Published on September 16, 2013
REPORT WRITING © Lindsey Cottle 2013
Information Check whether your organisation uses a particular structure for reports. If not, then include the following, in this order. Title Acknowledgements Abstract List of Contents List of tables and illustrations Introduction Review of the literature Method Measurement criteria Present the results Discuss the results Conclusions Recommendations References Bibliography Appendices
Structuring reports Title: Write this on its own in the centre of the first page, with your name, the title and the date. Acknowledgements: List people you wish to thank for help given. Abstract: Give a brief summary or overview of your report, including its conclusions. Restrict this (usually) to one paragraph. Omit details or examples, except main experimental data. Report abstracts may be reproduced and read separately from the rest of the report, so they often contain information also included on other sections.
Structuring reports List of contents: List the main sections of the report and the page on which each begins (including any appendices). List of tables and illustrations: List any illustrations, charts, maps and so on, giving the page number for each. Introduction: Briefly discuss what the research is about - why is it important or significant? State your proposals or hypotheses briefly: what are you going to show or prove?
Structuring reports Review of the literature: Discuss briefly some of the most important writings on the subject, discussing other researchers‟ main findings. Do you agree or disagree with them? Focus on how previous research connects with and leads up to your research. Introduce your experimental hypothesis, if you have one. Method: How did you conduct your research? What methods did you use? Did you replicate methods used by other researchers? Even if you are told to use certain methods, include these in the report. Exactly what were the conditions of the experiment? How many people or items were included? How did you select them? What instructions did you give to participants?
Structuring reports Measurement criteria: Discuss the kinds of data you gathered. How did you analyse them? How reliable or accurate are your data? Present the results: Present your main findings briefly, under headings if appropriate. Give results in the order in which you conducted any experiments or start with the most important. Discuss the results: This is a longer section. Analyse and explain your findings. Were they what you had expected? Did they fit the theory or seem to disprove it? Were they consistent with your hypothesis? How are they significant? How could the research have been improved? What follow-up research would be useful?
Structuring reports Conclusions: In some subjects, a conclusion is inappropriate. Otherwise, summarise your key points and show why your hypothesis can be maintained or rejected. Recommendations: In subjects such as social policy or health, you may be asked to give a numbered list of suggestions for action to resolve problems. References: List all your sources, in alphabetical order. Bibliography: If required, list relevant further reading, again in alphabetical order. Appendices: Present together any essential extra material, such as instructions to participants, copies of materials used, or tables and graphs of data. Number each item. Do not include items unless they are mentioned in the report.
Writing the report: Opening Sections The Introduction: States the problem or issue covered by the report Summarises the main themes in the research literature, drawing out the main points and showing how each piece of research builds on previous work Shows how your project uses and builds upon previous research Different kinds of writing are used in each section of a report.
Writing the report: opening sections The following introduction would suit a report of 1500-2000 words. A longer report might refer to more sources, but would not usually include more about each, unless some were very highly significant.
Example: an introduction to a report It has been argues (Ayer 199, Bea 1992) that diet can be affected by the colour of food. For example, Bea found that 15% of participants in a series of six experiments, showed strong aversions to certain food colour combinations. People were less likely to eat food if they disliked that colour combination. Dee (1994) found that food colour preferences are affected by age, with green being the least popular food colouring amongst children. However, Evans challenged Dee’s results. Evans (1996,1997) found that children's preferences for colour only applied to certain types of food. For sweet food for example children showed a strong preference for red products but chose green as frequently as other colour options. Jay extended this area of research to non-natural food colours. Early indications (Jay 2000a) suggest children are likely to select blue coloured foods even though blue foods do not occur naturally. This research was replicated by Kai (2001). Similar results were also found for adults (Jay 200b). However, Jay’s research included only sugar-based products. As Evans has shown here are different colour preferences for sweet and savoury produce, Jay and Kai’s finding may not hold true across all food products, especially for savoury foods. Jay’s research (2000b) indicted strong adult preferences for sweet food coloured blue: Jay argued this was probably due to its ‘novelty value’. The aim of the current research was to see whether adults showed the same preferences for blue food colouring when presented with savoury food options. The research hypotheses were that … [see section below]. It was assumed that the ‘novelty effect’ would hold true for savoury products.
Other types of Introduction If your report was comissioned by a business or an agency, the introduction would usually give more background about: Who commissioned the report Why the report was commissioned The scope of the report: what it will cover Definitions of any terms The methodology An overview of finding and recommendations
The research hypothesis The research hypothesis must be worded very clearly and precisely. It usually states that something will or will not happen.
Example: research hypothesis The research hypothesis was that adults would show a preference for savoury food coloured blue over savoury food coloured with food dyes simulating natural colourings. The second hypothsis was that there would be no significant difference in the preference of men and women.
Methodology or „research design‟ The methodology section gives the details that the reader needs in order to know how you gained your data and analysed it. You should provide sufficient explanation that readers could repeat your research for themselves if they wished to. The writing is descriptive and follows the order of your own actions “First this was done, then that was done…”
Example methodology Participants The research participants were 32 adult students, all aged over 25. There were equal number of men and women. Materials Four types of food were pre[red (potato salad, chapati, rice, couscous) and each was divided into 4. Four different food dyes were used: three were dyes used in the food trade designed to look like a „natural‟ food colour, the fourth food dye was pale blue. A quarter of each of the four food types was dyed a different colour so that all foods were available in each colour, to give 16 possible options. Method Firstly, participants were told that all of the food was coloured using artificial dyes. Each person was then allowed to choose three items to eat. This meant they could not select one of each colour. A record was kept of the colours selected by each person. The results were then calculated according to food colour preferences overall and preferences by gender.
