- Make it easy to read
- Format the report to make it easy to navigate and refer to; use page and paragraph numbers
- Use headings and sub-headings to help the reader understand your text
- Use 1.5 or double spacing
- Use simple language; leave out jargon and explain acronyms
- Refer to data and cite your sources; numbers are convincing!
- Use tables, bulletin points and diagrams where possible in order to represent information; it will make your report quicker to read and more compelling
- Plan to write at least two drafts. Writing is an iterative process. Get your ideas out and shape them up, then shape and polish them some more!
A Standard Report Format
1. Title Page & Table of Contents
Give a short explanation of the purpose of the report if necessary e.g. “Hanging on the Line. A discussion of current telephone resources and potential new approaches to internal communication”. Include authors and date your report.
2. Executive Summary
Keep this short; no more than one side of A4. Outline the purpose of the report, give the most important information from the report, and state briefly your recommendations.
Make this section really easy to read by using bullet points and clear headings. Someone coming to the report “cold” should be able to grasp the rationale of your report instantly from the executive summary.
State what methods you used and why you chose them. Identify any challenges you faced, e.g. in collecting representative data, how you over-came those difficulties or what impact they have had on the report findings e.g. if you were not able to collect data from the night-shift, then be clear about the limitations of any conclusions about the whole workforce.
Signpost what the report is about and how it will be presented.
5. Main Body
Structure the body of your report; make it a “story” which the reader can follow easily. Give your strongest points first. Use tables, bullet points, diagrams etc. to make it punchy.
Being overly selective about the data or being overtly biased in your argument will weaken your report over-all and leave you open to criticism. So, make sure your argument is rounded, and acknowledge key weaknesses or challenges.
Synthesise what has gone before. Bring your argument together and state your outcome. Be brief. Someone skim-reading the report should be able to comprehend your conclusion quickly and easily.
Make it easy for a decision-maker to commit and take the next step by setting out clearly what you recommend. Here is where your research and the strength of your argument plays out. If you know your argument is weak, you may feel nervous about this section; you are assuming responsibility for directing a decision. Make it count!
The appendices are an essential reference for future use. Include your data here. Give your sources.