There is no set structure for a report. Most reports, however, follow this pattern:
A report may include any of the sections outlined in the table above, in the order presented. However, it is rare that it will include all of them. The revolving soccer balls denote the essential sections of all reports.
The title of the report should be presented on a separate cover page and contain:
* The title: this must be brief, but must also convey something of the subject
of the report to the reader
* The company's/organization's name
* The date of issue
* The circulation list
* The name of the author(s)
* The authority for circulation, for example, "produced at the request of..." or "commissioned by ."
Some people give their reports titles like Preliminary Report, Interim Report, Inspection Report, and so on. However, this often forces the author to prejudge the aims of the report. It is better to approach the writing of a report by thinking about the information to be conveyed.
A foreword is only needed if a statement is to be made by some person other than the author. This is sometimes done to give more authority to the report.
This section allows the people who were indispensable in writing the report to be thanked or mentioned.
This part of the report summarises the ground covered in the body of the report so that anyone wanting a quick review of what the report is about can quickly get the gist of the findings. The summary must state:
* The aims of the report
* The depth of study that went into the research
* Whether the objective was achieved.
The summary must be no more than 10% of the length of the report and mustn't introduce any information that isn't contained in the report body. The summary should be created once the rest of the report has been written.
Table of Contents
A table of contents is essential for any report that is longer than about ten pages.
The table of contents must be on a page of its own and the page references must match those in the text.
List of Illustrations/figures/tables
All illustrations, that is, figures, photos, diagrams, graphs, charts and tables etc., will be listed in separate pages after the Table of Contents. They will be listed according to their number and title, and the page references must match those in the text.
The introduction gives a broad, general overview of the subject. Its length depends upon the target reader's existing knowledge. Try to condense the information to:
What is the problem?
What is the cause?
What will you be doing to address these two points?
However long the introduction, it must clearly state the purpose (Objective) of the report. This will help the readers to judge the document's success. Use the introduction to provide the necessary background information, like the sequence of events leading to the problem. Outline the scope of the report. Finally, especially for longer reports, tell the readers how the discussion in the body of the report will be developed.
Detailed discussion of the Introduction section.
Body of the Report
This is where the issues outlined in the introduction are expanded. The development of the arguments must be logical, the evidence relevant and the reasoning clear.
Method and Materials
Results [Discussion of Results]
The information in the body of a report can be organised in one of several ways, for example:
Sequential: where the most important facts are presented first; other points
are expounded in order of diminishing importance.
Hierarchical: where general statements are worked down into subsidiary points.
Comparative: where one idea is compared with another. It is usually combined with another method of organisation.
The conclusion summarises the findings and inferences in the body of the report. The conclusion must not contain any new idea that has not been previously mentioned in the report.
After analysing all the facts, the author of the report is the person most likely to be able to make recommendations on courses of action. However, you should always consider your relationship with the reader: if you have no authority to make recommendations, the reader may be hostile. In such cases, the recommendations should take a more advisory tone.
This section is sometimes dealt together with the Conclusions [Conclusions and Recommendations].
Throughout the text, it will be necessary to refer to other documents. Readers can then turn to them for confirmation and further study. Indicate a reference by placing an appropriate mark in the text. (See the section on Literature Review.)
These are notes at the bottom of the page (footnotes) or at the end of the report (endnotes), divided off from the main text, that serve as short appendices or glossary entries. They should be used sparingly and be brief since they can detract from the main flow of the text. Make sure that footnote marks can be distinguished from reference marks.
Sometimes the author may want to include supporting information in the report. This kind of information should be placed in an appendix.
If there is more than one appendix they should be designated A, B and so on.
This is the list of books, periodicals and other reference sources from which the author has drawn. A bibliography helps to show the readers how widely the author has researched the subject and gives authority to the findings of the report.
If all the readers of the report might not understand some of the terms and abbreviations used, you must include a glossary of terms. Sometimes it is best to explain any new terms and abbreviations as they are encountered.
Small illustrations may be placed within the body of the report, adjacent to the text referring to them. It may be found, however, that larger illustrations may break up the layout of the report: these should be placed toward the rear of the document.
This section allows the people who have helped write the report to be thanked or mentioned.
In a long report (30+ pages) an index may be required. The index cross-references key items of information that the reader may want to find. Writing a foolproof index for any document requires more skill and effort than many people realise.
Headings: Don't have more than three levels of heading: in a document of this size, complex structures will make the report seem more complex than it should be.
Language: Report authors must constantly be aware of their target audience. The circulation list will identify the spread of knowledge in the readership. Analyse and break down complex ideas so that the readers are neither flummoxed by technical complexity nor insulted by oversimplification.
Numbering: It is accepted practice in reports to use Roman numerals (i.e. i, ii, iii, etc.) for all pages before the report body and to use Arabic numerals (i.e. 0-9) thereafter. As with all presentation matters, be consistent with your placing of page numbers (e.g. outside lower corner).
Letter of Transmittal: Some reports require that they be accompanied by a letter of Transmittal. Example
You will have noticed that I left out any discussion on Literature Review. This is because it can be incorporated in a number of different places.
In the Introduction section the Literature Review adds to your background information and helps to point out overall trends in the field you are conducting your research.
In the Results section the Literature Review can be used to compare your own findings against others’.
In the Conclusion section it can help to concur with your own conclusions. While in the Method section, it will help establish your own methodology.
For a review of the elements in the Literature Review Section follow this link.
Adapted from: www.techwriting.about.com