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Reports are a common academic genre at university. Although the exact nature will vary according to the discipline you are studying, the general structure is broadly similar for all disciplines. Below are the sections which are commonly found in an academic report.
Your report should have a title page. Information which could be included on this page are:
Many longer reports will contain an abstract. This is like a summary of the whole report, and should contain details on the key areas, in other words the purpose, the methodology, the main findings and the conclusions. An abstract is not usually needed for shorter reports such as science lab reports.
Many reports will contain a contents page. This should list all the headings and sub-headings in the report, together with the page numbers. Most word processing software can build a table of contents automatically.
The first section of your report will be the introduction. This will often contain several sub-sections, as outlined below.
There should be some background information on the topic area. This could be in the form of a literature review. It is likely that this section will contain material from other sources, in which case appropriate citations will be needed. You will also need to summarise or paraphrase any information which comes from your text books or other sources.
Many reports, especially science reports, will contain essential theory, such as equations which will be used later. You may need to give definitions of key terms and classify information. As with the background section, correct in-text citations will be needed for any information which comes from your text books or other sources.
This part of the report explains why you are writing the report. The tense you use will depend on whether the subject of the sentence is the report (which still exists) or the experiment (which has finished). See the language for reports section for more information.
Also called Method or Procedure, this section outlines how you gathered information, where from and how much. For example, if you used a survey:
If it is a science lab report, you will need to answer these questions:
This section, also called Results, gives the data that has been collected (for example from the survey or experiment). This section will often present data in tables and charts. This section is primarily concerned with description. In other words, it does not analyse or draw conclusions.
The Discussion section, also called Analysis, is the main body of the report, where you develop your ideas. It draws together the background information or theory from the Introduction with the data from the Findings section. Sub-sections (with sub-headings) may be needed to ensure the readers can find information quickly. Although the sub-headings help to clarify, you should still use well constructed paragraphs, with clear topic sentences. This section will often include graphs or other visual material, as this will help the readers to understand the main points. This section should fulfill the aims in the introduction, and should contain sufficient information to justify the conclusions and recommendations which come later in the report.
The conclusions come from the analysis in the Discussion section and should be clear and concise. The conclusions should relate directly to the aims of the report, and state whether these have been fulfilled. At this stage in the report, no new information should be included.
The report should conclude with recommendations. These should be specific. As with the conclusion, the recommendations should derive from the main body of the report and again, no new information should be included.
Any sources cited in the text should be included in full in the reference section. For more information, see the reference section page of the writing section.
Appendices are used to provide any detailed information which your readers may need for reference, but which do not contain key information and which you therefore do not want to include in the body of the report. Examples are a questionnaire used in a survey or a letter of consent for interview participants. Appendices must be relevant and should be numbered so they can be referred to in the main body. They should be labelled Appendix 1, Appendix 2, etc. ('appendices' is the plural form of 'appendix').
The diagram below summarises the sections of a report outlined above.