What is a report?
A report is a specific form of writing that is organised around concisely identifying and examining issues, events, or findings that have happened in a physical sense, such as events that have occurred within an organisation, or findings from a research investigation.
These events can also pertain to events or issues that have been presented within a body of literature. The key to report writing is informing the reader simply and objectively about all relevant issues. There are three features that, together, characterise report writing at a very basic level: a pre-defined structure, independent sections, and reaching unbiased conclusions.
At a very basic level, a report can be distinguished from an essay by the creation of headings into which information is organised.
Broadly, these headings may indicate sections within a report, such as an introduction, discussion, and conclusion.
Within the main section(s) making up the body of the report (the discussion in the example just given), there is often an opportunity to create your own structure according to the literature you have sourced, your development of ideas, and the task assigned.
2.1 Technological benefits
2.1.2 Access to monitoring
2.2 Technological weaknesses
2.2.2 Lack of face-to-face support
You may find that the headings provide a link between sections,without the necessity of a linking sentence, although including a linking sentence from time-to-time may assist the reader's understanding.
In the body of the report, the difference between main sections and sub-sections may be indicated through changes in numbering and / or heading font style. You may need to check the assignment instructions to see whether this is appropriate.
Overall, a report is a highly structured piece of work. Typically, the course co-ordinator or lecturer identifies the main sections required. Hence, you are often given more guidance on how to write the assignment, with respect to its structure, compared to an essay where you decide the order of information in the (essay's) body.
While you may have more freedom in structuring an essay, there can also be more difficulties in deciding upon exactly what structure that freedom will take. In contrast, a report provides you with that structure before you begin to answer the question, while still allowing you some flexibility and freedom in deciding on the organisation of sub-sections comprising the report's main sections.
Each section in a report is typically written as a stand-alone piece, so the reader can selectively identify the report sections they are interested in, rather than reading the whole report through in one go from start to finish.
It is important to keep this in mind when writing the report because your marker may in fact follow this practice when marking the actual report. Consequently, the marker may go through all the introduction sections of students' assignments first, select a mark for that section, then proceed to all the discussion sections and select a mark, and so forth.
Hence, if you have not written each section as an independent unit, you may lose marks because you have missed information that may be in another section. This process of creating distinct units may lead to some instances of overlap in information across sections. This is often the case with reports. Avoiding these overlaps of information may require a restructuring of the order and themes within which the information is categorised.
A third element of report writing is that it is an unbiased and objective form of writing. Certainly, all academic writing holds to this ideal, including essays.
However, while essays put forward a particular position or argument at the very beginning, summarised in the thesis statement and then backed up in the body, a report's focus is slightly different.
A report sways more towards the process of identifying and reviewing the range of issues in the body of the report, and then reaching an objective conclusion or position at the end, as a consequence of the issues represented in the report's body.
Of course, you can always have in mind a particular point of view when you begin your report, but try to give the impression that you have come to your conclusion via an objective and methodical review of the issues involved.
The introduction section of the report may force you to summarise the report's findings briefly, perhaps by drawing on the sub-headings within the report's body. Nevertheless, try to ensure that the conclusion is the space where you give emphasis to your findings and the decision(s) you have arrived at after a careful analysis of all the issues. Indeed, it should be clear to the reader that your conclusion is reasoned logically from the discussion of the issues and the evidence you have presented in the body of the report.