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Monday, 28 March 2011

How To Write A Formal Report

Since I've been spending the past week writing a formal report for my course I thought I would share how they are done. They are tedious, boring and will truly test your will power! Sadly, writing formal reports is just something that has to be done as part of scientific research! The best way to tackle it is to have a good plan and to just sit down and bash it out, otherwise it will loom over you for days and you'll be under pressure to get it done later on. I wrote a piece on How To Beat Procrastination for those that struggle to get going!

Where To Start?

One of the first things you should always remember about a formal report is that it should always be spoken about in the past tense. You are going to be writing this and telling people what you did and what you found, so it should never include methods you are going to take or are undergoing. The second important technique that should always be remembered is that you are going to write the whole formal report without being personal. Instead of writing ‘I next went on to test the hypothesis…’ it should read, ‘ The hypothesis was then tested…’


  • Write in the past tense
  • Avoid being too personal and informal, always write scientifically
  • Do not waffle on about things. Keep your formal report clear, concise and precise
  • Carefully lay out your report so it flows naturally and logically
  • Always proof read your formal report

What A Formal Report Should Include

A formal report should include the following:
  • Abstract
  • Introduction
  • Method
  • Results
  • Discussion
  • Conclusion/Evaluation
  • References or Appendix


An abstract is where you sum up your investigation in 100-200 words. IT should briefly outline what you investigated, the methods that you employed to complete the investigation and what you found. The abstract can be very tricky to write well so it is sometimes best to write it last. This way you have written the rest of your report and you know exactly what you are summarising.


The introduction is very important and should engage the reader whilst giving them the relevant information to understand some of the techniques/formula you have used in the investigation. In short it should tell the reader what you are investigating, why it is relevant and the background research you have done to be able to conduct it.


The method is probably the most boring and tedious section of the formal report of all. If you have written a method before conducting the experiment (as many schools, colleges and universities make you do) then this part is made quick a lot easier. Write exactly what you did and remember to keep it in the past tense. It should read as if your experiment went without a hitch or problem. 
Once you have written it make sure that you read over it and try to remain objective. Someone else should be able to read this and do the experiment perfectly, so make sure it is watertight.


Your results section is fairly simple to do. It should include the relevant tables and graphs that you are going to use for analysis in your discussion and a brief description of what they are showing. Nothing should be analysed in this section and this can sometime be hard not to do this. Keep it short and sweet!
Don’t put in a table and then a graphical representation of the same table. Pick which shows the data best and then use that one and out the other one in an appendix.


The discussion is what I find the most interesting because you finally get to actually think about something instead of blinding going through the motions. Each part of your results should be scrutinised by interpreting the results, finding and discussing any anomalies and where they might have come from, how reliable your results are and how relevant they are. I believe that this section is limitless as you can always find something to talk about in a table of graph if you look hard.
If you’re finding it tricky then I would suggest looking at each point (if you are using graphs) and asking yourself why it is there and why it got there from the point before and why it moves to the next point. Once you have thought about this you can usually see where an anomaly might have occurred and how reliable your data actually is.


The evaluation should be wrapping up your formal report. Write about where you could have made improvements and where you went wrong along the way. It should also include further investigation that could be carried out that follows on from your investigation.  


Reference section is self-explanatory. Just ensure that you are referencing in the same style all the time and that it is in line with the required referencing style, as some publishers make you use a certain one.
The appendix is where any of your raw data can go as well as tables and graphs that weren’t used in the results and discussion sections but could still be of use to the reader.

Well that concludes how to write a formal report. This is a decent structure of how to write one and they definitely get easier to do the more you do them. Remember to proof read it always and number your pages.
Your name should appear on it too as this is always going to get you’re a few marks straight away.

Happy writing!!


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