Report Writing

by Clare Forrest

Optional extras

There are several optional extras that you may or may not need to include in your report:

  • Contents page
  • Summary
  • Recommendations
  • Appendices
  • Acknowledgements
  • Sources
  • Glossary

Contents page

A contents page is a map of the document, showing the main headings and sub-headings and their page numbers. Word processors like MS Word will generate an automatic contents page for you (see ‘table of contents’ in the help file), which makes it very simple to produce. If the report will be read on screen, this has the advantage of enabling readers to hyperlink to a relevant page rather than scrolling through the whole report to find the part they’re interested in reading.

A contents page is placed after the title page.

Summaries

Many managers, professionals and clients these days want to see a summary at the beginning of a report. You only need a summary if the report is more than a few pages long.

The idea of a summary is to enable readers to grasp the essence of the report without having to read it all. So your summary should

  • Be a summary of the whole report
  • Generally, be no longer than one page of A4 – a lot less if the report is only a few pages long
  • Include all the main points of the report, particularly the conclusions and, if there are any, the recommendations.

Summaries are placed after the contents page and before the introduction. They are not numbered.

Recommendations versus conclusions

A conclusion implies action. A recommendation makes the action clear.

You might need to add recommendations after your conclusion to tell your readers exactly what they should do. These are not always necessary, since your conclusions will pretty much make clear what needs to be done.

If you do need to add recommendations you should write them as explicit actions, using the word ‘should’. For example, ‘I recommend that we should revamp the website’, or ‘It is recommended that the website is revamped.’

You need to make sure that your recommendations fall out logically from your conclusions, so that your readers can understand why you are making a particular recommendation.

Recommendations are placed after conclusions.

Appendices

Appendices provide readers with full, complex or detailed data referred to in the report, if they want to see it. Every appendix is placed at the back of the report and is numbered in the order it is referred to in the report. Appendices enable you to keep the report uncluttered and brief, while still allowing your readers to find out more if they want to. For example, you want to use a few figures from a particular spreadsheet in the main body of your report, but you decide to put the complete spreadsheet in the appendices in case anyone wants to see it (perhaps there’s further information there that would back up your conclusions, but it might be repetitive to put it in the main body). You’d write it like this in your report:

Example

As this month’s product data shows (see Appendix One, Product Sales Spreadsheet), we have seen a significant rise (20 per cent) in the sales of apples, while bananas have also held up well. On the other hand, grapes are showing a significant drop (15 per cent) in sales.

Appendices are placed at the end of the report.

Acknowledgements

If someone has helped you to write the report, provided you with data or in any way given up their time for you then it’s good practice – and polite – to thank them.

Acknowledgements are usually placed after appendices.

Example

This report has benefited from generous contributions of time from many individuals. I would like in particular to thank Paul Bacon, Dean Ernest and Jane Manno for their time and support of my work and Section Team Five for allowing me to interview them.

Sources

If you’re writing a report in which you refer to other documents, reports, websites, magazine articles and so on, you must provide enough detail about these to enable a reader to be able to trace and read the source mentioned. For example, you should include the author’s name, title, publisher, ISBN or URL, as appropriate. Use MS Word’s footnote/endnote facility to create your source lists quickly and easily.

Glossary

A glossary defines any technical or non-standard (to the reader/s) words, terms and abbreviations, jargon and acronyms used in your report.

A glossary is usually placed at the end of the report, after any appendices and sources.