Templates for documents - reports


As an editor, you don’t have to know just grammar, spelling and the Encyclopaedia Britannica.  You should also be aware of the requirements of types of writing so that you can edit to the format.  For novels, children’s books and biographies, the format is much more flexible and is usually a matter of judgement.  For reports, essays, press releases and resumes the format is relatively inflexible.  In every type of writing that you edit, you should check out the common format before you begin.



Press release


Cover letter

Application letter


  • Don’t forget to keep a clean copy of your work in case it gets lost or the computer crashes.  This applies to both the writer and editor.  It is useful to be able to refer to the original when changes need to be checked.
  • Keeping your notes might help if your reader wants to check your sources; you want to avoid plagiarism.  The editor should make sure that every quote is referenced correctly both in the text and in the final references.
  • Learn from the response to your paper or report and modify your work next time.  The editor can learn from feedback too.
  • Edit the paper or report several times, each time looking for punctuation, spelling, format, indenting, titling and so on.  It’s hard to concentrate on everything at once.  Don’t rely on Microsoft spell and grammar check – it doesn’t have a brain.

That summer I finally got my leg operated on, and what a relief.  It had been hanging over my head for years.[i]


Defining the purpose

  • Why are you writing?
  • What should you include?
  • What should you leave out and why?
  • Who are your readers?

If you can express the purpose in a single sentence, so much the better.

Investigating the topic

How you do this depends on the topic and purpose. You may need to read, interview, experiment and observe. Get advice from someone more experienced if you need to.

Organising the report into sections

Your job is to make it easy for the readers to find the information they want.

In reports that are one or two pages long, readers should have no trouble finding their way around. With a “long” report (more than four or five pages), you need to take great care in how you organize the information.

Reports can be set out in eight parts, but you won't always need them all.

  • Title or title page
  • Contents list
  • Abstract
  • Introduction
  • Discussion
  • Summary and conclusions
  • Recommendations
  • Appendix

A short report won't need a title page, but should have a title.

The contents list is only needed in long reports.

The abstract is only needed in formal reports, such as reports of scientific research. It is a summary of the report. The abstract appears in library files and journals of abstracts. It won't usually be printed with the report so it needs to be able to stand alone.

Keep it between 80 and 120 words. Don't confuse this with an “executive summary” which we will talk about later.

The introduction should be brief and answer any of the following questions that seem relevant.

  • What is the topic?
  • Who asked for the report and why?
  • What is the background?
  • What was your method of working? If the method is long and detailed, put it in an appendix.
  • What were the sources? If there are many, put them in an appendix.

The discussion is the main body of the report. It is likely to be the longest section, containing all the details of the work organized under headings and sub-headings.

Few readers will read every word of this section. So start with the most important, follow it with the next most important, and so on.

You should follow the same rule with each paragraph. Begin with the main points of the paragraph, and then write further details or an explanation.

The summary and conclusions section is sometimes placed before the discussion section. It describes the purpose of the report, your conclusions and how you reached them.

The conclusions are your main findings. Keep them brief. They should say what options or actions you consider to be best and what can be learned from what has happened before. So they may include or may lead to your recommendations: what should be done in the future to improve the situation?

Often, writers will put the summary and conclusions and the recommendations together and circulate them as a separate document. This is often called an executive summary because people can get the information they need without having to read the whole report.

It may be better (and cheaper) to send everyone an executive summary, and only provide a copy of the full report if someone asks for it. You may save a few trees, and you will certainly save your organization plenty of time and money.

The appendix is for material which readers only need to know if they are studying the report in depth. Relevant charts and tables should go in the discussion where readers can use them. Only put them in an appendix if they would disrupt the flow of the report.

Order of presentation

Try the following order of presentation. You won't always need all these sections, especially those in brackets.

Long reports

  • Title or title page
  • (Contents list)
  • (Abstract)
  • Introduction
  • Summary and conclusions
  • Recommendations
  • Discussion
  • (Appendix)

Short reports

  • Title
  • Introduction
  • Discussion
  • Summary and conclusions
  • Recommendations
  • (Appendix)

Order of writing

The order in which you write needn't follow the order of presentation.

Try the following order of writing because each section you finish helps you write the next one.

  • Introduction
  • Discussion
  • Summary and conclusions
  • Recommendations
  • (Abstract)
  • Title or title page
  • (Contents list)
  • (Appendix)

After writing all the sections, read and revise them. Rewrite sections if necessary.

