The structure of a research report
The study in the form of an article or thesis (Engineer’s Thesis) that is the outcome of research is just the tip of the iceberg: it only reveals a fraction of the completed work where actual research and writing are continually intertwined. A well-written report is content-oriented, logical, brief and interesting. A research report requires generally accepted forms of expression and an effective structure.
Different Stages of the Report
Thesis and academic reports are generally divided into three parts:
1. The first part prepares and informs the reader about the text to follow and it includes
- the title page I. title sheet
- an abstract in the language of your piece of research and in a foreign language
- possibly some opening words or a foreword
- a table of contents
- a list of symbols (characters/abbreviations)
2. The main text contains a presentation of the research including
- an introduction
- the research itself with theoretical background (the actual research in several chapters)
- conclusion / discussion
3. The final part of the report contains scientific material (in the form of lists/glossaries) linked to your piece of research.
Within these limits the report is also divided into headed chapters and subsections.
The Title Page
The title page creates first impressions of the researcher! Therefore it should be completed using the UAS model. You take particular with the name of your thesis – it should informative yet interesting. The name/heading for your thesis should be created in the same way as any other heading: a good heading is short, easy to understand and covers the topic area. If it is difficult to shorten the name, the heading can be divided. The main heading should express the topic area and the subheading should clarify the viewpoint of the thesis as regards the topic.
The summary (abstract) states briefly but accurately the aim of the research, methods used and outcomes and how these outcomes may be used or applied. The descriptive part must be clearly organised and it should include the following parts:
- The aim and hypotheses of the thesis must be stated clearly and in detail at the very beginning of the abstract
- The methods used, their main features and stage by stage
- The outcomes and conclusions are stated last of all and their future uses can also be mentioned
The reader decides whether the thesis is worth reading on the basis of the abstract. It is best to avoid too much detail e.g. figures, the main points will be sufficient. Since the abstract is brief it is best to concentrate on the most interesting part – i.e. the results/outcomes.
The abstract should be written using complete sentences and clauses – it is not a list. The style is brief and factual. An abstract written in Finnish uses the passive voice or the third person singular. The simple perfect is generally used, though mainly for describing general outcomes and conclusions the present tense is used. The abstract should not contain abbreviations, symbols or typographical highlights. The abstract does not refer to images, tables not to literature used during the thesis.
You must also write your abstract in another foreign language on a separate form. This abstract uses the same layout and form (in English) as the Finnish abstract.
The Foreword or Opening Words
A separate forward or opening word stating the background arrangements to the research undertaken can be included on a separate sheet. The foreword states how the research started, its main stages and the main material on which the research is based. It also mentions who has been responsible for different parts of the research or report if there are several authors.
The foreword does not state the background to the actual work itself or the hypotheses as these are dealt with in the introduction.
It is also usual to thank bodies or parties that have contributed to the completion of the thesis. Thanking should be brief and tactful and the title or profession or both should be included with any names mentioned. Titles and professions must not be abbreviated.
Table of Contents
The heading for the table of contents is CONTENTS. The contents should be informative yet so brief that the structure and whole work can easily be observed. The reader will instantly be able to see how the issues dealt with in your thesis relate to each other and how your work progresses chapter/section by chapter/section and how widely each issue has been discussed, by the number of pages.
The contents are divided into numbered sections and subsections. All main and subheadings are presented in the contents in exactly the same way as in the actual text. The headings should be brief yet cover the main issue. The contents page is not numbered.
There should be more than one subsection: E.g. if section 5 is divided into different parts a subsection 5.2 must be created after subsection 5.1. The headings used in the table of contents must match in style and form. The contents normally only include sections or chapters. It is a good idea to carefully consider how big or small a chapter or section should be. A section/chapter is a bigger piece of text than a paragraph. For small pieces of text use guiding subheadings that can be underlined, written in italics or bold if necessary.
The Symbol Glossary
A separate list must be made if your thesis contains a large amount of concepts, definitions and symbols that are not in common usage. Thus you avoid having to explain and define each symbol or concept separately within your text. The list should not be extended to include known concepts, symbols and units of measurement that would be known to a reader with knowledge of the field that your thesis covers.
The introduction brings the reader into the topic. It has two main tasks: it should awaken the interest of the reader and it should provide the reader with initial information on the topic to be discussed. The abstract is not the introduction. The introduction forms the first section of the report and it includes background, a review of possible previous research. The introduction also states the subject of the research, the hypotheses and the main objective(s).
The introduction should be written fluently and it should contain a sufficient amount of detail, without being too long. A 50 – 70 page report normally requires an introduction of 1.5 – 2 pages. It may also be appropriate in some cases to separate the background part of the introduction from the declaration of aims and the hypotheses by putting them under their own heading. This will ensure that the introduction remains suitably brief.
