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Report writing can seem like a chore, but as you practice it you may discover it is interesting, satisfying, and just plain fun to put together a good report. Here are some tips to make it easier and more enjoyable. I start with a quick summary. More explanation and discussion follows the list.

 
Quick Tips from Teachers
Pick topics that inspire questions. Explain why your topic is important.
Find primary sources such as research papers to back up your topic.Use Google Scholar to search for source materials.
Include facts about the subject that have been discovered/uncovered in the past five years.
Jot down notes with brief phrases rather than copying entire paragraphs, then create an outline of your paper and write your own sentences using the notes you've written.

0. Read!
1. If you can, pick a subject that interests you.
2. Learn as much as you can about your subject before you start writing.
3. Keep a list of the ideas you want to include in your report.
4. If you're having trouble getting started, pretend you're writing a letter to someone.
5. Sometimes it helps to prepare an outline
6. Finish your report early and leave it alone. Then go back and read it and make sure it holds together the way you want it to.

Now I'll expand on these suggestions.

0. Starting a list from zero is a little unusual but this first suggestion, that you read, builds the foundation for everything else. If you're not a regular reader, it's not too late to start. Reading makes writing easier in two ways: you automatically absorb the different writing styles of the authors and you expand your knowledge, background, and thinking ability. Writing is easier when you have experience with styles and lots of background to work with. Of my three children, the most active reader is also the best writer. It doesn't matter what you read. Novels, history, science, biographies, news, etc. all help. And keeping your mind active throughout your life will keep your brain healthy into old age.

1. If you can, pick a subject that interests you. Even if you don't have full freedom to choose, look at your subject from the perspective of what you are interested in. Suppose you're interested in soccer and you have to write about the Moon. See if your teacher will let you describe what rules changes or field sizes might have to be changed for a soccer match on the Moon... and why they have to be made. Maybe you like zombies... could germs from Jupiter exist and turn a crew of astronauts into zombies? Use your imagination!

2. Learn as much as you can about your subject before you start writing. Writing about anything is always easier if you actually know something about it. Oftentimes the words just flow out of you. It helps to take time just thinking about what you have learned, before you start writing.

3. Keep a list of the ideas you want to include in your report. Write them down as soon as you think of them. I've lost many good ideas to include and good wording because I didn't make a note when the thought occurred to me.

4. Sometimes you just plain don't know what to say or how to start. That's called writer's block, and every writer has suffered it. A wise friend and colleague gave me a tip for getting started when you can't find a way to start (a tip which I used to write a big book review for a magazine): pretend you're writing a letter to someone. For example:

Dear Grandma, Today I want to tell you about...

And then just start telling her about the subject of your report and what interesting things you learned. Pretty soon you will have lots of ideas and words recorded. The order may not be right for your report, but it's easy to cut and paste your words into the text the way you want it to read once you have them on your screen.

5. Sometimes it helps to prepare an outline, that's a plan, for what you will include in your report and where the material you talk about goes. Sometimes it's as simple as just a list of topics. Other times it gets down to fine details of order and wording that transfers directly into the report. Use what works for you. I'll admit to you that I'm writing this little report for you without an outline or plan... but I know something about writing, so it's fairly easy to compose this with some forethought (I had been thinking about it for several hours before I sat down at the keyboard). Even though I tell you I'm composing this as I go, the next step is important too, and I always follow my own advice that I give you in the next step. You will end up with a better report if you follow it.

6. Finish your report early and leave it alone for at least a few hours, and overnight (or even longer) if you can. Then go back and read it and make sure it holds together the way you want it to. (I did this and added the top, short list, as well as making other revisions and corrections.) Use a spell checker and a grammar checker. Confirm that your report explains things clearly, describes things thoroughly, and makes any points you want to make. Change long sentences into two or more shorter sentences. That makes it easier for your readers to understand what you are saying. Choose your words carefully and don't be afraid to exchange them for better words. Let your parents or friends (or grandmother) read your report too, and consider their advice before you hand it in.

I hope this advice helps you write your reports and makes you a better writer for your future career. Believe me, you will have opportunities to write many times in your life and learning to do it well will make you much happier with your efforts and your readers will enjoy and respect your work.

