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Simply defined, a research report is an account of the observations or study conducted by the reporter (the researcher). Thus, it seems that a report can be done by almost anybody who can present his record of observations. However, there are requirements, albeit not written out explicitly, that are intrinsic to writing a good report. These are stipulations that would differentiate the product of a skilled and conscientious researcher from the rest or, equivalently, the good from bad custom report:
1. Accuracy of Fidelity of Information
Reports are valuable only if they reflect an accurate or faithful recall (not reconstruction) of observations, e.g. of people, objects, events, processes, or non-primary information derived from reading materials and old records. An account or body of records containing bad or wrong data does not constitute a good and customized report. Add more manipulated or manufactured data and the resulting act becomes one of misreporting.
Misreporting is a very dishonest act and serves no value in any human endeavor. In fact, there are countless accounts of the disastrous consequences of misreporting like miscalculations, misinformation, or mismanagement, all of which have caused loss of lives and damage to properties. Misreporting is an aberrant form of communication, which is supposedly an increasingly important tool for the modern society.
Only the Discussion or concluding portion of a report may include analysis or interpretation by the writer. The main body of the report must be more of an "as is, where is" account of the original information gathered. The reporter must present the plain facts as he discovered them. In this regard, any act, intentional or otherwise, that alters or modifies the very nature of these facts would constitute bias or personal subjectivity. Instead, all effort must be made of an unbiased presentation in order to invite more of the reader's opinion, interpretation, or judgment.
Objectivity is an important determinant of the quality of a report. Unfortunately, subjectivity is convenient and more of the customary practice, and it supports (confuses) the reporter's misuse of his freedom to write or of expression. Worse, most readers themselves ignore the significance of this problem and even its more pervasive implications. Many subjective reports are of the advocacy type and they are common in researches that lobby for huge funding.
3. Specified Research Format
No matter how simple, some format is required. However, while accuracy and objective are "rigid" properties of a good report, format is rather an arbitrary requirement and one that may yield to the specifications of the recipient of the report, e.g. the researcher's agency, supervisor, company or institution. Nevertheless, format is the essential writing guide. Usually, a researcher who makes the grievous mistake of ignoring the use of a format ends up having the most difficulty writing up his report.
How do you go about custom-writing the research report? A pragmatic advice is now in order. First, ensure that you have only the accurate observations and the most objective intentions to document them. Then make your writing task easy and systematic by having a ready format. What format can you use? The rest of this note is devoted to answering this question in practical detail.
As a research writer it is helpful for you to have a working format ready in mind: Nearly all forms of formal communication reflect 1) an initial portion or introduction, 2) a main section or body, and 3) a concluding portion. This is quite logical and evident even in verbal communications. Take the case of how you introduce an acquaintance to your circle of friends: First, you introduce his name and a few significant things about him. Then you state his whereabouts, his job, intentions for coming to town, how you met, i.e. the bulky details about him. Finally, you close your conversation by saying something like "OK. It seems like I can leave you here to mingle with the group." Your formal report may be written with similar scheme in mind. In fact, its simple guide is so staple that there can only be room for innovations depending on your purposes and preferences.
Below is only one such innovation, an annotated sample of a format modified from a "standard" custom research report (see the simplified writing guide). Research report is an umbrella term for products like the term paper, research paper, thesis or dissertation, terminal report, and annual report, which are consonant to the status or objective of the researcher or the recipient of the product. Why model a format from research report? Apparently, the advantage is on the very detailed specifications on how you may present your research results. Certainly, you can make flexible use of a format with more or less complete recipe of a formal documentation. And, why a formal format? This is to impress upon you that even a simplified report is no less a serious undertaking and, thus, deserves your formal treatment.
Consequently, as observer who reports observations, you are likewise a researcher. As such, feel totally free to modify (change, add, or delete) any item in the suggested guide to suit your specific purposes and needs. Feel free as well on whether or not to insert subheadings. Overall, just keep in mind that the resulting format must offer you a scheme for logical thinking- your writing guide. Most important, remember that the main purpose of your custom report is to inform readers of the status of information surrounding your problem and then recommend to them any further course of actions.
A SIMPLIFIED RESEARCH WRITING GUIDE
That's right! Introduce your study; state its origin and the rationale behind its conceptualization (Background). Support your rationale with previous studies, and cite only the most significant and relevant sources (A Brief Literature Review). State clearly your main study concern or problem plus your justifications for choosing the problem. Your problem is the heart of your report (Problem Statement/Study Objectives). Cite the benefits, relevance, or advantages that may be derived from your study findings (Significance of the Study). How did you observe or conduct your study? Subsequently, describe your research design or your methodological strategy to tackle your problem (Methodology): The data used and how they were obtained (data collection procedures and instruments used). For example, if you did a plain literature survey, include with your gathered materials your plan and procedures on the literature search. In certain instances, you might need to clarify some important terms by giving them conceptual and operational meanings (Definition of Terms). If your study utilized documents with their own "Definition of Terms" or "Glossary," include these as well.
2. The Main Section
What have you found? This section is the meat of your report- it contains all the findings of your study (Results). Group similar findings under respective sub-sections and discuss them according to decreasing significance or relevance to the study problem. Along the way, support your statements with any pertinent citation or well known opinions. Again, you are reporting the state of knowledge surrounding your study problem. Hence, be accurate with every account. Be objective in your entire presentation of the results. Just present the facts that you have found, and leave your readers the room for individual interpretation and judgment.
Did you learn something from your own study? Have you derived some personal insights or discoveries? In succeeding sub-sections or so, present your own analyses, opinions, criticisms, or advocacy supported also by any literature or previous studies (Discussions). Just make sure that the readers see a clear distinction between what is due to you and what was found by your study. At this point, your original contributions become an additional set of information for their evaluation, particularly, of how fairly you have addressed your study problem.
Finally, you may like to rename appropriately the heading of this section as something like Results and Discussions.
Sum up your salient findings and all insights derived therefrom (Summary). Evaluate: Did you meet all the objectives of your study? State specifically why in either case. Proceed by stating briefly the limitations of your study. For example, on the procedural steps that you followed, state and justify those which could have been done but were undoable on your part. End your report with the kind of recommendations that leave readers with precise answers to these questions: What are the further implications and applications of the study? Where would the next researcher(s) go from here?
"Give credits to whom they are due." This is where you cite formally all your sources of information. It is your formal manner of saying "Thank you." Moreover, "Fair is Fair." In addition, enumerating your sources of information offers your readers the opportunity to verify or redo your study.
These are your provisions for any "excess baggage." Attached all relevant materials (tables, graphs, computations, photos, CDs, etc.) cited or used in the study- all those relevant stuff that you did not include in the body of your report for reasons that they would only clutter your presentation.
At this inspiring juncture, you must have gained some positive impression that you can write a good report, which now may be better defined as an accurate, objective, and systematic account of your study or observations. Absorb fully the stipulations embedded in this concise definition, be guided by your simplified writing format, and you are just about ready to produce a desirable product.
Contributed by Rex Balena, PhD.
Multidisciplinary Scientist and Educator Consultant: Data processing, basic and advanced statistical analyses, PowerPoint/multimedia presentations, and custom essay writing on science and education topics.
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