Academic report/Thesis

Photo of two students with a laptopOne of the most common academic text types is the academic report/thesis. It follows an established pattern, which can differ a little between different subjects. An academic report in technology or science can differ a little from one in economy or the humanities. Hence, you should always check what rules apply to the report you are expected to write. Here follows a general description of the parts an academic report consists of.

Introductory part

The introductory part of an academic report should not be confused with the introduction in the main text. The introductory part consists of formalities needed for the reader to gain an insight into the structure and contents of the report.

Title page

The title page should provide the reader with quick information on title, author and type of work. Information on faculty and university is also given. The title page often follows a specific pattern, so check with your tutor how the title page should be structured at your institution. Here is one example of a title page:

Abstract

This short text (often in English even if the report is written in another language) which is called abstract or summary, is perhaps the text that will have the most readers. The text should account for the contents of the report concisely, to give the reader the possibility to decide if the report is of interest to the reader. Remember to include the results or the ”solution”, i.e. the conclusions, in the abstract. The abstract also provides important data for computer based searches.

Table of contents and lists of figures and tables

The table of contents can appear in different layouts, but regardless of the design it should be easy to interpret. The table of contents must reflect the headings of the report correctly, as well as the heading levels. Do not leave out any headings (except the heading “Table of contents”) and always state the page where the heading is found as the page in the table of contents. See the example below:

Example of table of contents

Picture of an example of a table of contents

Translated from: Strömquist, Siv (2006). Uppsatshandboken: råd och regler för utformningen av examensarbeten och vetenskapliga uppsatser. 4. uppl. Uppsala: Hallgren & Fallgren

Keep in mind that the headings in the table of contents should be preceded by numbers only if the headings in the report are preceded by numbers. Whether or not you use numbers, the heading “List of references” should not be given a number. Numbers, and sometimes also font size, can also be used to show the heading levels.

Important!
You should not use more than three levels of headings, otherwise the work may appear disorganized and difficult to grasp.

In those cases when the report contains tables and figures, lists of those should also be included in the introductory part, usually after the table of contents.

Tip!
In a word processing program there are often different templates for table of contents that the program will create for you. By using these, you make sure the table of contents will be correct and presentable.

Main text

The main body of a report is the part that contains the actual text. This is divided into different headings in order to make the structure clear to the reader. Some sections of the text, such as introduction, aim, method, material and conclusion, are obligatory, while others can be named differently depending on the subject. Sometimes you may want to split up or join together certain headings depending on the structure of the study and the report. Therefore, there are some different structures to decide on when your write your report. Of course one should choose a structure that will present the topic and the results as clearly as possible.

Introduction

An introduction is needed to acquaint the reader with the report and the topic. It serves as a ‘settling-in period’ and orientation into the subject. The aim of the text is always included in the introduction, but sometimes, especially in longer introductions, you give the aim an own subheading in the introduction. The introduction can also include a background for the topic and a review of the current research in the field, to place the topic in a greater context.

Important!
Do not add a new heading directly after a heading. There should always be some body text between the headings.

Method

Under the heading ”Method” you state which method you have used to produce the results that are presented in the text. You should also analyze the choice of method by motivating why the method works best in the current context. If the introduction is short, and if the description of the method is also short, you can sometimes choose to include the heading in the introduction. Sometimes the headings “Method” and “Material” are also joined together.

Material

Under the heading ”Material” you find a discussion on the material which was used to achieve the results of the report. Material includes both literature, substances (e.g. chemical substances for experiments) and people you have interviewed in different ways. If the introduction is short, and if the description of the material is also short, you can sometimes choose to include the heading in the introduction. Sometimes you also choose to join together the headings “Method” and “Material”.

Results

The heading ”Results” can be named differently, but it should always be clear that it is the results of your study that are presented under this heading. In some cases it can be appropriate to join together the presentation and the discussion of the results. In this case, remember to still have a conclusion under a separate heading so that the reader does not think a part of the report is missing. The most common method though, is to present the results objectively. It is also important to consider how you can present the results most clearly – e.g. in diagrams, tables or in text?

Analysis/Discussion of results

Under the heading ”Analysis” or ”Discussion” you have the possibility to analyze the outcome and draw conclusions from the study. Here you also have a chance to be more subjective than you can in other parts of the report.

Important!
Remember to connect the analysis to the aim of the report and discuss whether the results answer the questions the aim poses.

When you analyze and discuss the results the following should be treated:

  • Explain the results from the point of view of method and material. How have they influenced the results, and if so, in what way? What benefits and disadvantages are there with this mode of procedure?
  • What do the results mean? What tendencies can you see, and what results are important to consider? How should you interpret them?
  • What are the consequences of the results? What do they influence?
  • How do the results relate to other research on the topic? Remember to state the source of the other studies you compare with!

Conclusion/Summary

In the conclusion the report is rounded off and the reader is reminded of the results of the report. Summarize the outcome of the report and also draw conclusions from the results and the analysis if this was not already done in the analysis part. In this part it is also customary to look ahead, by making suggestions for future areas for research, or, research questions on the subject.

Final part

The final part consists of a list of references, and also appendices if any included. You can for example add interview or survey questions as an appendix, or something else such as for example detailed experimental data that you used when you produced the report.

List of references

For a description of what a list of references should look like, go to the section about Reference management in the Writing guide.

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