present the outcomes of your investigation. Convey the results in the simplest manner possible. Long descriptions can be simplified using flowcharts or diagrams.
*Analysis Analyse in detail the results of your investigation. Point out the trends that emerge from the information you have gathered and explain their significance. List down problems / limitations if any. It is very important that your analysis be objective and unbiased.
*Recommendations / Conclusions Recommendations / conclusions should emerge as a logical consequence of your investigation and analysis. They should focus on the main issues specified in the introduction. You can list the conclusions / recommendations to make them easier to read. This section is derived from the rest of the report and should not contain any new information.
*References It is important to acknowledge all the authors whose work you referred to for creating your report. This list should include precise details e.g.
- author's name
- title of the book /article/ research paper
- place of publication
- date of publication
*Appendix This is not a necessary element of a report. It may contain additional information which is relevant to the report but not essential to the report itself.
|Language in a report|
- Use simple, clear language.
- Avoid using very long, unfamiliar or technical words unless your readers are familiar with the jargon.
- Use short sentences. If a sentence has become too long, try to break it up into two or three shorter sentences.
- Avoid repetition.
- Use the correct tense; reports are usually written in the past tense, except for the recommendations.
- Use active voice wherever possible.
- Do not put too many ideas into one paragraph. If possible, give headings and sub-headings to make the content easier to understand.
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- As a student representative, write a report outlining the need for reforms in the online admission system for standard XI.
- Write a report on the reasons behind the growing popularity of mobile phone gaming among the youth.