Writing reports can help students develop the skills that employers value.

A report is a formal document that uses research to support a conclusion.

Reports are used in many professions and disciplines. For example, there are:

  • business reports
  • laboratory reports
  • legal reports
  • technical design reports.

Regardless of length, reports should be clear, succinct and supported by evidence.

When to use a report

Reports are useful assessment tasks when students need to:

  • research
  • describe
  • problem solve
  • interpret
  • analyse
  • evaluate
  • communicate
  • synthesise
  • integrate.

Advantages and limitations

  • Report writing can help students develop and demonstrate the attributes employers value.
  • Report-based assessments can be the end product of useful learning activities such as:
    • research
    • practical work
    • analysis
    • comparison of data or information.
  • Assessments can be extended to include presentation of the report findings in a seminar, video or synchronous online presentation.
  • Report writing can be used as formative assessment where students are encouraged to incorporate feedback in future assessment (e.g. they can practise report writing in class, be given feedback and then refine for final assessment).
  • Reports can be written individually or as part of a group project.
  • Online reports (using tools such as Google Docs) can be considered as an alternative assessment type that encourages group work.
  • The structure of a report can provide scaffolding for students, particularly those who find writing difficult.
  • Reports can have a high risk of academic misconduct if completed in a group.
  • Writing and editing reports can be time consuming.
  • A presentation element requires some consideration of appropriate formats. Without direction, this can be time consuming.
  • Report writing is not appropriate or relevant to all disciplines.
  • Reports require increased marking time, particularly in providing quality feedback to individual students.
  • Evidence and data need to be verified.

Things to keep in mind

When using reports as assessment items, consider the following pointers:

  • Provide clear guidelines on the:
    • format of the report
    • submission method
    • due date.
  • Make sure the task is clearly aligned with the content and learning outcomes.
  • The marking rubric should be made explicit to the students.
  • When a report is based on group work:
    • students should be informed of the unintentional academic misconduct that can occur
    • students should have access to institutional Academic Integrity policies that help them differentiate between collaboration and collusion
    • it's also useful to have a mechanism for identifying individual contributions to a group report.
  • A report should be formal in its writing style
  • A report should have:
    • an introduction
    • a body
    • a conclusion.
  • It’s important to show examples so students are familiar with your expectations of format, length, inclusions etc.
  • Emphasise the importance of editing and proofreading as part of professional report writing practice.
  • A template may be useful for providing students a clear outline of the report's scope.
  • Sub-headings may be used to provide structure: consider outlining these subheadings.
  • A report can use visuals and graphics: provide examples and make any requirements clear.
  • Emphasise the importance of providing recommendations or conclusions.
  • Identify the audience for the report and the purpose and function of the report so students know how to direct their efforts.
  • Consider the importance of research: direct students to appropriate references or provide a bank of resources for them to draw from.
  • In an examination situation, resources may be provided, with students required to work from those resources.

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