Guide to Reporting Lectures

A good report should summarize the main points succinctly and correctly. Think what a reader who has not attended this lecture could gain from your report.

Reporting a lecture

  1. How to approach the task
    Imagine that your boss has sent you to a lecture. The company has paid for an expensive lecture fee. Your boss wants you to write a summary for the company so that staff who didn't have a chance to attend this lecture could benefit.
  2. What was said
    The facts must be correct; you must not misrepresent the speaker. Feel free to support your report with supplementary information. But don't forget that this should be a report on the lecture, not a survey on the topic.
    (Be precise. For example, don't just say "the speaker defined operational risk". Readers who have not been to the lecture won't know what the definition is. Instead, tell readers the definition; or if even writing a simplified version takes too many words, drop that concept.)
  3. What you have learned
    What have you learned from the lecture? In particular, what have you learned from the lecture that you would not have learned from standard textbooks? Write them down in a few points. Then elaborate them. After you have found out what you have learnt, explain them to the readers.
  4. Why is your report valuable
    Why are the above points important to your company, to the business world, or to the society (depending on the context of the lecture)?
  5. What to include:
    To summarise a two hours talk with 400 words, you cannot record everything. Before you start, you must think carefully what the most important points are. You have to decide what you must include and what you can leave out.
  6. How much to expect from the readers
    There is no point writing anything that the readers cannot understand. Whatever you say, you must say it with clarity. Do not expect the readers to be able guess what you want to say when you paint half of the story -- they won't!
  7. Structure:
    Plan a structure for your report. For example, it is useful to start the report with one sentence saying what the talk is about and end the report with a conclusion with a take home message (if the reader were to remember one point from this report, what should that be?). It is a good idea to organize the body in paragraphs, with a clear message for each paragraph. Make a habit of starting each document with a complete heading, which should at least include the following information:
    • Your name
    • A Title (what is this document about/for?)
    • Date
  8. Adding something extra:
    A word-by-word summary is not good enough. Your own interpretation to the material would be appreciated, but you must be able to justify your views. Make your report professional looking. Pay attention to the structure, grammar and punctuation.
  9. Self-assessment
    It is useful to ask yourself: "Would someone who has not attended the lecture understand what you mean?"
    (One way to check whether your report serves this purpose is to show it to people who have not been to the lecture. Check how much they can understand the lecture through your report.)
  10. How to improve your writing
    Writing is more an art than a science. I have not yet found a step-by-step guide to guarantee the production of a good report. That is not to say that you cannot improve your writing skills. Get help from proofreaders or writing coaches if needed.


It is easy to recognise a good summary when one reads one, but it is difficult to specify the marking scheme precisely. A rough guideline is provided here -- I emphasize that this is just a guideline, not a marking scheme.


The above advice is given by Edward Tsang; last updated 2018.03.02