Writing a formal report can encompass not only the writing of the report, but research, organisation and documentation of research, as well as proper formatting of the report. For college courses, properly researching, formatting and writing your report come together to help instructors determine your grade. Learning how to write a short, formal report can not only help get you through college, but can be a useful skill in many careers you may pursue as well.
Learn the format for your report. There may not be a specific format required, but chances are good if you're writing for a college course, you'll either need to use APA or MLA format. The MLA format is typically used for language arts, while the APA style is used for social sciences. This can vary depending upon your instructor, so always be sure to check on your format before you write. The style will dictate how you format your paper and your bibliography.
Always include a title page, regardless of style format, unless your instructor says a title page isn't required. If you want to include a title page on a formal report that isn't being written to a specific style guide, a good rule of thumb for a formal report is to place your name and e-mail address in the upper left hand corner. Drop down five double spaces and centre the title, then drop down one double space and type your name. For papers not formatted specifically to APA or MLA, always double space sentences and use one-inch margins.
Avoid an abstract unless you're writing for someone who requests one. An abstract is a summary of the report. If you're writing a formal report for a company, you would typically include an abstract, but in the case of shorter reports, an abstract is not necessary.
Format the body of the paper with one-inch margins and double spacing. The body should include the introduction of your topic and a thesis statement (statement that captures the essence of the question your paper poses), the methods you used to come to a determination and a summary of your findings.
Include a list of references, formatted according to APA or MLA guidelines. In the case of a formal report not using one of these styles, a bibliography should still be included. In these instances, formatting varies per writer, but essential information to include are page numbers of source material, name of the source you used and the name of the author of the material. Always use quotation marks for material you quote in your paper, with a parenthetical reference to the author of the quote.
You can find a complete guide to MLA or APA styles online at no charge (see resources).