A report usually comprises three basic elements:
- An introduction, in which the research problem as well as the steps to finding the answer are formulated
- A body in which the actual question is answered and implications of this answer are analyzed
- Summary and conclusionsThese three elements should form a consistent whole. One element is not necessarily one section, depending also on the nature of the research. Most of the time is usually spent on the second element. However, in order to write a good report, the problem-formulation phase should be given special attention. Thus the first element, i.e., the introduction section, is discussed in detail.
In addition to these elements, an executive summary is required. It includes the main points from the paper.
The introduction section should contain the following elements:
- Background of the study
- Objectives of the study
- Research questions
- Scope of the study
- Methodology of the study
- Structure of the report
In the following each of the elements form one section of the report. This is often the case for larger works such as Master’s theses. Therefore, it is recommended to practice the structure in this report. Each section may be just few lines and the introductory section in total should not exceed two pages.
Depending on the approach on the research, the paper to be written can be empirical, constructive, or literature study. Deciding the approach is important, since each of the approaches should result in somewhat different papers and have different emphasis on the introduction sections as well. For an empirical paper the methodology is very important, the material need to be gathered in a planned and controlled fashion. For a constructive paper the problem statement or research problem needs to be emphasized and the rationale on your work explained. A constructive paper binds together the existing knowledge and based on that and the problem at hand finds a solution to suggest. If the paper is a pure literature study, the problem and objectives are important.
The elements in this section should be written for the research plan except for the structure of the report, but they may change as your knowledge on the area increases. Also list already the most important sources of information for the work.
Background of the study
The very first sentences of the report should give the reader a general description of the key ideas of the report and of the subject discussed. The description of the key ideas of the report should be given against a general background of the subject.
This section should always include an evaluation of the importance of the topic at hand. In other words, the introductory section should give the reader a clear understanding of the value of the research in terms of practical and scientific contributions.
Objectives of the research
Whereas the research problem section has set out the question the author wishes to answer, the objectives sketch milestones the author wants to reach in answering this question. For every objective the author should reflect whether it serves in answering the question set out as the research problem. It should be noted that it is often not possible to comprehensively and finally answer the question put forward in the research problem. The function of the objectives is to define what progress on the way to answering the research question should be made with the study.
The order of importance of the objectives should be described. What is the main objective of the study? What are the sub-objectives of the study? The objectives should be expressed in such a way that the reader can control whether the objectives have been achieved or not. Try not to define too many objectives, since fulfilling all of them might turn out to be rather difficult.
The rest of the report should support the objectives stated in the beginning of the report. If necessary, individual objectives can be repeated later in the report.
It should be noted that research as such is not an objective. Research is a means through which the ends can be achieved. The ultimate goal of research should always be improving the situation at hand. For example, the ultimate objective could be improving the performance of a certain software product or to design a new method to solve a certain problem. Possible concrete objectives of the research can be, for example,
- Description and analysis of a phenomenon, finding out new information about the subject through empirical study, or creating a logical or mathematical model, chart, algorithm, or some other corresponding description
- Developing a new system, method, process, product, or service for fulfilling a defined need more effectively than before
- Outlining the information concerning the subject and presenting a new synthesis of this information through a literature survey, interviews, or corresponding methods
- Presenting practical instructions, methods, and recommended actions for more effective solving of problems defined separately
The introductory section should also specify the research questions. This specification should include the question for which answers will be sought, and the phenomena to be studied and understood.
It is essential for the author to reflect carefully which questions he or she seeks to answer. If he or she is not able to put the topic of his study into one or two questions, it is likely that the study will end up as an unfocused set of statements that does not answer any questions.
The description of the research problem must be so explicit that it is easily understood. If the author is not able to describe the research problem in a simple and straightforward way, it is more than likely that the author does not have a clear understanding of the research problem. The better one understands the problem, the easier it is to explain it to others.
In the analysis of the research problem the author should continuously search for the essence of the problem. Finding and defining the essence of the problem is not very easy. In his/her diagnosis, the author should strive to distinguish the causes from the symptoms.
Scope of the research
Not everything can be described in one report. Therefore, the author should define the scope of his research. The limitations given must be sensible and justified. No items or entities essential for the research problem may be left out without good justifications. The effect of the limitations presented to the general applicability of the research results must be evaluated.
Common limitations for defining the scope of the research are for instance
- The country of origin of the firms studied
- Firm characteristics such as size, age, or function in the industry value chain
- Characteristics of a product
- Characteristics of the phenomenon under study
- Theoretical approaches reviewed
Each relevant limitation should be explicitly explained to the reader.
The introduction must always include a description of the research methods used, and an analysis of the limitations posed by these methods. Below is a list of possible research methods that can be applied for the seminar study. The research methods listed in the following list are not mutually exclusive. Instead, they complement each other. It should be noted, however, that for a good seminar study a literature study, maybe complemented by a case study or a few expert interviews, is sufficient. Use of additional methods is optional, not required for this study.
Possible methods are
- Literature study
- Case analyses; analyses of individual cases or comparisons between two or several cases
- Constructing and testing computer models
- Constructing and testing logical and mathematical models, quantifying the phenomenon to be researched
- Doing laboratory tests
- Interview research
- With open-ended (free-text) or closed-ended (tick-the-box) questions
- With or without a pre-prepared questionnaire
- Observing the phenomenon to be researched in actual circumstances
- Outlining and verifying the hypothesisS
- Statistical analysis, graphic presentation of the results
- Understanding the phenomenon to be researched through an analogy model
The research methods should be compatible with the objectives set for the research and with the research questions. The limits of the method applied should be noted. A pure literature study will only be able to shed very limited light on a practical phenomenon. Therefore, for instance case studies or an interview survey could be applied. If, however, only a literature study would be feasible due to time limitations, the limits of applicability should be discussed.
