Report writing

Learn about good report structure and familiarise yourself with different report types and examples.

What makes a good report?

Reports are an important form of assessment at university. A good report:

  • Displays the result of an experiment, investigation, or inquiry.
  • Examines potential solutions to a problem or issue and communicates and interprets research findings.
  • Uses features such as graphics, images, or specialised vocabulary to persuade a specific audience to undertake an action.
  • Reflects your understanding of the assignment question and the literature relevant to your research.
  • Presents ideas in a logical structure so that they are easy to follow.

How to structure a report

  • A report often has introduction, methods, results and discussion sections. It may also include abstract, conclusions and recommendations sections.
  • Structure of a report can vary from course to course, it is important to check and follow assignment guidelines about the expectations of the sections to be included.
  • Explore Lab report writing 101 to understand the elements and overall structure of a lab report.

Typical structure of a lab report

The title provides enough information for someone to understand what is in your report. Where appropriate, you should indicate the purpose of the study, the subject (e.g., study population, organism, or molecule) and method or treatment.
The introduction provides relevant background information and places the experiments in context. Start with a broader topic area and then narrow the focus towards specific information relating to your study. You may wish to define keywords or outline applicable theories. Remember to cite any sources used.
The methods section should describe how you got your results from your experiments. It should provide enough information so that someone could replicate your experiments. Each experiment presented in the methods section should be mentioned in the results and discussion sections. Use informative sub-headings to help guide your reader through the methods section of your report.
The results section is where you present the data you produced from your experiments. Your raw data will normally be summarised in tables and figures. The tables and figures are supported by text that highlights the important trends shown in the data. Each table and figure should have a corresponding text.
The discussion section is where you evaluate your results and demonstrate that you understand both the experiment and the science behind it. Here, you discuss the results of your study in relation to those found in previous studies. You also discuss the wider implications of your results and any limitations of your experiment or any introduction of errors. Remember ‘human error’ is your mistake and should be remedied at the time of the experiment. It is not a consequence of the technique used or limitations in the equipment.
The conclusions section provides a concise summary of the results you obtained. Its length will reflect the number of concepts investigated in your experiment. Your conclusions should relate to the experimental aims and be ordered from most to least important. It is important that you do not introduce any new material in the conclusions.
The references section is where you use a recognised, consistent style to reference others’ work referred to in your report. Referencing is an important part of scientific writing and helps you avoid plagiarism. To find out which referencing style you should use, consult your course guide or check with your tutor or lecturer.

What are common report types?

The type of report you are expected to write at university depends on your discipline.  While reports usually have the same basic structure (introduction, methods, results and discussion), the purpose, style of delivery and organisation of the ideas may vary.

Examples of common report types

“A Research Methods Report helps the writer learn the experimental procedures and the ways research findings are made in that discipline (Nesi & Gardner, 2012, p. 153). The question to be investigated is often provided as part of the assignment, and there is usually less focus on existing research and much more on the methods and results of the writer’s own research. An IMRD (Introduction, Methods, Results, Discussion) structure is often used” Academic Writing at Auckland (AWA).

Explore the AWA site to see some excellent examples of Research Methods Reports.

“Research Reports may be required in final-year or graduate-level courses and are usually carried out independently, with the aim to generate new knowledge. A research question is developed, justified and embedded in the existing literature on the topic, and the writer demonstrates a strong understanding of research methods and an ability to discuss results and their implications. Research Reports can use topic-specific sections or the standard IMRD (Introduction, Methods, Results, Discussion) sections. They can be presented as dissertations, long essays or research articles (Nesi & Gardner, 2012, p. 136-138)” (AWA).

Explore the AWA site to see examples of Research Reports.

Additional resources

The following resources provide more detailed information and examples of reports in different disciplines:

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