4 steps of academic report writing:

At it's simplest, there are 4 straightforward steps to academic report writing: Plan, Write, Reference your sources, and Review.

Step 1. Plan

Before putting pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard!), it is important to plan your approach to the assignment. This includes:

Define the purpose - Make sure you have carefully read and analysed the assignment and have a clear idea of the exact purpose.

Gather information - Use a variety of sources in your research, and be aware of the ABC's of each source:

  • Authorship (who has written this material?)
  • Bias (might the author be biased in any particular way)
  • Currency (how up-to-date or relevant is this source?)

Be sure to keep track of each source you use, so that you'll be able to correctly reference each of your sources in the final essay.

Structure your material - Try not to impose a structure too early; gather your ideas, assess them, then organise and evaluate them. Once this is done, you can identify the 3 to 5 main ideas around which to structure the report or essay. The overall structure of a report or essay should look something like this:

  • Introduction - outlining your approach to the report or essay
  • Body - 3 to 5 main points; 1 or 2 paragraphs for each main point
  • Summary and/or conclusions - summarise/conclude your main message
  • List of references - list all sources used in preparing the report or essay

Step 2. Write

Many people mistakenly begin at this stage! You'll find it much easier to write a good paper after you have clarified the purpose, gathered the relevant information, assessed and evaluated the information, and planned the structure (as described above).

Most writing advice suggests that you begin by writing a rough draft of each of the main sections first. After this, you can more easily write the introduction (outlining your approach) and the summary/conclusion (summarising the key ideas of the report or essay).

The introduction is one of the most important paragraphs. An effective introduction introduces the topic and purpose of the report or essay and outlines your approach, i.e. the main ideas that will be developed within it. After reading just the introduction, the reader should know (i) the purpose of the paper and (ii) the main ideas which will be covered within it.

Step 3. Reference your Sources

Refer to the Basics of Correct Referencing to find guidelines for citing and referencing all of the sources you use in your report or essay.

Step 4. Review

Once your first draft is written, it's time to refine and revise, taking care to use a clear writing style. Finally, proof-read from start to finish; it is often useful to ask someone else to do this, as errors can go unnoticed when you have worked on a piece of writing for some time.