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Study Skills for Effective Learning: Writing Papers and Reports
Author: ADMIN (ukstudent at gmail dot com)
Published: Sat, 26-Mar-2005
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Study Skills for Effective Learning: Writing Papers and Reports. Article by Chris Jarvis


Remember a well-structured paper or report which seeks to communicate a technical issue to a Business reader will have a beginning, a middle and an end.

The Introduction.
This should explain the scope of the paper (what you are going to cover and why). It may indicate what you understand by the title and reference definitions and assumptions.
The Main Body.
Develop your ideas/line of argument as fully as you can (with one main topic or idea per paragraph). Tell the story. Build your argument. Describe , explain and justify the points you make. It is not enough just to assert them. Confirm your ideas by referencing published materials, support what you say with examples and diagrams. Most importantly offer new data/evidence to back up the propositions you make.

At all times keep in focus the specification (what you have been asked to do and the main themes of your argument).

The Conclusion.
Summarise your main points, draw conclusions and make suggestions if appropriate. Refer back to your objectives for the paper. If it asks a specific question, have you answered it?.

Writing the Paper!

List the main headings/sections you are going to write. Remember - beginning, middle and end. Write rough notes or main points under each heading. Underline the most important. Cross through the irrelevant. Put question marks through points you are unsure about - decide whether or not to include or reject them later. Group them with circles and relate ideas together with lines and arrows
Now write up your notes as a draft paper using the headings in logical sequence. Don't worry too much at this stage about precise spelling and grammar.
Read through what you have written and decide whether or not to include points you were unsure about earlier.
Now tackle the English, the spelling, the punctuation and the grammar. Are sentences, sentences?
Be warned - you may have written the draft. The creative work is largely accomplished but final editorial work can be very, very time consuming. Hence don't leave things to the last minute.
LEAVE IT ASIDE FOR A DAY OR TWO. Before you finalise it. Get a critical friend to read it. Discuss it. Clarify points. Modify. Sort out the typos. Make sure there are page numbers on every page etc. Review the layout (see below) and check the sequences and content. Cut and paste, add or delete sections.

Ask Yourself

Does the report answer the question/satisfy the brief?
Is the content relevant, well sequenced (logically arranged) and to the point?
Are all the main aspects covered in sufficient depth?
Is each main point well supported with explanation and evaluation, examples and argument?
Is there a clear distinction between your ideas and other people's ideas? Are all sources acknowledged (references?)
Is the length what was required? If it is too long can over-elaborate sections be made more concise. Can some sections be omitted for reason that they add little to your main argument?
Is the report clearly written and well laid out? Have I really considered the reader's needs?
Is the report legible and is the grammar, punctuation and spelling correct? Are the sentences sentences and is the sense clear?


Feedback and Learning

When a piece of course-work is returned to you read the comments made by your tutor. Discuss them with her/him if you need clarification. Remind yourself of these comments before you embark on your next piece of course-work.

Report Writing

These notes offer guidance on the production of a major report (5,000-10,000 words or more). Not all of the points below apply to the writing of a shorter paper. Further pointers are available from this link.

A report has wider scope and is more action oriented than an essay. It is a more structured document from an investigator conveying information, sometimes recommendations to a client(s) who wants it for a specific purpose.
Group Reports.
If you are asked to submit a group report, even though, individually, you may be looking at different aspects (and therefore writing a separate section), ensure that you
work together to produce a coherent report in both content and style.
list each person's contribution at the front of the report.
The Terms of Reference
Before writing a report, establish its terms of reference i.e. why it is needed and by whom. The ToR will define the scope (and therefore limits) of the report, the ground it seeks to cover and why, its length and the date required.
It might also suggest a particular format, e.g., in some reports the conclusions and recommendations (if these are asked for) , follow the introduction, in others they will come at the end. Check with the tutor setting the assignment as to whether she/he requires a particular format.
Is it merely to convey information or is it hoping to bring about change?

Structuring the Report

Although the final structure of your report will not emerge until you have completed your investigation, you still need a framework within which to work. Some can be drafted in readiness:
Title Page
All reports should have a title page with the full title of the report, your name, the date, who the report is for and its distribution list (if there is one).
Table of Contents
All reports should have a table of contents page listing the numbered chapters or section headings and page numbers.
NB Outlining. It is very useful to construct your "Table of Contents" first as an outline for the report. You can see the emergent structure of the report and use the headings to write the sections.
Learn how to use the Table of Contents utility of your word processor.
Summary or Abstract
For a lengthy report, insert a brief summary (250 words) of the report and its findings immediately after the table of contents.
This should include
1. the background of the subject and an overview of the main issues
2. your terms of reference - what you set out to do
3. details of methodology/procedures used in the investigation (for long reports not for course work assignments
4. difficulties encountered in connection with the above
5. acknowledgement of help and assistance, if appropriate
Main Body should include
1. informative headings and sub-headings (do not use the heading Main Body!)
2. points, argument and supporting evidence
3. points grouped together so that readers can concentrate on one aspect at a time
4. the main body section may consist of several major sections (2, 3, 4) each covering a specific facet of the investigation.
Conclusions and Options
These are two separate sections
summarise the report findings and analyse/evaluate what has been found.
if the terms of reference require Options to be offered to the reader, then summarise these. Evaluate the costs and benefits, /pros and cons of the options and select the most suitable. Your recommendations will present the full argument for the selected Option (s).
Recommendations (if asked for)
These should follow naturally from points made in your report and should be as firm as possible with costs, time and resource requirements (human and physical) spelled out. If different courses of action are suggested , state these clearly and the possible consequences. Recommendations should not be made if they refer to issues not covered earlier in the report.
All sources consulted should be listed. Include the author, the title of the work/article and publication details. It is essential that you get into the habit of recording your references as you prepare for your paper or report and that you construct your bibliographic references in the recommended ways.
These may contain detailed supporting information which the reader should have but which would interrupt the flow if included in the main body e.g. an example of the questionnaire used.
Appendices must be numbered with the numbers clearly referred to in the main body.
N.B. Appendices should not be used as a dust-bin. Do not attach non-referenced, extraneous material as an Appendix.

Use of Dictionary, Thesaurus & Spell-checker

A good dictionary e.g. Concise Oxford English - is invaluable. Buy one for your work desk/book shelf. Check word meanings when writing an essay or reading.

A Thesaurus can be useful - learn to use one.

Modern word processors usually have a SPELL CHECKER. The value of being computer literate is that the machine can check spellings prior to printing. This is a tremendous time saver and paper saver.

REMEMBER there are differences between US and UK spellings. Spell-checkers do not check punctuation and grammatical structure. Note however that style checkers are available. Find one and try one!

Copyright for this article belongs to Chris Jarvis

This document was re-printed with the kind permission of Chris Jarvis. Original Source of the article is located here: http://www.brunel.ac.uk/~bustcfj/bola/study/skills9.html

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