How to write a report for academic purposes?
How to write an academic report for research properly: structure, style, title page, samples and types of reports.
A scientific report is a well-structured presentation of the experimental research procedures and results. It is usually used by teachers for evaluating students’ effort and achievements. As a typical example of technical writing, reports use many quotes from reputable sources, figures and tables to defend their conclusions.
- Structure – the IMRAD formula.
- The introduction.
- The methodology.
- The results.
- The discussion.
- The principles of technical writing.
- The common mistakes to avoid.
Structure – the IMRAD formula
The most common ingredients to be included into report are the introduction, methodology, results and discussion sections, which are commonly referred to as the IMRAD formula. The following sections give more details as to what should be included into each of these parts to make them stronger.
To be more precise, each part of report should include the following elements:
The introduction should not exceed two pages. The common rule of thumb is about 10% of the total word count for introduction. This section should give the readers answers to the following questions:
- Why this particular question is significant and why everyone should care about it?
- What is the main hypothesis and how it is related to the rest of the existing studies?
- Why the chosen model is the most appropriate one for investigating this question?
- What are the main objectives of the research and what are the potential applications of the research findings?
To answer all of the questions above, the introduction requires at least four paragraphs. The past simple is recommended for discussing all of the established facts, whereas past simple is more appropriate for discussing the researcher’s decisions, such as choosing a topic and developing a hypothesis.
Whereas there’s no specific limits as to the word count for the methodology section, it’s better to keep it as short and concise as possible. There’s no place for extra details and additional explanations in this part.
Whenever an experiment requires additional materials, such as chemicals, biological materials and supplies all of them should be mentioned in this part. The commonly found supplies, such as the test tubes and pipet tips do not necessarily have to be mentioned in the methodology. The less is better for this section.
This section includes detailed description of methods and procedures, including the conditions under which the experiment took place and the mechanisms through which the measurements or observations have been conducted. The experiments in social sciences often require sampling, discussing the major qualities of population involved in the experiment, such as age, gender, education, and social background.
Third person past tense in the passive voice is usually used for the methodology part. Although it’s usually recommended to minimize the use of the passive voice in academic writing, the active voice usually sounds weird for this specific section.
The control group
In some cases, having a control group is the only way to evaluate the achieved results. For instance, if an experiment presupposes certain manipulations and interference in the current state of affairs and changing them. For instance, if a researcher wants to check if listening to the classic music can improve the students’ performance, s/he will need a group of students, for which the music plays during the test and a group that does a test in silence. Sometimes, the ethics of having a control group is discussed. For instance, the use of control groups for medical studies is widely discussed.
The length of this part depends on the amount and type of findings which should be included. Tables, graphs and figures can be used for presenting the results more effectively. This section is the most objective part of the entire paper, as no researcher’s personal opinion or comments should be included. The only recommendation is to point out at the observation that is the most important one. The results for the control group should be mentioned (if there was a control group for that specific experiment.)
The discussion should be the longest part of any report. Including all major conclusions, analysis and interpretations, the discussion gives all the necessary explanations to show readers what made the researcher draw certain conclusions. Despite the huge amount of information, which should be included into this part, it has to be perfectly structured. It’s important to preserve the connection with the previous sections. The discussion should prove or disapprove all the hypotheses introduced in the opening section.
The following are the major components of a good discussion in a scientific report:
- An in-depth analysis of the key findings.
- Approval or disapproval of every hypothesis.
- Potential applications of the findings in practice.
- Further directions for research.
- Limitations of study (what could create bias and influence the final conclusions).
The principles of technical writing
- Active voice should be used whenever possible. (However the passive voice is recommended for those parts where the actions itself is more important than the doer, like in the methodology section, for example.)
- The choice of tense matters. The present tense should be used for discussing the general truths and facts that are continuously true. The past tense describes the actions taking place in the past – the choice of topics, methodology, and the quotes from external sources. The present perfect should be used for the actions started in the past but still taking place in the present moment or having a strong connection with the present moment. (E.g. The previous studies haven’t recorded any…)
- Word choice deserves serious consideration. All the unnecessary words, including the intensifying adverbs (such as very, quite, always) should be omitted. A good scientific report is jam packed with active verbs.
- Quotes from other sources should be clearly separated from the researcher’s own findings. The direct quotes should be used sparingly.
- Despite the significance of the quotes from reputable sources, the author’s voice should be made clear. The researcher’s own conclusions should take at least two thirds of the total word count.
