Schottler Consulting Social and Market Research Knowledge Centre

How should I structure my research report?

Writing a research report can sometimes seen overwhelming when learning about research. However, with a good structure and overall approach, it need not be so daunting.

The first step should be to examine the variables or measures in your survey and discussion guide. Try to form clusters of these (group them) by writing down the headings or main topic as a list. Try to go for a small number of major sections.

Within each section then start with the broadest topics before you go to the specifics. It is also sometimes useful to combine topics in a similar section. After all, if there are similar topics it may make sense to talk about those in the same section. You also want to avoid having a topic, which is so 'short' that it looks out of place in the broader report.

When starting each section, first use a topic or opening sentence to describe exactly what you measured. This helps provide the reader with context. Then present your results and use appropriate graph and chart labelling guidelines. 

With research reports, it's important to be clear and avoid fluffy language. So stating the results clearly is quite acceptable. An example is below:

Section X

As part of the survey, X was measured to assess X. This was important because of A, B and C. Overall results are presented in Figure 1.  

Tips for success

With longer reports, reporting can be a little more complex with the volume of information, but the same principles apply.

 

Some useful tips for reporting are below:

  • Start out by drafting a rough table of contents and tweak it further as you go through the writing phase

  • Try to put as much extraneous information in an Appendix, if there is a risk for the report being too long
     

  • Always include a copy of the research instruments (e.g., discussion guides, surveys) in the Appendix
     

  • Also follow a best practice approach to graphing, tables and charting to make sure anyone unfamiliar with the questions or study knows INSTANTLY what question was asked 
     

  • If you have a lot of sections in a lengthy report, it can be useful to have a 10-20 page 'integrated summary' of the high level findings, along with a 1-2 page executive summary
     

  • Once you've finished all sections, go back after a day or so and take notes on what you see as the major overall themes
     

  • Note that sometimes the major themes are not just the major findings. For instance, you may draw conclusions that are based on 4-5 separate findings
     

  • Just because respondents report something in a study, doesn't mean that their recommendations or suggestions should be followed.

    In this context, it is important to recognise that some respondents will actually suggest impractical measures or things that aren't really appropriate or required.
     

  • If appropriate, consider including a glossary of terms that readers may need to understand findings. In this context, it is useful to provide any information that people need to fully appreciate the study findings
     

  • Have another person proof the report to look for interpretation errors (which are easy to make when issuing a lot of data!), as well as typographical and grammar errors
     

  • If you use Style Headings in word, you can also generate a nice table of contents that auto updates plus a list of figures and tables. 

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