Report writing

In this section we look in more depth at report writing. Imagine that your tutor has asked you to write a business report for your course. Obviously the only person who is going to read that report is going to be your tutor. In this case, the real purpose of the writing is not 'real' at all, since you are writing the report so that you can get a mark and pass the course. What you have to do in this case is to imagine an audience over and above your tutor. You have to imagine that you are writing for a business audience when, in fact, you are only writing for your tutor. In a real business context it is also quite likely that you would be writing collaboratively with others. In your report for your tutor you may use 'we' as if you had been writing with other people, when for assessment purposes it is only 'you' who actually did the writing. This kind of writing may actually require you to be more imaginative about the intended audience than you would have to be if you were writing a university essay. That is, you need to imagine yourself in the context where a particular kind of writing, like a business report, might be written. This is something you need to take into account when you are asked to undertake this kind of writing. It illustrates how other kinds of writing are rather different from writing a university essay. An essay is usually specifically designed for assessment purposes - the audience is assumed to be the actual reader, the person who will mark your work. In contrast, some of the other types of writing that you do at university, like report writing, are more concerned with communicating with others in a broader professional context. They are designed to mirror similar ways of communicating outside the university. This is why you might find similarities with the kinds of writing people do in professional contexts or in other situations. A report generally has three main functions:

• to explain why something was done;

• to summarize and conclude the outcome of a particular action, or set of actions.

One thing that makes a report distinctive is that it generally has a very clear structure, although this will vary from context to context. A report needs a logical structure to make things very clear to the reader. Detail tends to be more prominent than argument. In this sense, a report is generally more accessible to a reader than an essay, which relies on the development of an argument. A report makes extensive use of subheadings, numbering and layout. Another important element is the use of appendices. These generally carry information which is very important but does not fit into the main body of the report.

One thing that makes a report distinctive is that it breaks things up into manageable sections and these are immediately obvious to the reader. This means that the reader can find what they are looking for very easily. This is also why a contents list is important because it tells the reader where to look for particular information.

There are often specific conventions used in report writing. For example, it is common to avoid the use of 'I', and reports are often written in the passive voice. Many reports begin with an 'executive summary', which is similar to an abstract and summarizes the main points of the report in continuous prose. Some of these conventions come from professional bodies and in this case the course guidelines you receive on report writing will address these.

Below we give an example from one university business school of a specific structure for a business studies report.


Report on .. Prepared by






1.1 Terms of reference

This report is the result of an investigation into complaints made by staff about the internal post service at XYZ. A working party was set up on XX/XX/XX to investigate the nature of these complaints and to make recommendations as appropriate.

1.2 Procedure/methodology

In order to investigate the nature of the complaints the following investigatory procedures were adopted:

1.2.1 questionnaires were sent to all members of staff (see Appendix A);

1.2.2 a cross-section of the staff was interviewed (30 in total);

1.2.3 the post room supervisor was interviewed;

1.2.4 the post room staff were interviewed;

1.2.5 the service was monitored for one week.

2. Findings

2.1 The current provisions

2.2 Staff attitudes and expectations

2.3 Post room problems

3. Conclusions

The main conclusions drawn by the working party were as follows:

4. Recommendations

Consideration should be given to the following measures:

Appendix: the questionnaire


Reproduced from 'Study Skills and Learning Materials', University of North London Business School (1995)

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