HOW TO... Develop your Report Writing Skills

The following guidelines aim to provide a brief introduction to writing a report. Ask
your tutor for more detailed guidance.
A report should have a front page, contents page, terms of reference, introduction, evidence (main arguments and information, which forms the main body of your
report), and conclusion. In short you tell the reader what you are going to say, say it,
and then remind the reader what you’ve said.
You then insert any appendices (a glossary, information which is too detailed for the
report such as statistics or diagrams), a reference list (also called a citation list), and
a bibliography at the end (see the Student Guide to Citations, Referencing and
Bibliographies for further information on citation/reference lists).

Title page

Front cover with your name, course/class, lecturer’s name, and unit title/title of the report.

Contents page

Listing of each section and the page where it appears. Leave this to the end when you will know the layout of your report.
Terms of
Outlines the reason for the report; paraphrase the question you have been set.
Introduction Sets out the scope of the report, ways in which the report will develop and an indication of the conclusion i.e., a preview of the content of your report in one paragraph to entice your reader into reading more.
Key issues Forms the main part of the report and contains the findings, observations, arguments, and facts. (Also called the evidence). Make your points one at a time and quote supporting evidence where appropriate. Use a separate paragraph for each topic/point. Use section headings if desired.
Conclusions Drawn from the evidence of the key issues – presents your opinion – remember to refer to the original question or your terms of reference.

Suggestions made based on the conclusions – not always relevant depending on the report.

Appendices Usually, information too detailed for the body of the report e.g., charts or graphs with statistical information; tables of data; descriptions of experimental procedures; anything which would interrupt the flow of the report. For example, 'Appendix 1 shows the sample data from the survey and clearly shows....’
A list of all works by others which you have referenced in your report – ideas, theories and information you have used to support your report.

A list of all resources consulted during your research – this list will always be longer than the reference list.

Well Written Reports

What do we mean when we say something is well-written? We can expect a well-
written report to:

  • Be concise.  
  • Use correct spelling
  • Be easy to understand
  • Use correct punctuation.
  • Be written in sentences.
  • Use appropriate vocabulary.
  • Be written in paragraphs.
  • Be in a formal style.
  • Use correct grammar.
  • Be in a formal tone.
Formal Style

Reports are written using formal language. How can you create a formal tone and style in a report? There are a variety of ways of achieving the formal tone needed in your report: 

  • Choose vocabulary which reflects knowledge and understanding but is not pompous or pretentious.  
  • Avoid slang and other phrases more suited to conversations e.g., use ‘do not’ instead of ‘don’t’.  
  • Use a business-like style when expressing yourself; use direct words.  
  • Present information concisely and clearly - leave out unnecessary information.  
  • Plan your report so that it flows in a logical manner.  
  • Use the active voice rather than the passive voice where possible. The active voice uses fewer words and is more direct in presenting information e.g., Active voice – Linda sent the letter yesterday. Passive voice – The letter was sent by Linda yesterday.  
  • Avoid making a report too personal e.g. ‘I think…’, ‘I feel’ – until you are writing your conclusion.  
Key Points
  • Remember to write in clear sentences and use paragraphs.  
  • Link points to each other in sequence. Use link terms such as: ‘Following on from this...’, ‘The same has been noted for ...’, ‘If we accept this argument, then we may also state that ....’ See the Writing Skills how to guide for more linking phrases.  
  • Don't forget to check your spelling, grammar and punctuation.  
  • Use plain English where possible. When technical terms must be used, e.g., medical conditions, you should include a glossary. A glossary is a list of definitions for difficult, unusual or technical terms, and should be inserted at the end of the report before the bibliography. Using a formal style does not mean using technical terms alone to impress your reader.  
  • If quoting directly from text always enclose the quotation in inverted commas or use italics to distinguish the quote from your own words, e.g. “All the world’s a stage....” Be selective when using quotations and do not let them dominate your work. A quotation should not be more than a couple of lines long. If you present someone else’s work as your own, you are guilty of plagiarism and your report may be judged invalid. See the Student Guide to Citations, Referencing and Bibliographies for further information on quotations and plagiarism.  
  • Use diagrams only where they are relevant and support your argument. Number your diagrams and refer to them in your text e.g., Diagram 1.3 shows the decline in fertility in Scotland between 1995-2000. Do not include too many diagrams. Diagrams should support the text, not vice-versa. These can be put in your appendices or in the main text.  
  • If you are in doubt about a sentence, read it aloud – if it sounds wrong, change it.  
  • If you use abbreviations or acronyms, remember to use it in the full form the first time you use it, followed by the abbreviation or acronym in brackets. You can then use the abbreviation or acronym thereafter in your report e.g., British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), then use BBC in the following sections of your report.  
  • Try not to use politically incorrect terms e.g., policeman (use police officer), or spokesman (use spokesperson). Also avoid using ‘he’ or ‘his’ if the context is not gender specific, which reflects a gender bias – try using ‘they’ and ‘theirs’.  
  • Get someone else to read your report and comment on it.  
  • Always leave time between writing and editing your first draft – look at it with fresh eyes. The same is true before finalising your report – leave some time before doing the final edit to ensure you can spot any errors, or where the report needs further work.
Keeping Records

Keeping a proper record of everything you have read in researching for your report is vital in producing an accurate bibliography and when referring to works in your report.  

Here are a few ideas to help with your record keeping:   

  • Make a note of everything you read, even if you did not refer to it or make a direct quote from it.  
  • When recording sources, always note all the details for your bibliography. That way all the details are at your fingertips. If using the internet or online resources, then have an open Word document ready to insert URLs and further bibliographic detail as you go along, which will help you keep track of which resources you found.  
  • Stick to the style recommended in Cite Them Right, or by your tutor. The main details for a book are: author, full title, publication date, edition, place of publication, and publisher.  
  • Make an accurate note of all quotations at the time you read them. Be quite clear what is a direct quotation and what is paraphrased.  
  • Photocopy extracts (one chapter or 5% of a book) if you want to but add details about the source on the copy. Your tutor will know if you have used a paragraph from a book or web site without acknowledging the source, as your style will be different and easily spotted.  
References and Citations

All references to sources you have used should be acknowledged. References to other works are important to your report because they add weight to what has been written, show wider reading, and avoid plagiarism. Remember, however, that your tutor might follow through references; an inaccurate entry may devalue the overall report.  

There are many ways of presenting references – ask your tutor for advice. There are 2 main referencing systems – Harvard and Vancouver (sometimes referred to as numeric). Most of the courses at Glasgow Kelvin College use the Harvard system. 

For more in-depth information on Harvard referencing, bibliographies and citation lists, see the Referencing page on MyKelvin

Things to help you
  • Learning Centre staff – we are happy to help, email 
  • Thesaurus or dictionary (including specialist dictionaries) – will help you find alternative keywords and ensure you know what any technical terms mean before you start your research.  
  • User guides – there are several guides to help you, check under Study Skills  
  • Online resources available in college are an excellent source of information as only reliable databases are included. These cover a variety of subject areas such as science, music, engineering, computing, health, business, and social sciences, and provide access to newspapers and journals, images, e-books, and archive materials. Check our Online Resources page.  
  • eBooks can be searched using the library Smart Search  
  • For referencing use ‘Cite them Right’ online referencing tool - Referencing page