Report writing is the last step in the research process. After data have been collected, analysed and interpreted, the researcher has to prepare a report of the findings of the study. It may be seen unscientific and even unfair, but a poor report or presentation can destroy a study.
7.1 Role of the Research Report
The main role of the research report is to communicate the findings of the research project. The project should answer the questions raised in the statement of objectives of the study. The researcher should be clearly aware of the purpose of the research when preparing the report. A research project can bring out a lot of information but much of this information may not be relevant to the problem initially defined. Only information that is likely to be useful to the decision maker in decision making should be included in the report. The researcher will need to use his own judgement in deciding what information should be omitted. For the report to be of maximum use to the decision maker, it must be objective. The researcher should therefore have the courage to present and defend their results as long as they are convinced that they are valid. They should also clearly indicate any limitations of the study.
7.2 Research Report Criteria
The main criteria by which research reports are evaluated are communication with the reader. The report is prepared for a specific purpose and for a specific type of audience. It should therefore communicate effectively with the intended audience. The report should be written with due consideration for the readers, their level of interest in the subject, understanding of technical terms and what they will make of the report. In order to tailor the report to meet the needs of the readers, the researcher should understand the readers’ preferences. One may find that different readers have different preferences and this may at times bring conflicts. Some readers may want to have the basic information only while others prefer to have the technical details clearly brought out in the report. One way to reconcile these conflicting interests is to prepare a basic report with a minimum detail and to have appendices that give the technical details. Again, in some cases, the researcher may indicate that certainly details have been omitted but are available upon request.
Another point to consider regarding the report’s ability to communicate with the intended reader is whether the reader has to keep referring to the dictionary as this may seriously interfere with the flow of information and thus affect communication.
7.3 Writing Criteria
A report should satisfy the following criteria to improve its chances of communicating effectively with the reader:
Let us now discuss how each of these criteria enhances communication.
A report should provide all the information that readers need in a language they understand. This means that the writer should continually ask himself whether all the issues in the research objectives have been addressed. The report should not be too long as to include findings that are not relevant to the study. Yet, it should not be too short as to omit necessary definitions and explanations.
The abilities and interests of readers should be considered in determining completeness.
The preceding steps in the research process provide the basic input for the report. This means that the data generated at the data collection and analysis steps should be accurate in order for the report to be accurate.
Writing clearly is not easy. Clarity is achieved by clear logical thinking and precision of expression. The way the report is organised may contribute to clarity or affect it negatively.
Some principles of writing clearly are:
- Use short and simple sentences.
- Use simple words which the reader is familiar with.
- Ensure that words and phrases express exactly what the writer means to say.
- Avoid grammatical errors.
- Use uniform style and format. It may help to write a first draft and then have another person review it before preparing the final report.
The criteria of completeness should not be complemented by conciseness. The writer should be concise in his writing and selective with regard to what to include in the report. The report should be brief and to the point – this means that the report should not include everything that has been found but only what is relevant to the study. The writing style should render itself to conciseness. The findings should be expressed completely and clearly in the fewest words possible.
7.4 Report Format
The organisation of the report influences its ability to meet all the criteria of report writing. There is no format that is appropriate for all reports. A report should use a format that best fits the needs of its readers. The following format may be used for most types of reports. It should be seen as flexible and open to changes and adjustments depending with needs of the reader.
1. Title page
2. Table of contents
3. Summary/Abstract/Executive Summary
4. Problem statement
5. Statement of objectives
7. Research methodology
- Research design
- Data collection method
- Analysis and interpretation
8. Limitations of the study
9. Findings of the study
10. Summary and conclusions
- Copies of data collection instruments.
- Details of sample size determination.
- Tables not included in the findings.
Let us briefly discuss each of these terms.
1. Title Page
The title page should indicate the subject of the report, the name of the organisation for whom the report is prepared, the name of organisation or person who prepared it and the date the report is prepared.
If the report is done by employees of the company, then the names of the people or departments
preparing the report are given.
2. Table of Contents
As a rough guide, any report of several sections that totals more than 6 to 10 pages should have a table of contents. This shows in order of appearance the topics and subtopics of the report with page references. It also includes tables and charts and pages where they may be found.
Some authors consider the summary to be the most important part of the report. This is mainly because most executives read only the summary or they us it to guide them on what areas of the report to give more attention. It should contain the necessary background information as well as the important findings and conclusions. Two pages are generally sufficient for executive summaries. Write this section after the rest of the report is finished.
4. Problem Statement
It contains the need for the research project. The problem is usually represented by research question(s). It is followed by a more detailed set of objectives.
5. Statement of Objectives
This states the objectives of the study and should clearly indicate the purpose of the study and what the report tries to answer.
Background material may be of two types. It may be preliminary results of exploration from an experience survey, focus group, or another source. Alternatively, it could be secondary data from the literature review.
