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Structuring the report

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Whether the report is short or long, the structure will be similar.

Title –this should explain exactly what the report is about.

Introduction –this should summarize the content and references of the report, i.e. what it will cover, why it is being written, and possibly the methods used to collect the information. Often it is easier to write the introduction once the body of the report has been completed, when the writer's ideas are clearer.

Main body –the section, in which the topic of the report is examined, will include the facts you have collected and your sources. These can be either primary sources, which are direct interviews and questionnaires, or secondary sources such as books, magazines, and newspapers.

Conclusions –are the ideas you have formed from the evidence examined in the main body of the report. Whereas facts are objective statements, conclusions interpret and comment on the facts and draw together the different aspects of the situation as you see it.

Recommendations.You may or may not have been asked for recommendations. If you have, you should explain that the conclusions lead you to recommend a particular course, or courses, of action. You might also predict the outcome of following, or not following, a particular course of action.

Headings.In a short report you might need only a few headings or even no headings at all. However, in a longer report a more complicated numbering system might be used. Long reports may be made up of many different sections. It is best to include a contents list with page numbers for easy reference. They may also include tables, graphs, lists of references, and acknowledgements thanking people who have helped in the writing of the report. There may also be an appendix giving extra information not required in the main body of the report, e.g. a copy of a questionnaire, transcripts of interviews.

Summary.Busy people do not always have time to read all the reports they receive, especially if they are very long or do not affect them directly. However, it may be useful or important for them to know the gist of what the report contains, and so it is a good idea to include a brief summary of not more than one page at the beginning of your report. The summary should explain why the report has been written and contain only the main findings, conclusions, and recommendations.

Remember that the structure is there to help the reader to:

• Follow the information easily

• Take in the information and understand it

• Go back later and find any information quickly if they want to recap

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