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Writing: Reports


What is a report?

The English word 'report' comes from two Latin words:

• ‘Portare’ meaning to carry
• ‘Re’ meaning back or again.

Accordingly, the report is a way of carrying back information to somebody who needs it.


"A report is a specific form of writing that is organised around concisely identifying and examining issues, events, or findings" (Massey University, 2012). It usually covers the who, what, where, when, why and how of a particular situation, issue, or problem.


Reports are different to essays in many ways, with one difference being the structure. While essays are read linearly from beginning to conclusion, reports can be broken down into independent sections that can be read as stand-alone pieces. These sections contain headings and subheadings to help the reader navigate the document.


There are a few different types of reports you may be required to write at University.


  • A general report - covering a specific topic or issue
  • A laboratory report - outlining an experiment you or your group has undertaken
  • A scientific report - a long-form report that outlines an experiment as well as the theory in the broader context of the chosen field.

How to write a report

Reports tend to be written objectively, containing facts and information rather than personal viewpoints. Reports often use formal language; however, unlike essays, reports may contain dot points to convey information succinctly. 


To prepare a report, you first need to:


  • Research information and literature surrounding the topic: statistics, interviews, news articles, journals, biographies etc.
  • Analyse and interpret the information you find
  • Organise your interpretation of the topic into key findings and observations
  • Consider the actions you would recommend to address your findings and their implications.

Structure of a report

The structure of a report depends on the type of report that is to be written, but a typical report will include the following:




Refer to your unit outline for specific information when writing a report. Make sure you have analysed the question you are being asked before starting your report. 


Writing style

In most cases of report writing, you will write in the passive voice, particularly when writing scientific reports. This is because you are outlining the action or method performed, rather than focusing on who was completing the action.  


You can learn more about active and passive sentences in the Structure and mechanics section of this module. 


In some cases you will need to write the report as though the audience does not know much about the topic your report covers. For a general report you should clearly define key terms and provide sufficient background information to inform the reader of your discussion.


For more technical or scientific reports, it is wise to assume that the intended audience will have a fair idea of the methods and scientific terms of your study; therefore, technical language can be used.


Always remember to spell out abbreviations in the first instance you use them, followed by the abbreviation in brackets. For example: “The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends that…”


You should constantly keep the purpose and audience in mind throughout the stages of writing your report. This ensures the report’s information is relevant to your audience.


Comparison of essays and reports

Report writing checklist

Use this checklist, along with your assignment guide and marking rubric, to ensure you have covered the main requirements of a report. 


  • The title includes key words
  • Your abstract concisely summarises the contents of your report
  • Your table of contents corresponds with the report content and page numbers
  • Your introduction provides context for your topic
  • The purpose and scope of your report is clearly stated
  • Acronyms and abbreviations have been defined
  • The discussion is organised logically and contains all relevant information
  • All facts and information are correct
  • You have stated the limitations and assumptions
  • Your results relate to the data presented
  • Your conclusions interpret, analyse, and evaluate the results or research
  • Your recommendations are appropriate and clearly explained
  • All in-text and end-of-text graphics are relevant
  • All appendices are numbered and titled (if applicable)
  • All sources are correctly cited with in-text references and a complete reference list
  • Your spelling, grammar, and punctuation is correct and consistent
  • Your report is clear, concise, and has been written at an appropriate level for your audience
  • Your report is consistent in form, font, and layout.