WHAT IS A RESEARCH REPORT?
In our most general use of the term, a research report is defined here as
a written document that gives the history of a research study from start to
finish. The particular characteristics of the history provided in a report vary
with the kind of inquiry involved and with the conventions for writing that
have evolved for investigators working in that area of scholarship.
A research report must give a statement of the question pursued by
the investigator, as well as its provenance within the research literature.
In addition, it must provide a reasonably complete description of all
operations performed to gather, organize, and analyze data. An account
must be made of the findings in a manner that clearly reveals how the
outcomes of analysis respond to the research question and, in turn, how
they form the substantive basis for any conclusions, assertions, or
recommendations that are made.
All of this sounds quite pedantic and stuffy. A shorter version certainly
sounds less ponderous and will be easier to remember as you read. Here
A research report gives the history of a study, including what the
researcher wanted to find out and why it seemed worth discovering,
how he or she gathered the information, and what he or she thought
it all meant.
What Has to Be in a Report?
The characteristics present in most research reports are as follows:
- Research reports contain a clear statement of the question or problem
that the investigator addressed and that guided decisions about
method of inquiry throughout the study. Most commonly, the question
or problem was defined prior to data collection. However, when
the question or problem was defined during the course of the study,
its source and development are fully explicated.
- To the extent possible, research reports situate the purpose of the
study, and the research questions employed in designing the study,
in the existing body of knowledge.
- In many reports (though not all), the investigator explains the set
of theoretical assumptions with which the research question and
consequent data were framed (and understood) and upon which
the analysis and conclusions were based.
- Research reports describe data collection procedures that were
planned in advance (although, in some cases, they might have
been modified in the course of the study).
- Research reports offer detailed evidence that the observations and
recording of data were executed with a concern for accuracy and
that the level of precision was appropriate to the demands of the
- Research reports demonstrate that the quality of data was a central
concern during the study. Such reports confirm the quality of data
by providing information about the reliability and validity of measurement
procedures or about other qualitative indexes related to
the particular type of research involved.
- Research reports discuss how data were organized and specify the
means of analysis.
- The results of data analysis are explicitly related to the research
question or problem.
- Conclusions concerning the findings are reported as tentative and
contingent upon further investigation.
- Conclusions, assertions, and recommendations are stated in ways
that make the limitations of the study clear and that identify rival
ways of accounting for the findings.
- Research reports are made available for review by competent peers
who have experience and expertise in the area of the study. (This
final characteristic is not found in the reports themselves but in
the processing of them by the journal’s editorial staff and their protocols
These 11 elements provide an overview of the characteristics of most of
the reports that we have defined as research. One of the objectives of this
text is to help you learn how to quickly identify whether or not all
11 characteristics are present in a document—that is, whether or not you
are reading a genuine research report.
The skill of identifying a genuine research report is important because,
as you can imagine, there is a great deal of published material about
research studies, research findings, research as an enterprise, practical
implications of research-based knowledge, and even research that does
not qualify as a research report. Included among those materials are most
articles in newspapers and popular magazines, the majority of articles in
professional journals, and even the content of most research-based college textbooks.