Stephen Edberg
Astronomer
NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory
California Institute of Technology

Report writing can seem like a chore, but as you practice it you may discover it is interesting, satisfying, and just plain fun to put together a good report. Here are some tips to make it easier and more enjoyable. I start with a quick summary. More explanation and discussion follows the list.

 
Quick Tips from Teachers
Pick topics that inspire questions. Explain why your topic is important.
Find primary sources such as research papers to back up your topic.Use Google Scholar to search for source materials.
Include facts about the subject that have been discovered/uncovered in the past five years.
Jot down notes with brief phrases rather than copying entire paragraphs, then create an outline of your paper and write your own sentences using the notes you've written.

0. Read!
1. If you can, pick a subject that interests you.
2. Learn as much as you can about your subject before you start writing.
3. Keep a list of the ideas you want to include in your report.
4. If you're having trouble getting started, pretend you're writing a letter to someone.
5. Sometimes it helps to prepare an outline
6. Finish your report early and leave it alone. Then go back and read it and make sure it holds together the way you want it to.

Now I'll expand on these suggestions.

0. Starting a list from zero is a little unusual but this first suggestion, that you read, builds the foundation for everything else. If you're not a regular reader, it's not too late to start. Reading makes writing easier in two ways: you automatically absorb the different writing styles of the authors and you expand your knowledge, background, and thinking ability. Writing is easier when you have experience with styles and lots of background to work with. Of my three children, the most active reader is also the best writer. It doesn't matter what you read. Novels, history, science, biographies, news, etc. all help. And keeping your mind active throughout your life will keep your brain healthy into old age.

1. If you can, pick a subject that interests you. Even if you don't have full freedom to choose, look at your subject from the perspective of what you are interested in. Suppose you're interested in soccer and you have to write about the Moon. See if your teacher will let you describe what rules changes or field sizes might have to be changed for a soccer match on the Moon... and why they have to be made. Maybe you like zombies... could germs from Jupiter exist and turn a crew of astronauts into zombies? Use your imagination!

2. Learn as much as you can about your subject before you start writing. Writing about anything is always easier if you actually know something about it. Oftentimes the words just flow out of you. It helps to take time just thinking about what you have learned, before you start writing.

3. Keep a list of the ideas you want to include in your report. Write them down as soon as you think of them. I've lost many good ideas to include and good wording because I didn't make a note when the thought occurred to me.

4. Sometimes you just plain don't know what to say or how to start. That's called writer's block, and every writer has suffered it. A wise friend and colleague gave me a tip for getting started when you can't find a way to start (a tip which I used to write a big book review for a magazine): pretend you're writing a letter to someone. For example:

Dear Grandma, Today I want to tell you about...

And then just start telling her about the subject of your report and what interesting things you learned. Pretty soon you will have lots of ideas and words recorded. The order may not be right for your report, but it's easy to cut and paste your words into the text the way you want it to read once you have them on your screen.

5. Sometimes it helps to prepare an outline, that's a plan, for what you will include in your report and where the material you talk about goes. Sometimes it's as simple as just a list of topics. Other times it gets down to fine details of order and wording that transfers directly into the report. Use what works for you. I'll admit to you that I'm writing this little report for you without an outline or plan... but I know something about writing, so it's fairly easy to compose this with some forethought (I had been thinking about it for several hours before I sat down at the keyboard). Even though I tell you I'm composing this as I go, the next step is important too, and I always follow my own advice that I give you in the next step. You will end up with a better report if you follow it.

6. Finish your report early and leave it alone for at least a few hours, and overnight (or even longer) if you can. Then go back and read it and make sure it holds together the way you want it to. (I did this and added the top, short list, as well as making other revisions and corrections.) Use a spell checker and a grammar checker. Confirm that your report explains things clearly, describes things thoroughly, and makes any points you want to make. Change long sentences into two or more shorter sentences. That makes it easier for your readers to understand what you are saying. Choose your words carefully and don't be afraid to exchange them for better words. Let your parents or friends (or grandmother) read your report too, and consider their advice before you hand it in.

I hope this advice helps you write your reports and makes you a better writer for your future career. Believe me, you will have opportunities to write many times in your life and learning to do it well will make you much happier with your efforts and your readers will enjoy and respect your work.

Stephen Edberg
Astronomer
NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory
California Institute of Technology