# Report writing

## Soft Skills

 Report writing

 Introduction

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 them.

 Learning Objectives After reading this chapter, you are expected to learn about: Identify the types of reports Know the stages of preparing a good report Learn strategies and tips for good 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. e.g. a report describing a conference that took place.
• Analytical reports - They provide analysis and opinions based on facts. They are aimed at problem-solving and may also recommend a course of action. e.g. Market analysis of a particular product or a report investigating the reasons behind the failure of a project.
• Persuasive reports - They contain both facts and analysis and the main purpose is to sell a product, a service or an idea. e.g. a proposal to set up a cafetaria in a public library.
 Stages of preparing a good 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.
• Writing 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.
 Characteristics of 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.

 Use of language in report-writing

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ORGANIZATION OF A REPORT

   Aims of a report are


   (1) Communicate the objectives of the work done,


   (2) give the procedures used,


   (3) Discussion of results, and


   (4) Conclusions.


   A report should also give a list of symbols used, and references

   that have been cited. Appendices are used to give the details of

   data, and an example of calculation of quantities calculated from

   observations.


INTRODUCTION OF A REPORT

   State clearly the “why” of the work, and its objective. May need

   giving motivation.


Understand the purposes of a report

                                •      Plan a report

                                •      Understand the structure of a report

                    •      Collect information for your report

                                •      Organise your information

                                •      Use an appropriate style of writing

                                •      Present data effectively

                                •      Understand how to lay out your

                                       information in an appropriate way


Stages in report writing

                                •      Terms of reference

                                •      Planning your report

                                •      Collecting information

•      Organising information

                                •      Structuring your report

                                •      Style of writing

                                •      Layout

                                •      Presentation

                                •      Redrafting and checking


The terms of reference of a report are a guiding state-

                               ment used to define the scope of your investigation.

                               You must be clear from the start what you are being

                               asked to do. You will probably have been given an

                               assignment from your tutor but you may need to

                               discuss this further to find out the precise subject and

                               purpose of the report. Why have you been asked to

                               write it ?


                               Knowing your purpose will help you to communi-

                               cate your information more clearly and will help you

                               to be more selective when collecting your informa-

                               tion.


Planning your

      report


                               Careful planning will help you to write a clear,

                               concise and effective report, giving adequate time to

                               each of the developmental stages prior to submis-

                               sion.


                                     •     Consider the report as a whole


                                     •     Break down the task of writing the report

                                           into various parts.


                                     •     How much time do you have to write the

                                           report?


                                     •     How can this be divided up into the

                                           various planning stages?


                                     •     Set yourself deadlines for the various

                                           stages.


                               Draw up an outline structure for your report and

                               set the work within a sensible time scale for com-

                               pletion by the given deadline.


                               Some of the most time-consuming parts of the

                               process are collecting and selecting your informa-

                               tion, and checking and revising your report.


Collecting

        information


                                       There are a number of questions you need to ask

                                       yourself at this stage :-


                                             •     What is the information you need ?


                                             •     Where do you find it ?


                                             •     How much do you need ?


                                             •     How shall you collect it ?


                                             •     In what order will you arrange it ?


                                       You may have much of the information you need

                                       already such as results from a laboratory experiment

                                       or descriptions of your methods of data collection.

                                       However, there may be other material which is

                                       needed such as background information on other

                                       research studies, or literature surveys. You may need

                                       to carry out some interviews or make a visit to the

                                       university library to collect all the information you

                                       need.


                                             •     Make a list of what information you need.


                                             •     Make an action plan stating how you are

                                                   going to gather this.


One helpful way of organising your information into

                                       topics is to brainstorm your ideas into a ‘spider

                                       diagram.’


                                             •     Write the main theme in the centre of a

                                                   piece of paper.


                                             •     Write down all the ideas and keywords

                                                   related to your topic starting from the

                                                   centre and branching out along lines of

                                                   connecting ideas.


Each idea can be circled or linked by lines

                                        as appropriate.


                                   •    When you have finished, highlight any

                                        related ideas and then sort topics.


                                   •    Some ideas will form main headings, and

                                        others will be sub-sections under these

                                        headings.


                                   •    You should then be able to see a pattern

                                        emerging and be able to arrange your

                                        main headings in a logical order


Title page

                                     This should include the title of the report (which

                                     should give a precise indication of the subject mat-

                                     ter), the author’s name, module, course and the date.


                                     Acknowledgements


                                     You should acknowledge any help you have received

                                     in collecting the information for the report. This may

                                     be from librarians, technicians or computer centre

                                     staff, for example.


                                     Contents


                                     You should list all the main sections of the report in

                                     sequence with the page numbers they begin on. If

                                     there are charts, diagrams or tables included in your

                                     report, these should be listed separately under a title

                                     such as ‘List of Illustrations’ together with the page

                                     numbers on which they appear.


                                     Abstract or summary


                                     This should be a short paragraph summarising the

                                     main contents of the report. It should include a short

                                     statement of the main task, the methods used, con-

                                     clusions reached and any recommendations to be

                                     made. The abstract or summary should be concise,

                                     informative and independent of the report.


                                     Write this section after you have written the report.


Introduction

This should give the context and scope of the report

and should include your terms of reference. State

your objectives clearly, define the limits of the report,

outline the method of enquiry, give a brief general

background to the subject of the report and indicate

the proposed development.

Methodology

In this section you should state how you carried out

your enquiry. What form did your enquiry take ? Did

you carry out interviews or questionnaires, how did

you collect your data ? What measurements did you

make ? How did you choose the subjects for your

interviews ? Present this information logically and

concisely.

Results or findings

Present your findings in as simple a way as possible.

The more complicated the information looks, the

more difficult it will be to interpret. There are a

number of ways in which results can be presented.

Here are a few :

       •      Tables

       •      Graphs

       •      Pie charts

       •      Bar charts

       •      Diagrams


Illustration checklist

       •      Are all your diagrams / illustrations

              clearly labelled?


       •      Do they all have titles?


       •      Is the link between the text and the

              diagram clear?


       •      Are the headings precise?


       •      Are the axes of graphs clearly labelled?


       •      Can tables be easily interpreted?


       •      Have you abided by any copyright laws

              when including illustrations/tables from

              published documents?


Discussion

                                     This is the section where you can analyse and inter-

                                     pret your results drawing from the information

                                     which you have collected, explaining its significance.

                                     Identify important issues and suggest explanations

                                     for your findings. Outline any problems encountered

                                     and try and present a balanced view.


                                     Conclusions and recommendations


                                     This is the section of the report which draws together

                                     the main issues. It should be expressed clearly and

                                     should not present any new information. You may

                                     wish to list your recommendations in separate

                                     section or include them with the conclusions.


                                     References


                                     It is important that you give precise details of all the

                                     work by other authors which has been referred to

                                     within the report. Details should include :


                                           •     author’s name and initials


                                           •     date of publication


                                           •     title of the book, paper or journal


                                           •     publisher


                                           •     place of publication


                                           •     page numbers


                                           •     details of the journal volume in which the

                                                 article has appeared.


                                     References should be listed in alphabetical order of

                                     the authors' names.


                                     Make sure that your references are accurate and

                                     comprehensive.


                                     Appendices


                                     An appendix contains additional information related

                                     to the report but which is not essential to the main

                                     findings. This can be consulted if the reader wishes

                                     but the report should not depend on this. You could

                                     include details of interview questions, statistical

                                     data, a glossary of terms, or other information which

                                     may be useful for the reader.