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Academic writing: a practical guide



Objective, evidence-based writing commonly used in the sciences and some social science subjects.

Introduction to reports

Reports are found within many subjects, particularly sciences and some social sciences. They present factual-based information for a specified audience, with each academic discipline area having its own report types (many of which are based on real-world reports). 

This guide explores what an academic report is as a concept and offers practical advice about the completion of academic reports:

Features of reports

  • Reports present and (usually) critically analyse data and other factual evidence.
  • There are different types of reports, which each have a specific purpose.
  • There is often a specific structure that must be followed - see our general structure advice and guidance for each report type.
  • The writing style is concise and objective - for more detail, see our academic writing style advice.

The report writing process

Writing a good report isn't just about the final product - much of the thinking and hard work is done before you start writing.

Before your first report, work through the introductory guide to reports above to get an idea of what's expected of you: Reports: a Conceptual and Practical Guide [interactive tutorial]

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Read the assessment instructions carefully. Which type of report is it? Is there an expected structure? Do you need to analyse data? What's the word count? When's the deadline?

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Look at the assignment writing process and think about how you'll plan your approach to your report.

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Make a schedule: how much time do you need to research, think, plan, draft, write and edit your report? Add in some extra time for a buffer.

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Follow the steps in the writing process to prepare and write your report. Try to stick to your schedule.

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Check and proofread your report carefully - check your citations and references too! 

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Submit your report. Maybe celebrate with some cake?

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Read your feedback carefully. How can you use it to improve your next report? 

For more detail, see our dedicated advice pages:

Note taking for synthesising information

In many types of academic writing, you need to compare and synthesise information from numerous sources. This process much is quicker and easier using an effective note-taking technique.

Grid notes is a useful note taking technique to synthesise information. You collect information under specific headings in a grid or table, which helps you to:

  • pull all your notes together in one place.
  • focus on finding just the information you need in sources.
  • identify patterns in source information.
  • plan structure and write.

Find out more:

More advice about other note-taking methods:

Using evidence in reports

Sources of evidence

Reports are based on factual evidence and data, found in sources such as:

  • your own research findings (quantitative or qualitative)
  • findings from research papers (quantitative or qualitative)
  • published governmental or organisational datasets
  • reports from companies or organisations
  • business case studies

Tips on finding appropriate sources of evidence for your reports:

Reading academic journals

Writing a report usually requires reading lots of journal papers. This can seem like a massive task, but you usually don't need to read every word of a paper to get the information you need!

Find tips and strategies to read papers effectively:

Using evidence critically

It's not enough to describe or summarise the evidence - to access higher grades you'll also need to critically analyse it. What does the evidence mean in relation to your overall point or argument?

There are many ways that you could use evidence critically, such as:

  • evaluate or justify methodological choices
  • consider how your findings fit into previous research
  • compare findings, models or frameworks
  • evaluate different solutions or applications and select the most effective one
  • make evidence-based recommendations

For more advice, see our dedicated criticality resources:

Research reports

Research or experimental reports present and discuss the outcomes of your research: what did you do, what did you find out, and what does it mean?

They're very common in science subjects and sometimes used in Education, Management or other subjects.

Research reports usually follow a set structure:

  • introduction
  • methods
  • results
  • discussion




Writing a research report

This tutorial introduces what's expected in each section, with advice and examples:

Writing a research report [interactive tutorial] | Writing a research report [Google Doc]

Many dissertations also follow this structure, so these tips also apply to research reports:

Example research reports

Example research reports may be available on your module VLE sites or from your tutors.

Research-based journal papers are also usually based on the same principles, so reading papers from your field is also a good way to see what's expected. Note that the referencing style used by the journal might be different to your department's referencing style!

This ecology paper is a well-structured example of a research paper:

Other support for report writing

Online resources

The general writing pages of this site offer guidance that can be applied to all types of writing, including reports. Also check your department guidance and VLE sites for tailored resources.

Other useful resources for report writing:

Appointments and workshops 

As well as advice within your department, you can access central writing and skills support:

Have questions about planning or interpreting quantitative data analysis? You can book a statistics appointment with the Maths Skills Centre or explore the workshops and online resources: