Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Writing Reports

Learners of English are usually taught how to speak in different contexts and also how to write in different ways. The sub skills needed to write a letter to a friend are not the same as those needed to write a short story or a film review. Writing a report is a specialised task. But do not be misled into thinking that report writing is more difficult than that informal letter. It is just a matter of practice and of following a few rules. A good report should have the following five features:

It is easy to forget a vital piece of information when you are writing under the pressures of exam stress or when you are trying to remember lots of information about a subject. One simple way to make sure that your report answers the question and contains everything that it is expected to contain is to underline all of the key words in the question before you plan your report. Refer to these key words during the planning and the writing stage to ensure that nothing of importance is left out.

Two of the first questions that you should ask yourself before you start writing your report are: Who is the reader? and What style should I use? When you have answered the first question, the second should be obvious. If you are writing a report for a journal or an official organisation your style should be formal. If the report is for a student magazine or club, it can be more informal. If you are not sure which style to use it is probably wise to err on the side of formality; no contractions, fewer phrasal verbs and a more polite register.

Write a plan. No matter how simple, a few minutes spent writing a brief plan for your report will be a few well spent minutes that can make the difference between a well organised report and a confused one. Write down everything you need to include and then decide on the order that things should be written. Headings can help too. They don’t need to be long or complicated. Short headings help to make a report clearer for both the writer and the reader.

Everybody remembers being told as a child that a good story has a beginning, a middle and an ending. The same is true of a report – or indeed – any piece of writing. Very often the ideas outlined in the introduction are repeated in the summing up as a way of rounding off the text and bringing the reader back to the initial points. Conclusions sometimes include recommendations too. This will depend on the subject of your report.

If you are writing a report in the context of an English exam, then the examiners will be looking out for evidence of your command of the English language. Try to use different grammatical structures and a range of vocabulary. Wherever possible use suitable expressions that are correct in the context. When you have written a rough draft of your report – that is, a first version which will need to be corrected and improved - you might like to read through it to see where you have repeated the same word or phrase several times. Practise using a thesaurus to find other ways of saying the same thing. There are on-line versions such as

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