This guide has been written to provide a general introduction to writing reports. It outlines the typical structure of a report and provides a step by step guide to producing reports that are clear and well structured.
A report is written for a clear purpose and to a particular audience. Specific information and evidence are presented, analysed and applied to a particular problem or issue. The information is presented in a clearly structured format making use of sections and headings so that the information is easy to locate and follow.
When you are asked to write a report you will usually be given a report brief which provides you with instructions and guidelines. The report brief may outline the purpose, audience and problem or issue that your report must address, together with any specific requirements for format or structure. This guide offers a general introduction to report writing; be sure also to take account of specific instructions provided by your department.
Examples of report writing skills
Most reports require research. This could include research within your team or department or from external sources. For example, you might find data to support how well your team is performing. Alternatively, you might quote a scholar from your field to add to your report. Research skills refer to being able to find relevant and credible sources that supplement your writing. To conduct research, it’s important to find reputable sources. You can do this by verifying the author and publisher to ensure they’re reliable.
Planning is a stage of report writing where you organize your document into separate sections. Most reports have a summary, introduction, body paragraphs and a conclusion. This skill is valuable because it helps you organize the components of your report so that it’s easy to understand. If you know what you’re going to write and how you’re going to write it, then you may have an easier time creating the report. The writing process is usually more efficient when you use planning skills.
Writing skills is the ability to communicate effectively with words. This is an essential skill for reports since creating the document requires writing. This ability also refers to how well you can write. A report with impressive writing may mean that the language is professional and clear. For example, you might use coherent sentence structures and correct terminology. Impressive writing skills may also include your spelling, grammar and punctuation. It’s important to have advanced writing abilities, so your report is professional.
Reports often include analysis, which is making a conclusion or statement based on evidence. Analysis also involves explaining why or how something happened. For example, a scientist might use analytical skills to evaluate the results of their experiment. When writing a lab report, they could use data from the experiment to support their analysis. Being able to analyze means you can summarize the subject and provide evidence that reinforces your ideas.
Brevity in writing means you can explain your content using few words or sentences. Although reports in different professions or companies may vary in length, most reports are typically short. Brevity can help you include all of your content within a page length requirement. Even if your assignment can be longer, brevity is an important skill to have. It can help make your writing concise. Short and simple sentences are typically easier to read than long and complex sentences.
Once you write your report, it’s good practice to read and revise it. Editing is the ability to identify and fix mistakes in your writing. This can make your document easier to read. An error-free document also looks advanced and professional. When revising your report, try to check for grammar, spelling and punctuation mistakes. You can also look for confusing sentences or incorrect information.
How to improve report writing skills
1. Read other reports
To enhance your report writing skills, try to read other published reports. This can help you learn how to format and write a report. By reading examples, you can see what other authors included in their writing. After you read a few reports, think about what made it an impressive piece of writing. Try to incorporate those aspects into your own reports.
2. Create an outline
You can improve your planning skills by creating outlines for each report. An outline is a document that lists each section of a piece of writing. For example, it might include your introduction, body paragraph and conclusion. In these sections, you can make notes about your topics. For instance, you might describe what you want to write about in each body paragraph. Using an outline can increase your report’s organization, which might make it easier to write.
3. Verify your sources
When conducting your research, remember to verify your sources. This ensures that they’re all reliable and accurate. Credible sources are important for reports because they show that your information is trustworthy. It also indicates that you’re a reliable author. To check your sources, use a few books, articles or websites to ensure that the information is similar. If the information is close to or the same, then your source is most likely credible. Try to include sources from reputable organizations, such as government agencies.
4. Write multiple drafts
During your writing process, start by creating a draft. When you write a draft, you typically revise or rewrite it before sending it to your employer. This is beneficial because you can practice your editing skills. A first draft typically has errors or areas of improvement, which is why it’s important to create multiple drafts. Your final draft is the last version of your report that usually has minimal mistakes in it.
5. Ask for feedback
Once you’re done writing your report, ask for feedback on it. You could as a coworker, manager, friend or family member. They can read your writing and give you constructive feedback. You can use their suggestions to improve your editing and writing skills by creating a revised version of your report. Applying feedback usually increases the quality of your report. It can also enhance your writing skills since you can apply that feedback to future reports you create.
Skill 3: Coherent Writing
As mentioned, the purpose of this text type is to communicate information to the reader in a clear, easily understandable manner. To do this requires the student to take a few things into consideration.
Firstly, they’ll need to write in a way appropriate for the audience they are trying to connect with. They will have identified this audience back in the research stage of writing, but they will now need to take this information into account while writing.
Generally, it is good practice for the student to avoid jargon in their information reports or, at least, introduce difficult subject-specific vocabulary with a brief explanation when first mentioned in the text.
While the needless use of jargon should be discouraged, using subject-specific vocabulary is not only unavoidable, it should be encouraged. Where necessary, the student should consider including a glossary within their report to assist the reader to understand difficult, unfamiliar terms.
For the same reason that they should avoid obscure and needlessly complicated vocabulary in their writing, students should also write in a straightforward and easy-to-understand manner.
The most efficient way to inform the reader is to communicate in a direct and uncomplicated way. Students should not try to dazzle the reader with the beauty of sophisticated, grammatically complex sentences.
The purpose here is to communicate information, not to beguile with linguistic virtuosity. Reinforce with your students the importance of a no-nonsense approach to writing their information reports – the practical over the ornate, always!
This individual can be entirely imaginary, e.g. a hypothetical work colleague or boss, but having a clear image of the reader in their mind often helps the student to write in a more direct, straightforward manner.
Skill 5: Excellence in Editing
Step 1: The Structural Edit
While the above questions help the student to focus on tangible aspects of the information report’s structure, the student should also consider less pin-downable aspects of their work such as the ‘look’ and the ‘feel’ of the text.
Step 2: The Line Edit
In the next run-through, the student will narrow their focus down to each individual sentence to focus on grammar, spelling, and punctuation. This edit examines the nuts and bolts of the writing process and students should ask themselves the following questions as they edit:
However, they should also cast a critical eye over each and every word in their report themselves. While checkers are extremely useful tools to help ensure accuracy, they are far from infallible and cannot ‘check’ on the writer’s intent. At least not yet!
Step 3: Take a Break
When pressed up against deadlines and even the desire just to be done with it, students often lack the necessary perspective to be able to adequately edit their own work. And, because it isn’t always possible to get a qualified third party with the time or inclination to run a critical eye over their work, it’s important that students take the time to allow their work to rest.
Ideally, this ‘rest’ will be at least overnight. If that’s not possible, the student should allow for a few hours’ break before casting a final, refreshed eye over their work before submitting it.
Step 4: Read Aloud
This slower pace encourages the student to pay more attention to the words on the page and provides them with a further opportunity to catch any mistakes as they listen to the words rather than merely read them.
As your students work on developing the skills above, it’s vital to reinforce that information reports are short, concise documents that are written for a particular purpose and for a specific audience.
It is these two facts that should reinforce every decision students make during the writing process. With these facts consistently in mind, it will be difficult for students to stray too far from the report’s original goals.
By practising the skills required to write informatively for a specific audience and for a particular purpose, students will develop the skills necessary to communicate effectively throughout their schooling and beyond into their working lives.
The content for this page has been written by Shane Mac Donnchaidh. A former principal of an international school and university English lecturer with 15 years of teaching and administration experience. Shane’s latest Book the Complete Guide to Nonfiction Writing can be found here. Editing and support for this article have been provided by the literacyideas team.