Report Writingby Clare Forrest
- What are terms of reference?
- Should I write in the third person?
- What are findings?
- Is a summary the same thing as a conclusion?
1. What are terms of reference?
These are the objectives of a report and are critical. Unless these are completely clear, it’s possible that the report writer will produce a document that doesn’t do the required job – and that’s a waste of time for all concerned.
The terms of reference set out exactly what the report will cover and sometimes what won’t be covered.
If you’ve been asked to write a report, you must clarify the objectives before you start. If you’re delegating a report to someone else to write, make sure you’re very clear on what you want the report to achieve and give them proper objectives for the report.
2. Should I write in the third person?
There’s no easy answer to this one. It really depends on what is required and who you’re writing the report for. In general, these days it is more usual to write using the first person. It’s more direct and more personal. However, for academic reports there is still a tendency to write more formally, using the third person. If you’re not sure which is best for your report, these examples will help you to decide.
Note that the third person neutral, shown in example three, will always mean you write in the passive voice. This is less personal and less definite than the first two examples, where it is clear who did what.
- We discovered three key issues affecting the introduction of a new stock inventory system into the organisation. (First person: this uses ‘I’ or ‘We’, so the writing is active.)
- The writers discovered three key issues affecting the introduction of a new stock inventory system into the organisation. (Third person: you refer to yourself as if you were another person, but the writing remains active.)
- It was discovered that there were three key issues affecting the introduction of a new stock inventory system into the organisation. (Third person neutral using ‘it’: here, the writing is passive and less precise – no one is doing the discovering.)
3. What are findings?
Findings is a term often used to indicate the data (main body) of a report. Occasionally, though, it is used to mean the conclusions. It can be very confusing in a report, for both its readers and its writer, unless everyone is clear on the meaning.
Our advice is that you avoid the term entirely.
4. Is a summary the same thing as a conclusion?
No. The two things are very different and should never be confused. The idea of a summary is to enable readers to grasp the essence of the report without having to read it all. So your summary should
- Be a summary of the whole report
- Generally, be no longer than one page of A4
- Include all the main points of the report, particularly the conclusions and, if there are any, the recommendations.