Various authors of the guidebooks for writing reports (Bowden, 2002; Silverman et al., 2005; Smith, 1997) are unanimous that the Introduction is one of the most important parts of the research. As Bowden (1999) puts it, the Introduction sets the reader’s expectations and outlines the primary issues that will be covered by the report. Turley (2000) assumes that the Introduction and Conclusion are the parts of the report that are read through, whereas the other sections of the report might receive much less attention. A good introduction should comprise the following information:
When writing the report, one of the key challenges that arises from the very start is the access to publicly available information. This issue is especially acute when it comes to private companies that do not make their operations data publicly available. Therefore, if there is a possibility that a company has to be selected, it is highly recommended to focus on a public entity. Once a company or an industry is specified, a good starting point would be the review of annual reports of the selected company or of the key industry players. Sections such as the CEO statement and profit & loss data might provide highly valuable information about the sources of competitive advantage, key performance,criteria, industry trends and the impact of environmental factors. This data, when used along with the reports of market intelligence firms (Mintel, Datamonitor, Keynotes) is very likely to contribute to the effective usage of various models such as PESTLE, SWOT, Five Forces, Porter’s Diamond Model and OLE to name a few.
Defining a robust structure is one of the most critical stages in writing a good report. What is important is to remember that the structure of the report plays the role of mapping the overall discussion into a single entity. That is why it is very important to group similar sections or argument points (see Fry, 2000). It will then be easier for the reader to track the pace of analysis.
It is also important to define the role of the different sections in the report. Bowden suggests building a discussion or an analysis around the key areas and most significant findings that have a critical impact on the progress of the issue of concern. According to the principle of Pareto, of the different forces, only 20% produce 80% of the overall impact, whereas the effect produced by the remaining 80% of factors, if considered separately, is minor. Therefore, according to Bowden (2002) the critical forces should become the basis for the skeletal framework of the whole report, whereas the minor forces might be put into appendices. The order of headings and subheadings should be consistent with the proposed analytical statements. To assess the fit of the developed structure, Smith (1997) suggests using the following selection/exclusion criteria:
What makes a good piece of research, is the weighted use of critics. The use of the arguments of different academics and industry experts indicates the student’s depth of theoretical knowledge of the research area. Turley (2000) claims that the failure to interact with the ideas proposed by other people makes reports look introspective and incestuous. However, the mere use of secondary arguments, without synthesising them in a logical manner is futile. Turley (2000) suggests that an author needs to be in control over the usage of the ideas of other people, not letting them put the author’s arguments in the shade. Smith (1997) puts forward the following ways of controlling critics:
The similar rules might be applied to the usage of statistical data or findings from case studies. Certain case studies might be used to indicate the positive consequences of the recommended course of action, whereas other cases might be used to indicate the negative outcomes if the area/strategy is not improved. According to Schrecengost (2002) the different use of data might be a very powerful explanatory tool when used with analytical models. The model predicts the possible outcomes, whereas the cases and data ground these predictions.
When writing reports about a strategic course of action of a company or when analysing the development of a particular industry, an author is highly recommended to use a wide range of statistical data. When using statistical or marketing data it is important to be consistent with the sequence of the analysis and the way it explains the point which an author is trying to elaborate.
What needs to be taken into consideration is the load of data and its digestibility by a potential reader. A lot of students fall into a trap of assuming that tutors have time and enough efforts to read between the lines, or undertake additional guesswork into what a student intended to write. In reality, the process of reading the report is very likely to be the following: an average tutor scans the report through the keywords and then reads it through. Bearing in mind that usually tutors have to read 10 to 15 papers in one go, one should not expect that his/her paper will receive preferential treatment. So, to convince a tutor that his/her report provides comprehensive coverage of the research area, an author is highly recommended to use visual tools like tables, graphs and figures. These tools enable the potential reader to develop a perceptual map of what an author is trying to explain. Additionally, it can be an excellent “springboard” and linking chain for comparative analysis. The guidebooks (see reference list, available in Netlibrary) provide explicit examples of using various presentation tools.
It is important to consider the likely effect on potential readers of using graphical tools. To assess the fit of graphical tools they might be tested against the following criteria:
When presenting market trends, financial development, ratios, progress, etc the use of graphical tools might be the only way to maintain a report’s consistency and the strength of its explanatory power. Besides, figures and tables are more likely to attract attention and be retained in the tutor’s memory.
Bowden (1999) notes that the author’s recognition of a report’s limitations is a strong winning factor. He claims that “experienced writers routinely acknowledge ‘weaknesses’ in their argument because they know that, paradoxically, this helps to authorize their views”. In other words, the recognition of the limitations demonstrates that the author undertakes the comprehensive approach and seeks to explore the wide range of dimensions related to the area of concern.
According to Bowden (2002) and Smith (1997) the value of the Conclusion should not be underestimated. It might contribute between 5% and 10% to the overall assignment rating. Provided there is likelihood that a tutor might omit critical points of the report, the Conclusion could be used to highlight essential findings. It makes it easier for the tutor to navigate across the report and process the report information. According to Smith (1997), the Conclusion should:
Bowden, J., (1999), Writing Good Reports, Oxford How To Books, Ltd.
Bowden, J., (2002), Writing a Report: How to Prepare, Write and Present Effective Reports, Oxford How To Books, Ltd.
Fry, Ronald. W. (2000), Improve Your Writing, Franklin Lakes, NJ TheCareer Press Schrecengost, M. (2002), Researching Issues, FortAtkinson: Wis. Highsmith, Inc.
Silverman, J., Hughes, E., Wienbroer, D. R. (2005), Shortcuts for the Student Writer, New York: McGraw-Hill Professional,
Smith, P. (1997), Writing an Assignment: How to Improve Your Research and Presentation Skills, Oxford, U.K. How to Books, Ltd.
Turley, R. M. (2000), Writing Essays: A Guide for Students in English and the Humanities, New York: Routledge
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