7. Research Methodology
This section describes the research procedures or methods used. It should indicate the research design, sampling procedures, data collection and data analysis procedures used. This section provides information on the manner in which the findings reported were gathered, analysed and interpreted.
8. Limitations of the Study
This topic is often handled with ambivalence. Some people wish to ignore the matter, feeling that mentioning limitations detracts from the impact of the study. This attitude is unprofessional and possibly unethical. Every research project has limitations and the research should call the readers attention to them. This gives the reader a more accurate picture of the study and helps him to interprete the findings more objectively.
9. Findings of the Study
In this section which makes the bulk of the report, the results of the study are presented. The specific objectives of the study should be kept in mind and the results should be presented in a logical manner. Only information that contributes to answering the questions posed in the study objectives should be reported. Tables, charts and figures should be presented in a logical manner
to facilitate flow of thought and appreciation.
10. Summary and Conclusions
The summary is a brief statement of the essential findings. Sectional summaries may be used if there are many specific findings. They may be combined into an overall summary. In simple, descriptive research, a summary may complete the report, because conclusions and recommendations may not be required. Findings state facts, conclusions represent inferences drawn from the findings. Conclusions should be drawn with reference to the objectives of the study. The researcher should show the step by step development of conclusions and state them with some detail. Conclusions may be presented in a tabular form for easy reading and reference.
If for some reason the study does not obtain adequate data on which to make conclusions, this should be acknowledged.
There are usually a few ideas about corrective actions. In academic research, the recommendations are often further study suggestions that broaden or test understanding of the subject area. In applied research the recommendations will usually be for managerial action
rather than research action. The writer may offer several alternatives with justifications. It is therefore, not always possible or necessary to make recommendations. However, in some cases, the researcher may be asked to make recommendations. In this case, he will need further information on the background of the organisation and its policies.
The appendix provides a place for material that does not fit in the other parts of the research report. This may be because its too detailed, technical or specialized, or is not absolutely necessary for the text. The appendix normally contains details on sample design and sample size determination, an exhibit copy of the data collection instrument; maps used to draw up the sample; detailed statistical tables and figures. The appendix helps those interested in the technical details to find them easily.
7.5 Presentation of Statistics
The presentation of statistics in research reports is a special challenge for writers. Four basic ways to present such data are in (1) a text paragraph, (2) semitabular form, (3) tables, or (4) graphics.
1. Text Presentation
This is probably the most common when there are only a few statistics. The writer can direct the reader’s attention to certain numbers or comparisons and emphasize specific points. The drawback is that the statistics are submerged in the text, requiring the reader to scan the entire paragraph to extract the meaning. The following material has a few simple comparisons but becomes more complicated when text and statistics are combined. A comparison of the three aerospace and defense companies from the high-tech stratum of the
Forbes 500 sample show that Sundstrand had the best sales growth record over the years 1988- 1989. Its growth was 8.0 percent – with sales significantly lower than the other two firms in the sample. This compares to sales growth for Rockwell International of 3.3 percent, and AlliedSignal was third at only 0.8 percent sales increase. Rockwell International generated the most profits in 1989 among the three companies. Rockwell’s net profits were $720.7 million as compared to $528 million for Allied-Signal and $120.8 million for Sundstrand.
2. Semitabular Presentation
When there are just a few figures, they may be taken from the text and listed. Lists of quantitative comparisons are much easier to read and understand than embedded statistics.
An example of semitabular presentation is shown below: A comparison of the three aerospace-defense companies in the Forbes 500 sample shows that Sundstrand showed the best sales growth between 1988 and 1989. Rockwell International generated the highest net profits for the year 1989.
3. Tabular Presentation
Tables are generally superior to text for presenting statistics, although they should be accompanied by comments directing the reader’s attention to important figures. Tables facilitate quantitative comparisons and provide a concise, efficient way to present numerical data. Tables are either general or summary in nature. General tables tend to be large, complex and detailed. They serve as the repository for the statistical findings of the study and are usually in the appendix of a research report.
Summary tables contain only a few key pieces of data closely related to a specific finding. To make them inviting to the reader (who often skips them), the table designer should omit unimportant details and collapse multiple classifications into composite measures that may be sustained for the original data. Any table should contain enough information for the reader to understand its contents. The title should explain the subject of the table, how the data are classified, the time period, or other related matters. A subtitle is sometimes included under the title to explain something about the table; most often this is a statement of the measurement units in which data are expressed. The contents of the columns should be clearly identified by the column heads, and the contents of the
stub should do the same for the rows. The body of the table contains the data, while the footnotes contain any needed explanations. Footnotes should be identified by letters or symbols such as asterisks, rather than by numbers, to avoid confusion with data values. Finally, there should be a source note if the data do not come from your original research.
Compared with tables, graphs show less information and often only approximate values. However, they are more often read and remembered than tables. Their great advantage is that they convey quantitative values and comparisons more readily than tables. With personal computer charting programs, you can easily turn a set of numbers into a chart or graph.
