In this guide we look at how to write a report. Reports and essays are very different (see our guide ‘What is an Essay?’ for more details), but you might well have to write both in the course of your studies. Reports tend to be more structured, with more tables, appendices and charts than essays, although requirements will vary depending upon your institution. Reports may also utilise a different style of language, and use headings more than essays. In the first instance, familiarise yourself with the requirements of your school, college or university.
- A report can be defined as a well organised text which has a systematic approach and formal structure and which analyses a particular problem. Reports can also describe a topic, interpret the significance of facts, discuss outcomes and draw conclusions.
- Reports have a specific structure, although this can vary from institution to institution. Typically, a report will have a title page, abstract, contents page, introduction, literature review, methodology, findings (results), conclusion, recommendations, appendices and bibliography
- Reports are common in business and social science subjects
- Reports are usually structured with headings and sub-headings, often numbered. Fonts should be simple, not ornate, and you should avoid over-complex borders and similar. Headings should be created using the ‘style’ feature in word, so that the table of contents will update easily when the body of the text is changed.
- Title page should include the title, writer’s name and tutor’s name, course, department and date (see figure 1 for an example – although for a dissertation, this structure also applies for a report)
- The contents page should also list (separately) tables, figures, illustrations and appendices.
- The abstract should cover the overall aims and objectives, the methods used, key findings and recommendations.
- The methodology describes the procedure(s) used in your investigation. This section should tell the story of the research, and make it possible to recreate the processes used.
- The introduction should cover the background and reasons for the report. It may also be useful to define and clarify the terms and frames of reference used in the report here.
- The main body of the report might follow a situation-problem-solution-evaluation structure.
- Use charts, diagrams and tables to back up your argument (consider including them in an appendix if they are long).
- The results section is likely to need tables, graphs and charts.
- The conclusion summarises the report and should look at what the findings imply. There should be no new material introduced here. The writer evaluates the evidence and makes judgement. You need to make sure what you write here is related to your original aims and objectives. The conclusion may include recommendations, or these may have a separate section. It is good practice to number recommendations or use bullet points so they are clear. Recommendations can include suggestions for more research, new practices to implement, and similar.
- Any large-scale data, tables, diagrams and similar technical details should go in the appendices. Copies of the research questionnaire might go there, if your report includes interviews.
- Overall, it pays to plan your report before you start writing, using any guidelines given by your institution. Make sure you are clear about what you are trying to say throughout the report. Discard information that isn’t relevant, and present the information logically and in a well-structured way. Use very precise language, do not make the description over-complex, over-technical or inappropriately poetic.
Birmingham City University (2013) ‘How to write a report’ [online] (cited 13th February 2013) available from
Bowden, J (2004) Writing a Report: how to Prepare, Write and Present Effective Reports (7th edn.), How To Books, Oxford.
Openlearn Labspace (2013) ‘Criteria for good academic report writing’, [online] (cited 13th February 2013) available from
Portsmouth University (2013) ‘Reports and Essays’ [online] (cited 13th February 2013) available from
Soles, D (2009) The Essentials of Academic Writing, Cengage Learning, Boston, MA
University of Reading (2013) ‘Writing up your report’ [online] (cited 12th February 2013) available from
Category: Essay Writing Guide