Results Reports usually include a table of key results. Other data and tables are attached as an appendix. The results section simply presents the data: the data are not discussed. Keep this section short; include only relevant and representative data. State whether or not your results support your research hypothesis. Often results do not support the hypothesis: this is neither „good‟ nor „bad‟.
Example results: Graphs/Charts 1 0 10 20 30 40 50 60 70 80 90 100 Test 1 Test 2 Test 3 Test 4 First Second Third
Examples: Graphs/Charts 2 Project Item 1 Item 2 Item 3 Item 4
Example: results 24 of the 32 participants (75%) did not select a blue food item. The findings do not support the research hypothesis. However, 7 of the 8 participants who did select a blue option were women. 44% of women selected a blue option to 6.25% of men. This does not support the research hypothesis.
Discussion Critical, analytical writing is used in the discussion section. The discussion section analyses the data and draws out interesting findings. It includes: The significance of your results and whether these confirm or differ from previous research. Your conclusion and the evidence for these A note of whether or not the research hypotheses was supported. Any improvements that could be made to the research method and further research that is needed. How your results could be applied elsewhere.
Discussion For the research described above, for example the discussion might include an analysis of: The sample: was it representative? Could the ethnic mix or age range have made a difference? The method: Could this have been improved? Did the blue food look unpleasant rather than simple „unnatural‟? Is blue just an odd colour for food? Would there have been different responses to an unnatural- looking green? Future research: What research is needed to clarify these results further? For example, do colour preferences apply to all foods or only to some? How long does the „novelty factor‟ last?
Example: part of the discussion section The research indicated that even when participants were told that all food options were artificially coloured, they still choose savoury food that looked ‘natural’ rather than food dyed blue. This suggests that adults havea preference for food colours that look natural. However, blue is not a colour associated with food; this might have distorted the results.
Conclusions Conclusions sum up your research, setting out its significance and your findings. No new information or references are included. The conclusions are also included in the abstract, the introduction and the discussion. For the research above, the conclusions might include: A note that your research findings are not consistent with previous research findings A brief summary of why your results may be different (for instance, adult participants rather than children and savoury food rather than sweet.) Notes of any shortcomings of the research (the use of blue colouring may have distorted results).
Example: conclusions The research suggests that adults do not select savoury foods dyed blue, if given the choice of of other options of dyed food. The ‘novelty effect’ of blue products, suggested by previous research, did not hold true for savoury foods. The research suggest that people choose savoury food on a different basis to sweet food. However, this hypothesis would need to be tested further by researching the choices made for sweet and savoury products by a single group of participants (etc.)
Recommendations The purpose of recommendations is to suggest ways forward. They might propose how to improve current ways of working, or action that needs to be taken. They are numbered. For example, if you were undertaking research for an agency, your recommendations might be: 1. Undertake further research using a larger sample. 2. Avoid use of blue food dyes in the manufacture of savoury food products for
Abstracts The abstract is placed before the contents page of the report. Although it is presented at the beginning, it is usually easiest to write if you leave it until last. Leave plenty of time to write it – it usually takes longer than expected. The abstract sums up your aims, your research hypothesis, your methodology, your findings and your conclusions. An abstract needs to be both brief and concise.
Example: Abstract Example 1: Abstract (50 word limit) This report suggests that research into truancy has neglected the critical role of school play-time. In depth interviews with 6 former truantism now students, highlight the pivotal role of group dynamics within the playground. The interviews suggest that ‘feeling like an outsider’ at play-time encourages initial acts of truancy. Example 2: Abstract (100 word limit) This report presents an analysis of adult responses when given the choice of foods dyed blue, or foods dyedd with traditional colourings. The initial hypothesis based on research by Jay (2000b), was that adults would show a preference for food dyed blue over foods that looked more natural. This project replicated the methods used by Jay, by substituted sweet for savoury foods. 32 adults, all aged over 25, were asked to select three items from a selection of 16 possible choices. Their responses indicate that adults are less likely to select blue food for savoury items. The results were statistically significant.
Summaries Some subjects require a summary rather than an abstract. This is usually longer than an abstract but still no more than a page. The summary contains the aims and objectives, a brief outline of the research problems, the methodology, the key findings, the conclusion and the main recommendations.
Reports: layout, presentation and style Presenting the text Number the pages in order. On the contents page, give the page number for each section. Use fonts that are easy to read. Leave clear margins at each side. Avoid fancy graphics, unless the project brief requires these. Use a clear layout. Avoid cluttering the report with tables and diagrams unless these are essential. Place most tables, data and examples of materials (if these are needed) in the appendices at the end of the report.
Reports: layout, presentation and style Writing style All writing in a report is: Formal – avoid slang and abbreviations Focused – address only the project brief Concise – avoid tangents and unecessary examples Subject-specific – follow the style appropriate to your subject
Reports: layout, presentation and style Writing for a purpose The contents will depend on the purpose of the report. For example, the report above is written about research undertaken on campus. However, if you undertook similar research for a company or organisation, the research and report would reflect those different purposes. For example: The introduction would state briefly what the organisation wanted the research to achieve The sample would possibly be bigger, focusing on members of the public If the sample were bigger, the method should be simpler, and followed by fewer questions. The discussion would focus on future implications of the results for any proposed changes. You would probably make recommendations.
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