Step into the time machine, and let’s take a journey back to your second-grade classroom.
You’re studying (what you feel is) the best subject in the world: dinosaurs. Your teacher tells you to write a report about your favorite dinosaur, so you rush to find a website (or an old, moldy book from the library) that tells you everything you need to know about the velociraptor.
Think back to what you included in your dinosaur report. Your goal wasn’t to provide your opinion or defend an argument (even though you sometimes felt the need to defend your choice of the velociraptor over the tyrannosaurus rex).
The goal of the report was to simply report factual information about your subject. Hence the assignment title, “report,” right?
This basic formula of presenting factual information is the core of the more advanced report you’ll need to write in many high school or college assignments.
So how do you move from the second-grade velociraptor report to a more scholarly report? Here’s what you need to know to write a report the stress-free way.
How a Report Differs From an Essay
Reports and essays differ, however, when it comes to purpose and organization.
Purpose of a report vs. essay
Most essays require you to express your opinion or defend an argument. They also often require you to support your claims with evidence from credible sources. You might write an essay in just about any class.
A report, on the other hand, doesn’t focus on opinions or arguments, and it doesn’t always need evidence from sources as support. (Some reports most definitely do require research, however—so check your assignment guidelines, and talk to your teacher before writing your report.)
A report focuses on facts. Its purpose is usually to analyze a situation and make recommendations. You’ll most likely write reports in business, science, or technical courses.
Organization of a report vs. essay
Any type of writing requires a clear pattern of organization. (Think of your outline like the skeleton of a dinosaur. It provides the basic bones to hold everything together.)
To put this into perspective, think about the literary analysis. You might have received feedback from a teacher that says something like “Can you explain this in more detail?” or “include additional evidence and examples to help develop this idea fully.”
In this case, your teacher wants you to expand, to flesh out the details, and to support an argument presented in the essay. Some students feel it’s just a bit too much explaining. If you’re one of those students, you’re in luck. The report’s goal is to explain clearly and concisely, but not necessarily elaborate too much on every detail.
The report should present factual, unbiased information to explain the problem or situation being presented.
Key Components of a Report
The introduction of a report should explain the goals of your paper and discuss the problem you’re analyzing.
The introduction might also provide any background information on the topic and briefly outline the sections of the report.
Remember, the goal is to be concise, so the introduction should generally be about one paragraph long.
The body of a report is like the body of an essay in that it’s the main (and usually longest) section. The body should be a minimum of three or four paragraphs, but might be much longer depending on your assignment requirements.
In this section, include a discussion of the problem and the results of your analysis. (This discussion might include research you’ve conducted through online or print sources, personal interviews, or surveys you’ve conducted.)
The conclusion is usually no more than a paragraph or two and will include your interpretations and the significance of your findings.
The recommendations section should also be relatively brief (about a paragraph or two) and should concisely explain (based on your findings in the report) what steps need to be taken next.
Where Are the Steps to Write a Report?
Okay, so you know what a report is and what the major sections of a report are, but that leaves the all-important question you want answered: Where do I start, and how do I put all of this information together?
Here are the steps you need to take.
1. Consider the audience
Is your teacher the only audience? Does the assignment require you to imagine that you’re writing to a boss, a government official, or someone else?
You’ll likely use different word choices and perhaps even different sentence structures depending on your audience, so consider this carefully before you write.
2. Know what type of information must be included
Understanding what your teacher wants is important. You can write an amazing report, but if it doesn’t meet the assignment guidelines, you won’t get an amazing grade. So before you do anything, make sure you know what’s expected.
Should you conduct surveys or create experiments, or should you write the entire report based on your own personal knowledge? Should you (or are you required to) include research sources in your report? Can you use websites, or should you include more academic sources?
Plan accordingly because you’ll certainly need to allot more time to your report if you need to conduct research.
3. Brainstorm topics
If you don’t already have an assigned topic, brainstorm topic ideas.
Maybe you’re still into dinosaurs, and you want to write a report to analyze the way the subject of dinosaurs is taught in schools to see if teachers are biased toward the T-rex and if that’s why most kids seem to love it more than the velociraptor.
Make sure, of course, that whatever topic you choose meets the assignment. (You don’t want to write about dinosaurs, for instance, if you’re in an economics class and you’re supposed to be studying consumer spending, even if dinosaurs are way cooler.)
Need inspiration? Here are some topic ideas to get your juices flowing:
- 4 Ways to Mine Social Media for Better Topics to Write About
- 40 Problem-Solution Essay Topics to Help You Get Started
- 11 Pop Culture Research Topics That Pop
- 20 Research Essay Topics That You Can Dig Into
4. Outline ideas
After you’ve decided on a topic, sketch out a rough plan for your report.
You might start with a research question to help you get rolling. This can help you decide the goal of your analysis and help you figure out exactly what you hope to accomplish by writing your report.
Don’t like traditional outlining? Try a graphic organizer to map out your ideas.
Once you have a plan in place, get to it. Start researching to learn more about the topic and the problem you’re analyzing.
Remember, there is more to research than Googling. (Gasp! I know, it’s shocking.) It’s true, though. You might actually venture into a library, talk to professionals, visit a museum, or even conduct surveys of your own.
6. Put it all together
When your research is complete, start writing.
Keep in mind that writing doesn’t necessarily mean that you have to write the introduction first. You might want to start by drafting the body of your report. This will allow you to discuss the problem and get a solid grasp of your ideas before you actually need to introduce the topic.
After you’ve drafted the body, sit back and ponder it awhile. Consider what it all means.
What conclusions have you reached after analyzing the problem? What action(s) do you recommend your readers take?
If you’re writing about how the topic of dinosaurs is taught in schools, you might conclude that teachers talk about T-rex more often and show more examples of T-rex to create excitement about the dinosaur. You might conclude that this creates a bias and steers kids into liking T-rex more than other equally interesting creatures.
You might then recommend that the curriculum be changed to include discussion and activities related to other dinosaurs. You could recommend that students be allowed to explore other lesser-known dinosaurs (like the coelophysis or the shantungosaurus) in depth.
7. Revise and edit
Of course, don’t forget the all-important steps of revising and editing. It’s pretty much impossible to write the perfect report on the first try, so save enough time to revise.
If you’ve revised until you feel like you’re about to become extinct, let a professional Kibin editor help.
In Need of Further Assistance?
Still working on your report but feel like the fast-approaching deadline is like have a giant T-rex breathing down your neck all Jurassic-Park-like?
It’s okay. The peeps in the clip below (mostly) survived, and you will too. You got this.
Here are a few additional resources to help you finish strong.
- If you’re reviewing sources for your report, review this post to help annotate your sources.
- If you’re working on word choice, check out 33 Commonly Misused Words (and How to Get Them Right) and How to Become a Better Writer: Don’t Use Words That Sound Smart.
Looking for more information about a specific type of report, such as a book report, project report, or lab report? Take a look at these posts for even more tips:
- How to Write a Book Report That Doesn’t Suck
- What Is a Project Report, and How Do You Write One?
- How to Write a Science Lab Report That Gets Results
Finally, if you’re looking for examples for further inspiration, take a look at this report on BMW, this report on Blue Cross Blue Shield of Texas, or this report on the federal policy on inclusive sex education from our essay library.