7.6 Oral Presentations
Researchers often present their findings orally. These presentations, sometimes called briefings, have some unique characteristics that distinguish them from most other kinds of public speaking: Only a small group of people is involved; statistics normally constitute an important portion of the topic; the audience members are usually managers with an interest in the topic, but they want to hear only the critical elements; speaking time will often be as short as 20 minutes but may run longer than an hour; and the presentation is normally followed by questions and discussion.
A successful briefing typically requires condensing a lengthy and complex body of information. Since speaking rates should not exceed 100 to 150 words per minute, a 20-minute presentation limits you to about 2,000 to 2,500 words. If you are to communicate effectively under such conditions, you must plan carefully. Begin by asking two questions. First, how long should you plan to talk? Usually there is an indication of the acceptable presentation length. It may be the custom in an organisation to take a given allotted time for a briefing. If the time is severely limited, then the need for topical priorities is obvious. This leads to the second question: What are the purposes of the briefing? Is it to raise concern about problems that have been uncovered? Is it to add to the knowledge of audience members? Is it to give them conclusions and recommendations for their decision making? Questions such as these illustrate the general objectives of the report. After answering these questions, you should develop a detailed outline of what you are going to say. Such an outline should contain the following major parts:
1. Opening. A brief statement, probably not more than 10 percent of the allottted time, sets the stage for the body of the report. The opening should be direct, get attention, and introduce the nature of the discussion that follows. It should explain the nature of the project, how it came about, and what it attempted to do.
2. Findings and Conclusions. The conclusions may be stated immediately after the opening remarks, with each conclusion followed by the findings that support it.
3. Recommendations. Where appropriate, these are stated in the third stage; each recommendation may be followed by references to the conclusions leading to it. Presented in this manner, they provide a natural climax to the report. At the end of the presentation, it
may be appropriate to call for questions from the audience.
Early in the planning stage you need to make two further decisions. The first concerns the type of audiovisuals (AV) that will be used and the role they will play in the presentation. AV decisions are important enough that they are often made before the briefing outline and text are developed.
Then you must decide on the type of presentation. Will you give a memorized speech, read from your manuscript, or give an extemporaneous presentation? We rule out the impromptu briefing as an option because impromptu speaking does not involve preparation. Your reputation and the research effort should not be jeopardized by ‘winging it’.
Memorization is a risky and time-consuming course to follow. Any memory slip during the presentation can be a catastrophe, and the delivery sound stilted and distant. Memorization virtually precludes establishing rapport with the audience and adapting to their reactions while you speak. It produces a self or speaker-centered approach and is not recommended. Reading a manuscript is also not advisable even though many professors seem to reward students who do so (perhaps because they themselves get away with it at professional meetings). The delivery sounds dull and lifeless because most people are not trained to read aloud and therefore
do it badly. They become focused on the manuscript to the exclusion of the audience. This head-down preoccupation with the text is clearly inappropriate for management presentations.
The extemporaneous presentation is audience centered and made from minimal notes or an outline. This mode permits the speaker to be natural, conversational, and flexible. Clearly, it is the best choice for an organisational setting. Preparation consists of writing a draft along with a complete sentence outline and converting the main points to notes. In this way, you can try lines of argument, experiment with various ways of expressing thoughts, and develop phraseology. Along the way, the main points are fixed sequentially in your mind, and supporting connections are made.
Audiences accept notes, and their presence does wonders in allaying speaker fears. Even if you never use them, they are there for psychological support. Many prefer to use 5-by-8 inch cards for their briefing notes because they hold more information and so require less shuffling than the smaller 3-by-5 size. Card contents vary widely, but here are some general guidelines for their design:
• Place title and preliminary remarks on the first card.
• Use each of the remaining cards to carry a major section of the presenttion. The amount of detail depends on the need for precision and the speaker’s desire for supporting information.
• Include key phrases, illustrations, statistics, dates and pronunciation guides for difficult words. Include also quotations and ideas that bear repeating.
• Along the margin, place instructions and cues, such as SLOW, FAST, EMPHASIZE, TRANSPARENCY A, TURN CHART, and GO BACK TO CHART 3.
While the content is the chief concern, the speaker’s delivery is also important. A polished presentation adds to the receptiveness of the audience, but there is some danger that the presentation may overpower the message. Fortunately, the typical research audience knows why it is assembled, has a high level of interest, and does not need to be entertained. Even so, the speaker faces a real challenge in communicating effectively. The delivery should be restrained. Demeanor, posture, dress, and total appearance should be appropriate for the occasion. Speed of speech, clarity of enunciation, pauses, and gestures all play their part. Voice pitch, tone quality,
and inflections are proper subjects for concern. There is little time for anecdotes and other rapport-developing techniques, yet the speaker must get and hold audience attention.