8.3.15 Report writing Having completed the data collection and analysis the outcomes need to be communicated to others. Writing up the research is not normally a quick process and time needs to be set aside to undertake the reporting, which will ineviably require more than one draft.
An effective and concise report is a literary endeavor. Often, there will need to be several versions of the report that present the results at different levels of detail for different audiences. However, it is important to get the complete report done as soon as possible after the analysis so that the research process and results remain fresh in the mind of the researcher(s) writing the report.
A general format for any report (or article for that matter) is as follows.
1. Context: describe the situation that promopted the study and, in broad terms, what the study set out to demonstrate.
2. Aims, objectives and expected outcomes: set out the overall aim of the research, any specific objectives to be achieved and, broadly what the outcomes might be.
3. Literature review: expand the context be linking the intended research to work that has already been done in the field, highlighting what is missing or contentious and indicating how the research aims to fill a gap, resolve an issue or probe an area in more depth.
4. Methodology: set out the methodology, including explaining the research instruments, the sampling procedure, how respondents were approached, and why the chosen methodology was adopted.
5. Hypotheses and operationalisation: set out the hypotheses being tested and how the the key concepts were operationalised.
6. Response rate: indicate the response rate and the problems in achieving responses and any tactics or pragamatic decisions made to gain responses or substitute sample members.
7. Results and analysis: outline the results, linking the results of the study to the aims and hypotheses as well as the existing literature on the subject. (Do not, as many people do, just list the results as though they are somehow self-sufficient. In most cases this is a really boring section of a report because there is no contextualisation of the results. This approach that just provides decontextualised results usually results in a follow up section called 'Discussion' (as if the rest of the report involves no 'discussion'!) that then repeats some or all of the results and attempts to link them to the hypotheses.)
8. Conclusion: what has the research shown? How does it take the subject area forward? What previous preconceptions, myths or notions have been challenged by the research? What are the limitation so the study? What else needs to be done?
The eight-point list above is a suggested schema but should not be adhered to rigidly in all circumstances. One does not have to keep to the order above if the report reads better with items in a somewhat different order.
It is important to make the report readable while providing sufficient evidence that allows readers to assess the validity of the conclusions. There is a tendency for researchers to provide endless tables in reports and then describe the content, usually in the format "Table 1 shows. ..."
Avoid repetition, include data in accessible formats and only include material that provides evidence for your conclusions. Preliminary orienting analysis that helped to identify key issues and discard other lines of enquiry do not need to be included in full detail but alluded to to show how the theorising has developed.
In general, think about the audience (or audiences) for a report and keep in mind the main 'story' and ensure that it comes through clearly in the final resport. There are times when the minutiae have to be sacrificed for the bigger picture: keep in mind how the audience will receive the report and its key message.
In some cases, the format of the research endeavour will be preset; such as PhD dissertation requirements or the article styles in some journals. In which case, make sure these are adhered to in order to ensure a successful outcome.