A report is a written account of something that one has observed, heard, done, or investigated. It is a systematic and well organized presentation of facts and findings of an event that has already taken place somewhere. Reports are used as a form of written assessment to find out what you have learned from your reading, research or experience and to give you experience of an important skill that is widely used in the work place.
Reports communicate information which has been compiled as a result of research and analysis of data and of issues. Reports can cover a wide range of topics, but usually focus on transmitting information with a clear purpose, to a specific audience. Good reports are documents that are accurate, objective and complete. They should also be well-written, clearly structured and expressed in a way that holds the reader’s attention and meets their expectations. The true value of the research may be assessed through a report since the written report may be the “only tangible product of hundreds of hours of work. Rightly or wrongly, the quality and worth of that work are judged by the quality of the written report – its clarity, organization and content” (Blake & Bly, 1993: 119). Often reports are structured in a way that reflects the information finding process and the writing up of the findings: that is, summary of the contents, introduction or background, methods, results, discussion, conclusion and/or recommendations. The inclusion of recommendations is one reason why reports are a common form of writing in industry, as the informed recommendations are useful for decision making.
The scope and style of reports varies widely. It depends on three key factors: the report’s intended audience, the report’s purpose and the type of information to be communicated; for example, technical reports communicate technical information, so the degree of technicality in the report will depend on the reader’s familiarity and understanding of technical concepts.
At university, you may be required to write several different types of reports.
- Technical and Business disciplines with an applied focus such as Engineering, Information Technology, Commerce, Accounting and Finance, will set report writing assignments that simulate the process of report writing in industry. Assignments are set in the form of a problem or a case study. The students research the problem, and present the results of the research in a report format to an imaginary client.
- Field reports are common in disciplines such as Law, Industrial Relations, Psychology, Nursing, History and Education. These types of reports require the student to analyse his or her observations of phenomena or events in the real world in light of theories studied in the course. Examples of field reports are a Court observation report, an observation report of a child or a patient for Developmental psychology or Nursing, a History site report, and a teaching observation report for Education.
- Scientific reports (also called laboratory reports) are another kind of report. They are common in all the Sciences and Social Sciences. These reports use a standard scientific report format describing methods, results and conclusions to report upon an empirical investigation. A more detailed and extensive type of this report is the research project report for fourth year honours students or research students involved in postgraduate studies.