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The key elements of a report

Solve a problem and present research findings

Make sure your report contains all the right elements. Every report should have the following sections:

Title page

Table of contents

This is optional depending on the length of the report—a 2 to 3 page report probably wouldn't have a table of contents but a 10 to 20 page report would.

Executive summary

An executive summary is a brief overview of a report that is designed to give the reader a quick preview of the report's contents. Its purpose is to present the key points of a report in one place. After reading the summary, your audience will understand the main points you are making and your evidence for those points without needing to read your full report. Remember that the purpose of an executive summary is to provide an overview or preview to an audience who may not have time to read the whole report carefully.

  • An executive summary explains why you wrote the report, emphasises your conclusions or recommendations and includes only the essential or most significant information to support those conclusions
  • Executive summaries are usually organised according to the sequence of information presented in the full report, so follow the order of your full report as you discuss the reasons for your conclusions
  • Executive summaries are usually proportional in length to the larger work they summarize, typically 10 to 15 percent. Most executive summaries are 1 to 2 paragraphs
  • Write the executive summary after you have completed the report and have decided on your recommendations. Review your report and identify the key points and use these to organise a draft of your summary
  • Make the summary concise, but be sure to show how you arrived at your conclusions
  • Don't introduce any new information that is not in your report
  • Executive summaries should communicate independently from your report


The introduction should:

  • briefly describe the context and background to the research
  • describe the change, problem or issue to be reported on
  • define the specific objectives and purpose of the report
  • indicate the overall answer to the problem explored in the report
  •  outline the report's scope (the extent of the investigation, also known as its terms of reference or brief)
  • preview the report structure
  • comment on the limitations of the report and any assumptions that are made.


This is the main body of the report and it has two key purposes:

  1. to explain the conclusions
  2. to justify the recommendations

Key points to remember when you are writing the discussion include the following:

  • Present the analysis in a logical and systematic way
  • If necessary, divide the material with appropriate headings to improve the readers' understanding
  • Back up your claims with evidence—explain your findings
  • Link theory to practical issues
  • Persuade readers of the validity of your stance


The conclusion should:

  • be arranged so that the major conclusions come first
  • identify the major issues relating to the case and give your interpretation of them
  • relate specifically to the objectives of the report as set out in the introduction
  • be a list of numbered points
  • follow logically from the facts in the discussion
  • be clean-cut and specific
  • be brief


Your recommendations point to the future and should be:

  • action-oriented
  • feasible
  • logically related to the discussion and conclusion
  • numbered
  • arranged in order of importance
  • brief


See the Library's website for information on citation and how to compile a reference list.


Include in the appendices any essential extra material, such as tables and graphs that support your research but don't relate directly to the discussion of your findings.


The first thing you need to do is identify your audience and what they need to know. Then think through what the report is about—what information needs to be in it, what information is best left out?

Also, remember that the key difference between an essay and a report is that an essay focuses on developing an argument or point of view, while a report centres on solving a problem and presenting research findings. You can also use headings (this is something you wouldn't do in an essay) to identify sections of the report (i.e., Discussion, Conclusion, etc.).

Get more advice and tips on how to write a great essay or report.

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