Frank Rennie & Keith Smyth

Chapter 14 – The research report

All the content relating to the chapter above is below

After completing your research, you will need to communicate your findings to others. Understanding the needs and wants of your audience in relation to your research is essential. You will be communicating a complex message, so your report writing style needs to be appropriate for your audience. To this end, you will need to know who your potential audience is. You will need to know what the protocols are for reporting findings that are specific to your discipline. Different disciplines have subtle but important requirements for the reporting of research. Having engaged with the resources related to this chapter, you should be able to develop the skills necessary to identify your potential audience and report your findings to them. The companion website gives examples from researchers about how they have identified and engaged with audiences through reporting their research.

[Interviewer, off camera] So Gareth, a researcher has undertaken the data collection, their analysis, they’re at the stage where they are ready to start to communicate what they found out, what would you say is the key purpose of the research report?

Ok, at the end of the day, the research is basically pointless unless you tell somebody about it, and the report is the vehicle for telling anybody who is interested about what you’ve found. It’s essential that you do that effectively, there are actually ethical implications to writing the report because if you’ve actually undertaken research and gathered data from participants, it’s actually unethical not to report those findings because otherwise you’ve simply wasted the participants’ time. So it goes to show that writing the report isn’t simply a case of putting it down on paper to make a record of it, the purpose of the report is to let everybody know what you have found out from your research. The important point about the report is that it must be written in an appropriate style for the audience. That’s something you should be considering right at the very beginning of the research process. So the report isn’t something that you do at the end of the process, the report is something you’ll do right at the very beginning. You’ll think about who’s going to be the consumer of your research, who’s going to be the audience and you need to write for that audience. So you need to think about, well, “my audience is likely to be” if you’re doing a piece of research as part of your academic career, then your supervisors will be the audience, the person who marks the report, might not necessarily be your supervisor, they’ll be the audience as well. So will your external examiners, and beyond that, it might well be your peers as well because your report should be available for other people to see at some point or other as well, because let’s face it, people who follow you subsequently in your academic career might want to read what you’ve written. So your audience, you need to think carefully who your audience actually is, and that will lead then to the inevitable question “OK, how do I write for that audience?” Do you write in lay language, or do you write highly technical language, and the consumers of your report will determine how you write that report. I think as well, it’s very very important that when you are writing your report, you communicate clearly and effectively. If your written standard of communication is poor, then you will not be transmitting that complex message that you’re trying to put across effectively. If you are writing your report for academic purposes, for your dissertation or whatever it might be, clearly then whoever’s marking it, if they’re struggling to understand your message, they’re not going to be able to give you marks for it. So effective, clear, simple communication is very important.

[Interviewer, off camera] Gareth, you’ve talked about the importance of writing the report for the audience. Will there be any considerations to think about for students in different disciplines around the purpose, the format of the report?

Yeah, absolutely. Different disciplines will have different requirements about how you structure your reports. Different disciplines will generally speaking, reports generally follow a pretty standard format in terms of, you’ll have an abstract, an introduction, a methods section, your results, conclusions etcetera and discussion. They are usually pretty standard but the way you actually structure those different sections will change from discipline to discipline. So it’s important to understand the requirements of your specific discipline. Certainly when you start writing for journals, different journals will have different styles and you’re going to need to adhere to those. And of course, the institution that you happen to be working in will also have its own requirements. So talk to your supervisor at a very early stage about how you’re going to need to structure this report that you’re going to write.

A User-Friendly Guide for Evaluators of Educational Programs and Practices

Produced by the Coalition for Evidence-Based Policy in the US, this PDF is a good guide to reporting the results of your study. It is somewhat lengthy, but good advice about everything from font size to layout is included.

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coalition evidence based policy USA - Reporting the results of your study

This is a PDF produced by the NUS about reporting research findings.

It gives guidance on the use of visual information and the layout of your report. It is 7 pages long and includes advice on further reading.

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NUS reporting research findings - Reporting research findings

Coverall – intro, design, data, presenting… An online handbook produced by the University of Surrey to give students an introduction to research.

A link to an extensive set of notes from the University of Surrey dealing with the whole process of documenting research. It starts with a consideration of why we do research, works through a range of planning issues that need to be considered, and concludes with a section on how research result might be utilised. Contains some embedded links.

The contents are well-defined and easy to read, in short, informative sub-sections. Not all of the sections will be appropriate to every research project, so students will need to use their own judegement, but taken as a whole, the document gives a good overview of the kinds of issues which students need to consider when preparing a research dissertation.

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university of surrey importance pilot studies - Introduction to research - handbook

A set of short dissertation writing videos from Massey University with resources for students.

These are helpfully broken-up into separate tasks, such as preparing a proposal, writing a report, editing, and so on. Each video clip gives a general overview and some guidance for students to help manage the selected task.

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massey university dissertation videos - Dissertation videos from Massey University

This links to an assemblage of video clips relating to various aspects of research and the preparation of research reports.

Individual videos deal with different forms of research, evaluation, and project planning. The clips range from 30 minutes to an hour each, so you may wish to watch them in stages, or allow time to watch, pause, and take notes. Different videos will be appropriate to different subject matter, so you may want to discuss your initial options with your supervisor before you invest time learning a research method which is not suitable for the topic of your study.

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Educational Videos YouTube - Research and the preparation of research reports (by Dr Sam Fiala)