- The general report format should follow the major requirements of the required citation style.
The common mistakes to avoid
The following are the most common mistakes which should be avoided in reports:
- Putting a heading at the bottom of the page (when only a few lines are left.)
- Breaking a table or figure into parts.
- Failing to give credit to the source where a table or graph was taken. Just like plain text, all visuals require proper referencing.
If we talk about practical experience transferred onto paper, we mean reports and report writing in particular. Only from a personal contact with the object examined comes inspiration and material for writing. Shapes and names of reports may vary as well, just as their goals. Humanity reports involve more of a personal impression, while scientific report writing requires lab work and theoretical base.
Book report writing is somewhat close to critical reviews, but still stands on its own. The main difference is in feedback. When writing a book report, you are supposed to share your impressions and evaluate the content in accordance with three main parameters: theme of the book, its characters, and plot. Critical review, in its turn, also gives advice on how unsatisfactory parts and mistakes are and what could have been corrected.
When deciding upon what to report on, choose a book you feel positive about. Your report writing will only benefit from such a choice, since your personal interest in the book will contribute to in-depth analysis and stimulate critical thinking. Good analysis starts during the actual process of reading. Get ready to take notes on details that you think will be important during the writing process. Also, keep a tentative plan of a future book report in mind, and pay attention to the quotes that will support your point of view. Quotations are extremely important when it comes to writing book reports, because they are the facts you are operating with.
Book report is usually a relatively short assignment, so you should better decide what point of the book will be analyzed. The most obvious criterion is the plot. At this point, you, as a book report writer, should give a summary of the story in context of its significance to the audience, historical generation it was initially intended for, and, finally, its worthiness for future generations. Your task is to avoid plain retelling. The potential audience (which is your teacher or professor usually) knows what is going on with the characters. He/she will be more interested in your understanding of the problem, so what you need to do is write about your feelings and back them up with some parts of the authentic text.
Another way to write a book report is to explore the characters. Here you will need to reveal hidden relations between the types of heroes and the way they bring forward the problem that is central to the plot. Is a character positive or negative? How does the author explain the peculiarities of his personality? Can the main character be described as the son of his epoch, and what was the historical context that influenced formation of his nature? The more detailed you get, the deeper the analysis will be. Author’s quotations have to be your main arguments.
A tale as old as time is the theme that is put into the book. Really, there are not so many topics in the history of literature to dance around. Three is the most. It is the way authors twist them that makes books interesting and worth reading. When writing a book report and concentrating on the underlying themes, analyze the problem that became a purpose of writing, and how it is revealed through the scenes and characters. Give some light on how the theme influenced you personally and tell if this problem is still popular.
Lab report requires different sets of skills. It gets more into details and practice. Close to lab reports are case report writings and psychological reports. They all need theoretical framework.
Apart from small requisites, such as the Title Page and Bibliography, there are several big parts that need deep thinking. One of them is the Abstract – a part that is common for all scientific research papers. Its goal is to introduce a topic to the readers, and also give a brief description of the purpose of an experiment, its significant findings and major accomplishments.
When writing a lab report, be sure to include the Introduction, where you will present a problem in greater details, and also share your predictions and expectations with the audience. Your problem has to sound significant even if you are a beginner who is investigating quite a regular object. Find an angle at which your research will gain new meanings.
Be sure to describe the procedure itself in the lab report. The key word for this part of report writing is being precise. Give detailed description when providing information on the type of equipment and materials used, especially if they are unique and specific. Pay attention to the measurements – the numbers have to be correct. The procedure itself has to have a step-by-step description. Your writing has to have a shape of good and helpful instructions. Some of the readers may want to repeat your experiment.
One of the important steps in writing a lab report is critical analysis of your own work. It has to be placed in the section called Results. After you got data from the experiments, think it over and make a deep evaluation of its significance. It is better when your statements are backed up by visual proofs, such as tables, graphs, and figures. If your report is handwritten, illustrations have to be understandable and readable. But it is better to hand in typed reports and tables constructed with the help of computer graphics.
Finally, move on to writing your conclusion. Do you remember the predictions and the expectations you have made in your introduction? Well, it is high time to get back to them (refer to them the audience) and state which of them turned out to be true and which failed to pass the testing. If there was something wrong with the actions you took, write about it to warn your followers from repeating the same mistakes. Write if something could have been done better, but concentrate on your achievements, as well.
Among the most popular report types, there are case report, analytical report, and business report writing. Depending on the depth of analysis, all of them can be written following the pattern above.