Report Writing Adapted from ‘Report Writing’, The Sydney Campus of Curtin University of Technology CRICOS Provider Code 02637B What is a report? A report is a structured written presentation directed to interested readers in response to some specific purpose, aim or request. There are many varieties of reports, but generally their function is to give an account of something, to answer a question, or to offer a solution to a problem. Characteristics of an effective report An effective report is: appropriate to its purpose and audience; accurate; logical; clear and concise; and well organised with clear section headings. Report structure One important advantage that a report has over other written communication is that it follows a standardised format. This enables readers to find and focus on specific pieces of information. Most reports are modeled on the following structure (modified where necessary). Report structure continued Transmittal document (not common) Title page Table of contents Abstract/Executive Summary Introduction Discussion Conclusions Recommendations Bibliography Appendix Procedure for report writing The following is a suggestion as to how you might proceed in compiling and presenting a report. There are three stages: Planning – including brainstorming issues Writing Formatting, revising and proofreading Stage One: Planning Defining the purpose. Read the brief carefully identify key words make sure you know what's really being asked Stage One: Planning continued 2. Defining the audience determine your audience's level of understanding determine what your audience needs to know Stage One: Planning continued 3. Establishing parameters determine the scope and level of detail required determine the length of the report and what can be covered in that length Stage One: Planning continued 4. Gathering information make sure the information you gather is relevant, contemporary and factually correct make sure that you transcribe facts and figures correctly Stage Two: Writing Write the report in three stages: Write the body Write the abstract/executive summary Write/compile the supplementary material 1. Writing the body There are four components of the body of the report: the introduction, the discussion, the conclusion and the recommendations. Introduction The introduction leads into the main subject matter by giving the necessary background of the report, its aims, premises, scope, limitations, approach intended audience, possible benefits and any instructions that may be useful for the reader. If specialist terms are used in the report, define them clearly. It puts the discussion in perspective, explains why the report is necessary and gives background information on the subject matter. 1. Writing the body continued Discussion: The discussion is the main body of the report. Use headings and sub-headings. It describes, analyses, interprets and evaluates the procedures, data, findings, relationships, visual material, methodology and results in the report. This material should be presented in an order that leads logically towards the conclusions and recommendations. 1. Writing the body continued In writing the discussion section of the body, you should: pitch at appropriate level organise material logically use clear, concise language give concrete examples 1. Writing the body continued Conclusion Conclusions are drawn from evidence, analysis, interpretation and evaluation presented in the discussion. No new material should be introduced; the conclusions should follow logically from the Discussion. The Conclusions section should give: Conclusions Key points Main findings 1. Writing the body continued Recommendation The Recommendation section (when used - not all reports give recommendations) should present your informed opinions, suggestions, possible actions to be taken, applications and recommendations arising from a rational consideration of the discussion and conclusions. Be definite Be perceptive Be imaginative Be rational 2. Abstract/executive summary Once the body of the report is written, write the abstract. The abstract (also known as the Executive Summary) is a concise summary presentation of the essential elements of the report, from the introduction through to and including the recommendations. It should be independent (can be read on its own), comprehensive (covers all the main points), clear and concise. As a general rule it should be short, only 10-15% of the length of the report, and should be written in full sentences and paragraphs. It should include a summary of the following: Purpose Scope Achievements Main points Conclusions Recommendations 3. Writing the supplementary material Transmittal document The transmittal document is not part of the report, but accompanies the report. In letter, memo, or minute form, it personalises the report for a specific reader and calls attention to those items or sections in the report which are of particular interest to that person. 3. Writing the supplementary material continued Title page identifies the report with the following information: Title Author's name, position and qualifications Authority for report Place of origin Date 3. Writing the supplementary material continued Table of contents The table of contents shows the section titles and major headings listed in order of appearance and indicates page locations. Standard page numbering begins with the Introduction. The Abstract or Executive Summary is usually numbered with lower case Roman numerals (i, ii, iii, iv, etc.) 3. Writing the supplementary material continued Bibliography The bibliography lists all publications either cited or referred to in preparing the report. Use the Referencing System recommended by your Hospitality which is the Harvard System. Stage Three: Formatting, revising and proof-reading Apply the following "report checklist" Have I fulfilled the purpose of the report? Is it written at a level appropriate to its audience? Are its facts correct? Is it comprehensive? Is all the included information relevant? Are the layout and presentation well thought