The commissioning company or organisation should only be mentioned in the introduction if appropriate – i.e. it is not necessary to provide a full company presentation. The introduction is often written last and it is not intended to hide the outcomes of the research. It is a good idea to make notes of matters that arise while carrying out research that you could use in your introduction to stimulate interpretation. A research report is not a detective story where the solution is revealed only right at the end.
The introduction normally progresses from the general to the specific or from the specific to the general. The standard heading used is INTRODUCTION.
Research and theoretical background
The main part of the report comprises the research itself or a report and it follows the introduction. This core text is divided into sections or chapters with headings and subheadings that are appropriate to the nature of your thesis. This text should state the general principles of the research work you have carried out: methods, equipment and test arrangements.
In the theoretical background the researcher demonstrates how the research in question relates to existing theories and previous research. The research problem and possible hypotheses are based on specific and carefully selected knowledge and information gained from existing research literature.
By briefly outlining and critically separating previous research while simultaneously making references to your own goals and direction, you will help the reader to understand your topic area and how your research will provide new information on the subject under consideration.
The theoretical background also includes a detailed account of material, how the research was completed, observations, measurements and calculations together with tables and diagrams. You must explain the research method issues accurately and in detail that are necessary for understanding how the study progresses and in case there is a need for further research.
When explaining the different stages of the research it is best to use the simple past tense in the passive voice. (Use the first person when justifying decisions or choices that you had to make during the research process.)
Before putting your outcomes in writing it is recommended that you have indeed found the answers to your research problems. Each and every question posed in your research must be checked - even a lack of answers is, in fact, an answer! Outcomes and results to each problem must be set out as clearly and simply as possible without further explanation. The presentation of results should be organised so that the reader will find the main outcomes of the research within it.
The results and outcomes are the most important part of the research report. It presents achieved results and acts as a background to the conclusions and discussion that follow. Outcomes are not normally interpreted in this section nor are they compared to outcomes and results of other research.
Summary, Conclusions, Discussion
In the conclusion the research outcomes are compared with the background literature on which the research was based with reference to possible hypotheses as well as assessing the significance of the results and whether they are to be relied upon.
It is best to start this part of your report by referring to the main objective of the research and then referring to a compilation of the main outcomes. The summary should not include any information that has not already been discussed earlier. In this section you may discuss whether the outcomes can be used and generalised. The conclusion should also demonstrate how the problems posed in your research were resolved, how the research method should be developed and what further knowledge of the topic area did your research provide. By studying the results in detail and from several points of view and by comparing outcomes with previous results you are simultaneously evaluating your own work.
The terminology and concept-based statistical language of the results section of your report should be avoided or simplified in the conclusion without causing inaccuracy. Expression should be in the form of stated facts and emotional expressions should be avoided when commenting on the outcomes of your research. Use the simple past when referring to the objective, hypotheses, stages and the most important outcomes of the research. The present tense is used to discuss explanations, to evaluate possible further uses and possible applications of the outcomes or their consequences and when you compare the outcomes of your own research with previous results. Levels of certainty can be expressed using modals or other phrases (could be, seems to be, it is possible/probable that, generally, usually, mainly etc).
List of References and Bibliography
The aim of the list of references and the bibliography is to provide accurate and sufficient information of all sources of information used and mentioned in your thesis. You do not have to mention dictionaries, guidebooks, grammar guides and standards used. The references and bibliography provide information on the writer and serves the reader. The reference list and bibliography should contain enough information for others to find the works on the list in the library or bookshop.
The list also shows the reader what type of sources you have used. It shows the writer’s connections e.g. knowledge of research, co-operation parties, and foreign and domestic connections and how current is the writer’s knowledge of the field. A well-compiled list of references and bibliography encourages the reader to seek out interesting sources and to possibly create knew knowledge.
The list of references and bibliography are set out on a separate page before the last section of text and before the appendices. The heading for this list is simply SOURCES. The list is not numbered as a separate section/chapter but the number of the first page of the list must be in the table of contents.
All material referred to in your thesis but is not required directly in the text to aid understanding of a particular issue, can be added to the appendix. This may include a set of material acquired for your research, forms, letters, tests, i.e. material that would distract the reader from the actual point of your research if included in the text. Unnecessary material should not be included in the appendix and only material referred to in your text should be in the appendix.
The appendix follows the list of references and bibliography. Only the first page of each appendix is mentioned in the table of contents. Computer listings, manuals and instructions and other types of wide-ranging independent material should be included either in the form of an appendix or after the appendix in a separate documentation section.