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Report writing

Expert guidance from Study Advice at the University of Reading

Writing a lab report

Lab reports are required for a range of scientific subject disciplines from Chemistry to Psychology. They report on an experiment that you have carried out, either on your own or with others. Lab reports always follow a formal structure, and are written in a concise descriptive style that focuses on accuracy and avoiding ambiguity.

Structure

1. Introduction: explain what the experiment is, and why it is being conducted (for instance, if you are testing a hypothesis, say what that hypothesis is).

2. Methods: describe the methods and materials used.

3. Results: state your results, including graphical representations (e.g. tables or graphs) if appropriate for effective, clear communication.

4. Discussion: explain the significance of the results, with regard to the reasons for doing the experiment that you've described in your introduction. You might also include any problems or challenges you encountered which might have had an impact on the results.

5. Conclusion: summarise your key findings.

Writing a clinical case report

Clinical reports may be required when students are undertaking clinical placements as part of their course. You will usually be provided with a template that indicates what you need to include. This might include presentation, medical history, and any treatment.

There are some principles that you should consider when writing this type of report:

- Client confidentiality is crucial. Make sure there is nothing in your report that could identify them.

- You are aiming to describe the details of the meeting as accurately as possible, but you may not be expected to go into great depth. It may be helpful to consider what someone else might need to know if they were the person to see the client next.

- Avoid any emotive or subjective language, even if the meeting itself was emotional. If you are asked to write a reflective account you might describe the emotions involved, but you would still try to use objective language where possible.

- Have a system for making notes. It may be difficult to write in whole sentences but if you use abbreviations or symbols, you must be sure that you will remember what they mean later.

- If the meeting is recorded, make sure you have permission from the client, and that the recording is stored or destroyed in accordance with data protection guidelines.

Writing a Reflective Report

Reflective writing can come in many forms – some examples of reflective writing genres are portfolios, diaries, and reflective essays. You can find general guidance on reflective writing here:

If your assignment brief asks for a more structured reflective report, these are some of the sections you might include:

Introduction:

  • Identify the experience or incident you’re reflecting on
  • Highlight why you chose it - explain its significance, or benefits/knowledge you gained from it
  • Outline key themes or frameworks that will appear in the reflection

Description:

  • Outline the key aspects of the event or experience – don't describe everything here, decide what the most relevant information/context your reader will need to understand the experience

Analysis:

  • Consider in more detail what happened, how this affected you/others, how you can make sense of it.
  • Relate your own analysis to existing theory/literature on the topic
  • Think about how your experience relates to your wider studies/work experience

Next steps:

  • Based on your reflection, what will you do next – either to deepen your learning, or to avoid any issues that occurred during the original experience?
  • Some assignments may ask for a concrete action plan here

Conclusion:

  • Summarise the main effect/development from your experience, and how you can make constructive use of it

Note: Your assignment brief may recommend a specific structure or key sections, in which case you should follow those recommendations carefully. The brief may also ask you to use a specific reflective model (e.g. Gibbs, Kolb, Rolfe et al.) – in that case, you can use the structure of the reflective model as a basis for the different sections and headings of your report.

Writing a project report

If you’re planning to undertake a research project, which is most commonly done for your dissertation or thesis, you may have to complete a project proposal first. The main benefit of preparing a proposal is the opportunity to evaluate your plans before you start your research. It enables you (and your supervisor) to assess whether your project is feasible, whether your project work will address your research question, and whether it will meet university requirements.

Before writing your proposal:

  • Check that you’ve read and understood the university/department guidelines for your project
  • Be clear on your topic, and what the aim of your project will be
  • Do some preliminary reading to assess the available knowledge on your topic, and to find a research gap or problem that you will address
  • Ask your supervisor or course tutors for feedback on your initial ideas

Typical Structure of a project proposal:

  • Title: Think of a possible title and sub-title which will tell your reader the main subject and its scope.
  • Outline of the problem: Describe the problem your work will examine or the research gap you will address.
  • Aim/question: Formulate your overall research purpose and research question.
  • Objectives: Consider any sub-questions, and how they will be measured, at a level of detail that will enable you to identify achievable project activities.
  • Background: Provide an overview of relevant recent research and publications, main themes and issues, and the gaps to be filled or new developments.
  • Methodology (if appropriate): Explain the methods you will use to collect information, and mention any key frameworks or theories you’ll be using. Identify activities you plan to carry out, any equipment you need, and any anticipated project costs. Explain how you propose to address anticipated problems and ethical issues.
  • Timetable/plan: Draw up a simple project plan to show the sequence of project activities and deadlines for their completion – be realistic! Some assignments might also ask you to add a Gantt chart.
  • Conclusion: State what the significance of the outcome of your research is likely to be. What will it contribute to the body of knowledge and how might it influence future research?
  • References: Remember to add a list of references with all sources you’ve cited in your proposal.

What Next?

  • Get feedback on your proposal from your supervisor (if you have one), a tutor, or a Study Advisor, and be prepared to revise it.
  • Keep it next to you and come back to it as you carry out your project work and writing. - You can see some examples of project proposals here: Example1 Example2 (PG)

Writing a Business/Consultancy report

This type of assignment usually requires you to comment on a specific business/organisation, and the structure will therefore depend on what works best for your particular choice of subject; your assignment brief may specify a structure and/or which sections to include.

Some common elements of this type of report are:

  • Title page: Follow your module handbook or assignment brief guidelines; usually, the title page includes the report title, your student ID, and module details.
  • Executive summary: This is a short summary of the entire report (also called an Abstract). It’s often easier to write this section last.
  • Table of contents: List the different chapters, headings and sub-headings along with the page number so that each section can be easily located within your report. Make sure your numbering system is consistent throughout, and that page numbers are correct.
  • Introduction: This should clearly articulate the purpose and aim of the report, along with providing the background context for the report's topic and area of research. It may be useful to also indicate any limitations to the scope of the report and identify the parameters of the research.
  • Main Body (this may be divided into different sections such as Company Overview/Background, Literature Review, Analysis, Discussion...): In the main body of your report, you should critically analyse what the results mean in relation to the aims and objectives put forth at the beginning of the report. You should follow a logical order, and can structure this section in sub-headings.
  • Conclusion: The conclusion is a chance to remind the reader of the key points within your report, the significance of the findings and the most central issues or arguments raised from the research. The conclusion may also include recommendations for further research, or how the present research could be applied practically.
  • Recommendations: You can have a separate section on recommendations, presenting the action you recommend be taken, drawing from the conclusion. These actions should be concrete and specific.
  • References: A report requires a bibliography of all the published resources you have referenced within your report. Check your module handbook for the referencing style you should use.
  • Appendices: The appendices may include supporting evidence and materials, such as interview transcripts, surveys, questionnaires, tables, graphs, or other charts and images that you may not wish to include in the main body of the report, but may be referred to throughout your discussion or results sections.


You can find further explanations on these sections here:

Some things to consider:

  • Does your assignment ask you to be informative (mainly presenting facts/data), or analytical (analysing causes/effect, making recommendations)?
  • Are you required to use a theoretical framework (e.g. SWOT, PESTLE)? If so, this will influence how you structure the discussion section.
  • Who is your audience? If the assignment brief has given you a specific group or person you’re writing for (e.g. the company’s Head of Marketing/Board of Directors, etc.), think about what they will know already/what they will want to know from your report. Also consider your language here – will they be familiar with or expect industry-specific terms and abbreviations?