Notes on structuring your research report

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Structuring a research report

As we move towards submission deadlines, I thought it might be useful to chat about the structure of a research report. Often we are given step-by-step guidance on how to write and structure a proposal, but not a research report, thesis, or dissertation. In this post, I will provide a few overarching ways of thinking about how to go about structuring your report. In the next few months, I will break down each of the sections you would ordinarily include in such a document to highlight some of the common mistakes students make when drafting their reports and to help you think through how you can go about structuring your own document. Remember, there is no right or wrong way to do this, so let’s get into it!

It is a creative endeavour

While there is a generally accepted structure for reports, dissertations, and theses, this is essentially a creative project and you do have the freedom to deviate from templated structures. You have to keep in mind, though, that this is a document that will be examined and if an examiner struggles to find what would traditionally be in a report, this could count against you.

It has to make sense

Whatever structure you end up using, it has to make logical sense to the reader. Like I said in the previous point, you are writing for an examination and you don’t want your examiner to end up looking for stuff that should ordinarily be there. The same argument goes for the way in which you structure it. You can be creative, but there is no need to reinvent the wheel.

People want to enjoy reading it

While examination is a normal part of an academic’s duties, academics do often take an interest in the topics they examine. Sometimes it’s a real pain to read, especially if the student has done a bad job at executing the project, but sometimes it is just simply boring! It helps if the compulsory read is interesting at the least. So the way in which you tell the story of your research (and it is indeed a story) can be interesting to the examiners as well as your supervisor who will likely read multiple versions of your document.

What is it that you want to say?

Students often try to squeeze EVERYTHING into their reports. Trust me, as a quantitative researcher, I get this. Sometimes you want to include every little thing you found in the field or every number and cross-tabulation you ran in your statistical programme, but remember that this is a story. Even directors and producers have to cut good scenes from a movie to move the story along and make it sensible to the viewer. As the producer of your document, you will need to do the same! Think about what you want the overarching story to be, what do you want to convey as your main message to the reader? This will have a bearing on how you end up approaching your structure and what you end up submitting.

Stay tuned in the next few weeks, as we’ll dive into the parts that make up a research report, dissertation, and/or thesis.

Happy writing!


  • Lindiwe Farlane

    Thanks for this Odile. As I prepare my theses for submission I found it very helpful. Indeed its a delicate balance between saying too much in the report (so that the examiner doesn’t have anything to ask and trimming too much (to an extent that the reader is left with questions). I was looking for the “like” button on the blog but could not find it, so here I am

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