out? Is the style clear, concise and professional? Does the abstract summarise? Does the introduction adequately introduce the discussion? Is the discussion organised logically? Does the conclusions section interpret, analyse and evaluate? Are the recommendations reasonable? Does the table of contents correspond with the actual contents? Are page numbers correct? Have I acknowledged all sources of information through correct referencing? Have I checked spelling, grammar and punctuation? Have I carefully proof-read the final draft Writing a research report A research report uses similar structure to that of any other report however the planning stages must involve research. To assist in directing the research an action plan should be prepared Action plan A description of what needs to be done, when and by whom to achieve the results called for by one or more objectives. It contains task assignments, schedules, resource allocations and ... Action plan continued ....steps that must be taken, or activities that must be performed well, for a strategy to succeed. An action plan has three major elements: (1) Specific tasks : what will be done and by whom. (2) Time horizon: when will it be done. (3) Resource allocation: what specific funds are available for specific activities. Also called action program. report on research findings Determine the structure of your report You have spent a great deal of time conducting the research project. Although you might be tempted to rush through the process of completing your report, this might result in a less than satisfactory outcome that does not meet the needs of the project. You can have comprehensive, relevant and accurate research results but if you do not structure the report appropriately you will not be able to prove or disprove your research hypothesis. The structure of your report You must create guidelines as to what information is needed and the desired layout or format of your report. You must make a decision as to how the information in the report is to be presented. The information must be ‘packaged’ as a report so that the purpose of conducting the research is met. For example if the research project was conducted to determine how a park was used, then the report needs to answer that question. Reports need to be planned before detailed writing starts. This may involve deciding what the main headings will be, the sub-headings wanted and the key points to be included under each heading and sub-heading. The content should flow in a logical way, starting with the background to the research design, then reporting the main findings and ending with conclusions and recommendations Drafting and editing Good layout and editing is important in both report writing and in making presentations. A starting point in doing this is to decide on the layout to be used, that is, the way material will be presented in terms of headings, sub-headings, use of dot points, footnotes and so on. You should ensure that the report you provide is professional. This means reports must be free of typographical, grammatical and spelling errors. To achieve this it may be necessary to employ the services of a proof reader and editor. This person’s role is to eliminate these types of errors. Also they are expected to recommend changes that will eliminate ambiguity in the text to ensure that nothing is misunderstood or misinterpreted. Ensuring accuracy of the report Another requirement of presenting and writing a professional report is ensuring that your report is accurate. Any references to information or sources of information need to be checked by you. This will be much easier if you have kept a careful record of information you have used and where it has come from when you (or someone else) comes to check the sources. An important note about accuracy: -make sure that you correctly attribute an author. To claim words or an idea from someone else is not only inaccurate, it is unethical and falls far short of the professional standards you must follow in your report. You cannot claim the words and ideas of other writers and researchers as your own. You can usually use the words of others as long as you acknowledge the source. Reporting on the findings You may have to make various decisions about how text and tables will be presented. This may involve decisions as to what will be included and what will be dropped as superfluous or redundant. What you should include in the report is all the information needed to make well-informed decisions in relation to the research hypothesis. The text should be cross-referenced to tables, charts and graphs so that the reader can read them in conjunction with one another. Readers should be able to link recommendations with the facts found in the text. They should never be left wondering why a particular recommendation has been made. In some cases it may be advisable to support the argument given in the text with other sources. For example: For example: appendices—documents, reports, tables, etc, found at the end of a report footnotes and endnotes—added comments providing further information to readers wanting more information bibliographies—books and articles relevant to a fuller understanding of the subject matter. Your report needs to clearly link recommendations with facts The structure of the report A short report may consist only of: purpose introduction discussion conclusion recommendations. longer reports may contain: front matter such as cover page, table of contents, list of tables, graphs and figures definitions and terminology scope method and technique used statement of the issue findings end matter such as bibliography, appendices, index. In some cases... a reader may want to be led through all the facts before reading a discussion, conclusions and then recommendations. If a reader is an expert in a field they may only want to see the recommendations and do not need convincing. Here are two different orders and an explanation of why they were chosen. Indirect order introduction findings discussion and analysis conclusion recommendations