Writing a report
It is an important skill in geography to be able to write a report. Reports are often used to show that a student is able to gain an understanding of a particular topic by researching or investigating it. This chapter explains the four main steps in writing an effective report.
Planning an approach
Before students begin writing a report, they need to identify the subject of the report. It is important that they know precisely what they are being required to write about. The subject is often posed as a what, how or why question. Alternatively, students may be asked to explain, discuss, compare, interpret, outline, account for, analyse, or evaluate a particular concept or topic. Once students understand the subject of the report, they should also consider the purpose of the report.
Whether they are writing an e-mail, newspaper article, or even a recipe, students need to take into consideration the audience for whom they are writing. A report is no different. The structure, style and language should all be appropriate for the person, or people, who will respond to the report.
To ensure that students fully understand what is required of their report, they should read the syllabus outcomes (also known as assessment criteria). An outcome is a statement of results expected to be achieved by the end of the stage. Outcomes are often used by teachers as marking criteria.
Lastly, students need to think about the message they want to convey in their report. They should keep this message in mind throughout the entire process of writing the report.
Knowing the subject, purpose, audience, outcomes and message will assist students in deciding how to go about writing the report. Mind maps (diagrams arranged around a key concept) and flow charts (diagrams showing sequence) are both useful ways to organise thoughts.
When gathering information it is important to remember that not all sources will be suitable for all reports. Furthermore, printed sources can sometimes be out of date and online sources can be inaccurate. To find the most reliable and appropriate information, students should refer to several different sources. There are a wide variety of reference materials which students can choose from. They include: the internet, videos, non-fiction books, journals, reference books (including encyclopaedias and atlases), school textbooks, newspapers and CD-ROM references. Students can also gather their own information by interviewing people who have expert knowledge on the report topic, or by conducting a survey.
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When making notes, students should identify the central idea and other important facts, before writing them in their own words. This is called paraphrasing. Paraphrasing will make it easier for students to understand the information which they have written when they commence writing their report. Students should NEVER directly copy another writer's material and pass it off as their own work. This is known as plagiarism. Plagiarism is a serious and punishable offence. To prevent plagiarism, all collected information should be referenced within the report and in a bibliography, attached to the report. A bibliography is a list of sources used to compile a text.
Once all of the information has been collected, it needs to be organised and analysed. Students should begin by reviewing and sorting all of the notes and data which they have collected, into a logical order. This will enable them to determine whether they have enough information and if it is consistent with the message that they are trying to convey. If students find that their collected information is inadequate, then they should return to the previous stage (gathering information).
Once students are satisfied with their information, they should plan their report. They will need to ensure that their message is clear and logical, and that it addresses the subject of the report in a way which is appropriate for the audience. Students must also decide which data to use to convey their message and which examples or references to use as evidence. It is a good idea to also take some time to select an appropriate way of showing data. Some information, for example, is better shown in a table, graph, diagram or photograph than in writing. These examples should be followed by an interpretation or analysis of the findings. Lastly, students will need to draw conclusions and assess the implications of the information that they have collected.
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Writing it down
Students should always begin their report by writing at least one draft copy. A draft copy enables students to see if anything is missing or needs to be changed. Since it is a rough copy of what the final report will look like, presentation should also be considered. Font, text size, layout, margins and headings all make a substantial difference to the quality of a report. Spelling, grammar and punctuation errors can also be corrected after the first draft.
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Most reports follow a similar structure. Below is an example of a basic report structure.
Introduction. This is where the subject, and the message which will be conveyed throughout the entire report, is addressed. The purpose of the report, method of enquiry and limitations (if there were any) can also be briefly discussed here.
Body. This is the main section of the report, since the bulk of the information is presented here. Students should convey their main message by presenting a series of arguments, using references to support the arguments, and interpreting the findings. Any tables, graphs, diagrams or photographs which supplement the student's findings, should also be included in the body.
Conclusion. This is where all of the information and evidence, presented in the body of the report, is drawn together with a conclusion. No new information should be presented here. Students can, however, provide a short evaluation of the implications of their findings in this section.
Once the draft copy has been revised and edited, a final copy can be made. Students should not forget to attach a bibliography to their report. It is always a good idea to read over the final copy of the report before handing it in for marking.