How do you Format a Report Suitable for Academic Writing? With Style!

In this article, I’ll show you how to use styles in Microsoft Word to produce a formatted report.

 5th July 2021 , 5 min read*

international student working at a report

Many students often say they are not sure how to correctly format a report. There are many styles and some departments insist on a report style (e.g. APA, MLA), but there is not one answer.

Here is a simple example of how to use some basic tools in Microsoft word to produce a report formatted to a published journal standard.

How do you format an academic report? Well with styles is the answer.

It may seem easier to just change one title to the format you like but you then have to change all of the others to remain consistent. This is where styles can help. Using styles will give you consistency and you only need to change the style once, for all instances of that text.

Modify Styles

There are two stages, your font and spacing preferences

Font preferences:

  1.  select the text you with to format e.g. normal text or a heading
  2.  right-click the mouse on that style
  3.  choose modify
  4.  update the font preferences

Spacing preferences

  1.  select format
  2.  select paragraph

That’s it!

We can continue to format the text, headings and subheadings and voila you have a formatted report. There are other little details that we can add to improve the report, such as indentation, references, legends and the title.

Report Improvements

There are other small changes we can make to improve the format of the report, let’s look at indentation, legends,the title and the references.


The first paragraph in a section does not need to be indented, but subsequent paragraphs benefit from a small indentation. There are two approaches:

  1.   use tab – if this is the correct size then perfect. Using the space bar is not so good.
  2.   use the ruler – the ruler at the top of Word can be used to indent text. There are two measures: the top and the bottom. The top is the first line and the bottom is the remaining text. Use the top of the rules to indent the text to the required spacing.

You can change the measure of the rules to either inches or centimeters depending on your preference. See below for instructions.


 – Figure legends – these should be below the figure, consisting of the word ‘Figure’, the number of the figure (e.g. 2.1), and the short legend, a small sentence with as few words as necessary to explain the figure.

 – Table legends – these are generally above the table and have the same format as the figure legend with the use of the word ‘Table’ as opposed to figure.


The references section should not be numbered but still have the same format as the section headings. The references themselves are easier to locate if they are in alphabetical order and indented. Some journals may request references in the same order as they are cited in the paper but generally alphabetical order is used.


The title can have a unique format by itself, and as there is only one you can choose that without using styles.

format a report laptop and pens

Format Report Exercise

In this section we detail a lesson that gives clear instructions on how to format a report. We supply the report text, a table and a chart, and the report when it is finished.

In this exercise you will format the text, headings, subheadings and complete the formatting with page numbers and indentation.

The styles and content of this report originate from a journal article therefore it was of a standard suitable for publication. It is a not complete  report to keep the exercise simple.

Here are the files for the activity “format a report”. Click on the item to download the file.

Format a Report Instructions

To accompany this exercise we have provided a helpful video (Format a Report in Word), a set of instructions, a version of the complete report in a pdf file, and the content in files to save you having to write out a full report to format before you start (see above).

Purpose of the lesson:

  1. To learn how to format a report
  2. To understand English commands
  • Open the file for each stage (e.g. stage1.doc), complete that stage, then move onto the next stage
  • Copy the text from each document into your own report (Word) document and save regularly
  • Complete each stage for each part of a whole report

Stage 1 – Format the Introduction & Related Work Sections

Open the stage 1 word document and copy the text into your document.

Select all of the text (Crtl+A) and click on the ‘Normal’ style in ‘Styles’

  • Right-click the mouse whilst over ‘Normal’ style in ‘Styles’ then select ‘Modify …’
  • Check (or change to) the following values:
    • Calibri (Body) size 12 font
    • Select ‘Format’ (box in the bottom left) and Paragraph…
    • Multiple 1.15
    • Before 0pt
    • After 8pt

Select the report title ‘A Survey … School in Thailand’

  • Centre and change text size to 20 ( font is Calibri(body))

Select the ‘1. Introduction’ heading

  • Right-click the mouse whilst over ‘Heading1’ style in ‘Styles’ then select ‘Modify …’
  • Check (or change to) the following values:
    • Calibri (Body) size 18 font
    • Bold and Black color
    • Select ‘Format’ (box in the bottom right) and Paragraph…
    • Multiple 1.15
    • Before 12pt
    • After 12pt
  • Select Related Work heading and click on the Heading 1 style
  • Save the document on the desktop with your name – use ‘Save As‘

Well Done so far!