The structure of the report section
The general structure of the report should be discussed briefly at the end of the introduction section. The logic of the following sections should be presented to help the reader comprehend the structure.
The body of the report
In the introduction section the problem is defined and the methods for solving it is outlined. In the main part of the seminar study, i.e. the body, the problem is solved. To do so a structure should be chosen that helps the reader understand the argumentation of the author. It is often helpful to separate the body into several sections to sufficiently structure the report.
The first sections(s) dealing directly with the research topic should be dedicated to the description of the existing knowledge concerning the research subject. In the beginning of the study the author should always describe what is already known about the subject. The ideas presented by the author should aim at extending this knowledge, not reinventing it.
The description of the information concerning the research subject is normally done as a literature study. This study can, if necessary, be complemented with expert interviews. The value of the literature study is greatly increased if the author succeeds in creating his own outline and synthesis of the previous research on the same subject.
Direct quotations should be used sparingly. The author should first understand the subject presented by the source and then describe it in his/her own words. One guideline can be quoting only one sentence directly at a time. Even this is true only if
- The source manages to present the essential idea especially concisely and to the point
- The quotation is controversial and the author wishes to avoid any misrepresentations
The author should pay special attention to the way the information is presented. Each context should show whether the information in question is
- Based on a literary source (the source must be given as a citation)
- Based on an interview (the source must be given as a citation)
- Research result based on empirical data collected by the author
- Deduction of the author
- Assumption of the author
- Guess of the author
Only generally known and fully verified matters may be presented without reference or grounds. If such a matter is verified in literature, a reference concerning the matter must be given.
If a statement is presented without references or grounds, it may be incorrectly interpreted as a guess or assumption of the author.
The author is encouraged to present personal thoughts, information, assumptions, and guesses whenever possible. However, if personal thoughts, information, assumptions, or guesses are presented, they must be clearly identified for example by stating “even though no exact information was available, it seems likely that…”.
Guesses and assumptions without grounds will greatly reduce the value of the research. However, well-grounded assumptions and guesses may greatly increase the value of the research. New ideas and insights will always increase the value of the research.
The literature study should be concluded by a synthesis of the existing knowledge. This synthesis can be presented, for example, in the form of a table, a figure, a summary of the existing knowledge pointing out areas which have not been studied yet, or any combination of these.
If the aim of the study is to apply the existing knowledge on some specific problem, the author should systematically try to determine whether the existing knowledge can be applied in the context specific to the problem, and what are the limitations that should be taken into account. For example, if the author is doing a study for a small or medium-sized company, and most of the existing literature concerns large companies, the implications of this fact should be analyzed. The author should try to determine how the existing models and frameworks should be changed in order to be applicable to the specific case at hand.
Remember to analyze the problem from various perspectives and be critical with the sources used and consider their reliability.
Summary and Conclusions
After an in-depth analysis of the information concerning the research problem, the summary of research results and conclusions are presented. The research results can be presented, for example, in chronological order, in order of importance, or in an order of internal logic of the subject. The summary must not contain new research results which have not been mentioned earlier in the report. This section ends with conclusions which can be drawn regarding theory and/or in the form of practical recommendations.
In the summary and conclusions part, recommendations concerning further study of the research topic should also be presented. The author should tell what was learned, what was new, and what topics or aspects of the research problem merit further study.
The research must always include the assessment of the strengths and weaknesses of sources, of research methods, and of most important research results and recommended actions. What is the reliability and general applicability of the research results? What are the most important assumptions made during the research, and what is their effect? The effect of the limitations stated in the beginning of the research on the general applicability of the research results should be evaluated and stated.
The seminar report should include an executive summary. The aim of the summary is to familiarize the reader with the main points of the seminar report. It is often used to judge whether to read the whole paper or not. The length of the executive summary should be one page.
For a good seminar paper you need to focus on the used references and the way they are used. There are several styles for both references and citations.
For references the minimum requirement is that you include an alphabetically ordered list of the works you have cited in your article. This list should begin on a separate page headed REFERENCES in the end of your seminar paper.
Alphabetize the references by the last name of the author (the first author) or the editor, or by the name of the corporate author or periodical if there is no individual author or editor. Several works by an identical author (or group of authors) are ordered by year of publication, with the earliest listed first.
Giving proper credit to the sources of original ideas and previous work is an important aspect of good scholarship. Inappropriate or inaccurate citations do not do justice to the authors cited and can be misleading to readers. For citations the style you should use (Harvard style) is described below. Especially note that the IEEE-style (number in brackets) should not be used, since it is very difficult for the reader to follow.
There are many different systems in use for the indication of references. Students can freely choose a commonly used system for indicating references, as long as they use it consistently throughout the paper. Below, a commonly used indication of references is described.
Citations should be made in the text by enclosing the cited authors’ names and the year of the work cited in parentheses. E.g.,
Several studies (Adams, 1974; Brown & Hales, 1975, 1980; Collins, 1976a, 1976b) support this conclusion.
Also note that two or more works by the same author (or by an identical group of authors) published in the same year are distinguished by “a,” “b,” etc., added after the year.
Citations to the source of a direct quotation must give a page number or numbers; these follow the date of publication and are separated from it by a colon. Example:
Adams has said that writing a book is “a long and arduous task” (1974: 3).
Also cite page numbers when you paraphrase or summarize specific arguments or findings of authors.
If a work has two authors, give both names every time the work is cited in the text. Example:
Few field studies use random assignment (Franz & Schmidt, 1976).
If a work has more than two authors, use the name of the first author and “et al.” Example:
Few field studies use random assignment (Sapienza et al., 1995).
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