Numbering sections and paragraphs

If you use plenty of clear headings and have a full contents list at the start of the report, you should find this is enough to show where each part begins and ends, and to cross-refer if necessary.

If you do have to label sections and paragraphs, keep it as simple as possible. Use capital letters to label sections and numbers to label paragraphs (A1, A2 and so on). If necessary, use small letters on their own for parts of paragraphs.

Planning the writing

Usually you will have collected such a mass of information that you cannot decide where to plunge in and begin. So, before you start to write you must make some kind of plan.

This will save you hours of writing and will help to produce a better organized report.

Here are two different ways of planning.

An outline begins as a large, blank sheet of paper onto which you pour out all your facts, ideas, observations and so on, completely at random. Write in note form or point form, and try to get everything down as fast as possible.

When you have got all your points on paper, start to organize them, group them, and assess them for strength, relevance, and their place in the report.

You can then number the points in order or put headings next to them such as “Intro,” “Discussion,” “Conclusion” and so on. Use lines and arrows to link up related points.

Gradually you will create a network of ideas grouped under headings - this is the structure of your report. Leave it for a day or two if you can. Return with fresh ideas, add points you'd forgotten, and cross out anything you don't need.

Mind mapping or creating a web is a different way of planning that suits some writing better. The idea is the same: by pouring out ideas at random, you can concentrate on the content, and organize the material at leisure when the ideas are set down.

There is no special magic to a mind map or web. Start by putting the topic in a box in the middle of the page, then draw lines to branch out from it with your main ideas.[ii]

It is easy to add new information and to make links between the main ideas. Order and organization will often take care of themselves.


Always read critically what you've written. If possible, leave it alone for a few days and then re-read it. Ask a friend: “Is this clear, concise and persuasive?” Be prepared to revise your language and structure. You may even have to rewrite parts that don't work.

“Brevity” - Memo to the War Cabinet

“To do our work, we all have to read a mass of papers. Nearly all of them are far too long. This wastes time, while energy has to be spent in looking for the essential points.

I ask my colleagues and their staff to see to it that their reports are shorter.

The aim should be reports which set out the main points in a series of short, crisp paragraphs.

If a report relies on detailed analysis of some complicated factors, or on statistics, these should be set out in an appendix.

Often the occasion is best met by submitting not a full-dress report, but an aide-memoire consisting of headings only, which can be expanded orally if needed.

Let us have an end of such phrases as these:

“It is also of importance to bear in mind the following considerations,” or “Consideration should be given to the possibility of carrying into effect.” Most of these woolly phrases are mere padding, which can be left out altogether, or replaced by a single word. Let us not shrink from using the short expressive phrase, even if it is conversational.

Reports drawn up on the lines I propose may first seem rough as compared with the flat surface of officialese jargon. But the saving in time will be great, while the discipline of setting out the real points concisely will prove an aid to clearer thinking.”

Winston Churchill, 9 August 1940


  • Plan carefully before you start writing. Use an outline or a mind map so that you know exactly what you'll be writing about.
  • Organize your report into sections.
  • Use everyday English whenever possible.
  • Avoid jargon and legalistic words, and explain any technical terms you have to use.
  • Keep your sentence length down to an average of 15 to 20 words. Try to stick to one main idea in a sentence.
  • Use active verbs as much as possible. Say, “We will do it” rather than “It will be done by us.” The passive is not to be banned, however – it’s appropriate in formal documents.
  • Be concise.
  • Imagine you are talking to your reader. Write sincerely, personally, in a style that is suitable and with the right “tone of voice.”
  • Always check that your report is accurate, clear, concise and readable. [iii]

An editor is in the helping business.  Your job is to make sure the writer has combined content and format to the best advantage.  Check that all these requirements have been fulfilled.


Remember the waterfront shack with the sign FRESH FISH SOLD HERE?

Of course it's fresh; we're on the ocean.

Of course it's for sale; we're not giving it away.

Of course it's here, otherwise the sign would be somewhere else.

The final sign should be FISH.

Peggy Noonan

[i] Lederer, Richard, “More Anguished English,” Dell, 1993.


[ii] Mind map: http://members.optusnet.com.au/~charles57/Creative/Mindmap/mm_sixq.htm

8 Adapted from http://www.plainenglish.co.uk/reportguide.html