You have completed stage 1. Remember the text and diagrams from the 4 stages make the finished report

Stage 2 – Format the Study Method Section

 Open the stage 2 word document and copy the text into your document

  • Select all of the text (Crtl+A) and click on the ‘Normal’ style in ‘Styles’
  • Select the heading ‘study methods’ and click on the Heading1 style
  • Select the ‘1 Research Questions’ heading and select the Heading2 style
  • Right-click the mouse whilst over ‘Heading2’ style in ‘Styles’ then select ‘Modify …’
  • Check (or change to) the following values
    • Bold and Black color (same Calibri (Body) size 12 font)
    • Select ‘Format’ (box in the bottom right) and Paragraph…
    • Multiple 1.15
    • Before 2pt
    • After 0pt
  • Repeat for the other ‘heading2’ headings (2 Survey Instrument & 3.3 Sample)
  • Add the stage 2 text to the end of the stage 1 text Introduction and Related Work
  • Select the text in section 3.2 survey instrument from ‘Use and preference of technology’ to ‘Two open questions … translation needs.’
  • Select the Numbering button in ‘Paragraph’ (1, 2, 3)
  • With the text still highlighted change the ruler (above the document) so the top marker is set on 0.25 (¼) cm and the bottom is set on 1 cm (see figure to right).
  • Save the document

Stage 3 – Insert a table & chart and complete the sections

Open the stage 3 and report table word documents and the report chart excel file

  • Copy the text in stage 3 and paste it in your report
  • Select all of this text (Crtl+A) and click on the ‘Normal’ style in ‘Styles’
  • Select the headings and click on the Heading1 and Heading2 styles

Note: figure legends are underneath the figure, table legends are above the table.

  • Copy & paste the table from the table document to your report (above 3.3. section)
  • Copy & paste the chart from the chart document to your report (above figure 1)
  • Make the ‘Figure 1’ legend italic
  • Save your document

Note: indenting paragraphs can make your report easier to read and look better

  • Indent paragraphs by selecting each paragraph in each section (not the numbered text!)
  • If you prefer – keep each first paragraph in each section, without an indent.
  • Using the ruler (above the document) move the top marker to 1.25 cms.
  • The first paragraph in the introduction is never indented

Page Numbers

  • Select the insert menu & go to the Header & Footer section
  • Click Page Number, choose Bottom of Page & plain Number 2 (the second option)
  • Make the ‘f’ uppercase in “in figure 1 we compare the results”, change to Figure 1

Stage 4 – Insert references (manually)

This file has the reference information, the citations in the report text and the bibliography / reference section. Copy & paste the reference text from this text or the word document.

  • Insert the reference section:
    • Go to the end of the document
    • Add a section heading called ‘References’ – style Heading 1 (don’t give it a section number)
    • Insert the references (as below)
    • Indent the references (as below)

Insert the citations in the text:

  • Go to the following sentence (in section 3.3): Stratified random sampling involves dividing a population into homogeneous subgroups and then taking a simple random sample in each subgroup
  • Insert the following citation at the end of the sentence  (Tromchin, 2006)
  • Go to the following sentence: Stratification may produce a smaller bound of error of estimation when there are homogenous groups
  • Insert the following citation at the end of the sentence  (Schefler, Mendenhall, Ott, & Gerow, 2012)
  • Go to the following sentence: The sample from each establishment is calculated using the Krejcie and Morgan sampling method
  • Insert the following citation at the end of the sentence  (Krejcie & Morgan, 1970)


Krejcie R. and Morgan D. (1970) Determining Sample Size for Research Activities, in the Educational and Psychological Measurement, issue 30, pp 607-610. [Online] Available from [Accessed 9 Nov 2014]

Scheafler R., Mendenhall W., Ott R. and Gerow K (2012) Survey Sampling, 7th edition, International edition, Cengage Learning, Canada

Trochim W. (2006) Probability Sampling [Online] Available from: [Accessed 9 Dec 2014]

Well Done!

 You have finished the report