In the indirect order You save the conclusion and recommendations until last because the receiver: might resist your conclusions because they either contain bad news or are contrary to the receiver’s opinion will not understand your conclusions until he or she reads the rest of the report. Direct order arrangement Choice 1 introduction recommendations conclusions findings discussion and analysis Choice 2 recommendations introduction findings discussion and analysis conclusion In these structures you present your recommendations early in the report Reasons for this may be: that the report contains good news for the receiver and you want to focus the reader’s attention the receiver has enough background to understand the recommendations without having to necessarily read the rest of the report the report may be easier to read because the recommendations provide a framework around which to interpret the detailed information in the body. How to present numerical Information for your research. You have gone to a lot of trouble to collect information in your research project. How do you present this information if it is numerical? To answer this question you need to understand different presentation methods and how they can be used. We will look at the two most common methods for presenting numerical information: the pie chart and the histogram. There are many other different ways in which you can present numerical information. Have a look in Additional resources in this learning topic for more information. Pie chart This is used when you want to show what proportion of the total a particular result forms part of. Histogram A histogram is a representation of the results in a graphical form. You have probably seen many histograms. Histograms show the distribution of results. Histograph Producing the final report Remember that you must write with your audience in mind. The grammar, style and use of words should reflect well on the authors. Despite the fact that the text should already have been edited, the writers may wish to further polish up the text. The analytical report How do you present information that is analytical as opposed to numerical? There is a sample analytical report in the appendix to this learning topic. So far we have written only what is called the body of the report. Now we need to add other parts to our report, before and after the body. What comes before the body is called the front matter or prelims. It identifies the report and gives the reader a means of gaining access to the information. What comes after the body is called the end matter. It provides extra information that the reader may want to know. See duplicated list of details for the font page and the end page Presenting the report The final report can be presented in written form, or as a verbal presentation, or both. The written report should be as good as it possibly can be, given constraints such as time and money. An effective presentation is more than the reading of key parts of a report. It has to describe the main points in the written report, ‘sell’ listeners on the merits of the report and keep their interest for the duration of the presentation. A presentation has to be written for the ear—words written for the eye can sound stilted when read to an audience. There is a need for skilful editing, taking into consideration the type of people who will make up the audience. The following points will help you deliver an effective presentation: Body language You must look credible and confident. Of course confidence comes from being well prepared and knowledgeable. Maintaining eye contact with your audience is important as it helps you to engage with the audience. Also, this contact provides feedback on how successfully you are holding the attention of your audience. Good posture A public speaker should stand up straight but not to attention. Good posture leads to easier breathing and better voice projection. A speaker should never stand rigidly. You should move for effect. It helps in holding the attention of the audience, as do gestures such as smiling. A good posture when you are presenting your report will help you hold the attention of your audience Practise using your voice to maximum effect Be aware of how loud and fast you speak and listen to your intonation. It’s usually better to speak a little louder that normal. However, speaking too loudly is usually seen as an indicator that the presenter is nervous. So is speaking too fast. Racing through a presentation does not make a good impression on listeners. Your voice should convey enthusiasm for the subject matter Observe the style of experienced speakers such as politicians and business executives. You can practise your speaking skills with a tape recorder or video camera. Listening to yourself speak gives you valuable feedback on what you sound like and whether or not you need to speed up or slow down, speak louder or softer or vary your intonation. Good speakers know that practice improves a presentation while reducing the speaker’s nervousness. There are a number of other techniques for reducing nervous tension in speakers. For example, you can visualise yourself presenting a winning presentation in a similar way to athletes visualising brilliant wins as a motivation technique. Deep breathing is another technique of keeping calm as is muscle tightening and relaxing. Visual aids These can be used to highlight the key points in the presentation. They help the audience to remain focused on what is being said. Delivery should be practiced until the presenter is satisfied that the words will flow smoothly and engage the audience. Decisions will have to be made on how to incorporate comments and questions from the audience. Be prepared Experienced presenters, in addition to practising until satisfied that they will effectively communicate with their audience, do other practical things. They check their venue, the equipment they will be using, seating arrangements, lighting and the number of copies of the report they need for distribution to the audience.