Explain the purpose and importance of reports • Describe the various kinds of informal reports • Describe the nature of formal reports and identify their components

Study Unit Writing the Report
By Robert G. Turner Jr., Ph.D. About the Author
Robert G. Turner Jr. holds a B.S. in business and an M.S. and a
Ph.D. in sociology. He has more than 20 years of teaching experience, mainly at the college level, and is currently serving as an
adjunct professor at Virginia Tech, Blacksburg. Dr. Turner is
primarily employed as a professional freelance writer. His literary
credits include two stage plays, two novels, and two nonfiction
works, along with an array of publications in academic and
educational venues. All terms mentioned in this text that are known to be trademarks or service
marks have been appropriately capitalized. Use of a term in this text should
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07/26/06 Managers and other people in authority often require reports
to track particular projects or to track routine progress.
Clients often need information on how their money is being
spent. Workers may need to share report information to
coordinate their activities. In larger organizations, reports
between departments are often needed to coordinate interdepartmental activities. Marketing people need to know
what’s happening in the production division. People in
production may need to coordinate with the shipping
department, and so on.
In effect, reports can be written whenever information needs
to be transmitted—for any reason and from anyone to anyone else inside or outside an organization.
Reports come in all sizes. Routine reports may involve a
single-page form. Trouble-shooting or progress reports may
be long and complex. Depending on their scope, size, and,
especially, on their audience, reports may be formal or informal. Interoffice memos, letters, or e-mails are often informal. Longer reports, such as a report or proposal involving a
complex architectural or construction project, are usually
formal and may involve multiple volumes of specifications,
notes, explanations, and justifications. Preview
Preview Information is at the heart of any
human enterprise. While information
may be conveyed in many ways, in
the world of business, reports make
up the bulk of what gets written and,
presumably, read. Consider a typical
business manufacturing operation.
Managers have to solve problems.
Sometimes things go wrong—shipments don’t get out on
time, and customer orders aren’t processed efficiently. Even
when things are going right, people in an organization often
need information. Market changes, altered production procedures, and changes in personnel may require a written
report of some kind. In fact, simple day-to-day operations
generate a need for progress reports. In this study unit, you’ll explore the various kinds of informal and
formal reports. iii When you complete this study unit, you’ll be able to
• Explain the purpose and importance of reports • Describe the various kinds of informal reports • Describe the nature of formal reports and identify their
components • Explain the elements of style suitable for effective report
writing The Purpose of Reports
Types of Reports
Formats for Informal Reports
Types of Informal Reports FORMAL REPORTS
Report Planning
Report Design
Part 1: Preliminary Information
Part 2: Body of the Report
Part 3: References and Appendices
Report Styling
Summary 1
7 23
The Purpose of Reports
In general, reports are written because people in authority
need information. They may need information to evaluate a
procedure or a current policy, to help formulate recommendations, or to track day-to-day activities in the organization
(Figure 1). FIGURE 1—No matter what kind of
business you work in, people in
management positions will need
information from subordinates to
help them make good decisions. 1 Regardless of their size, form, or subject, all reports should
convey information thoroughly, accurately, and objectively.
To help you remember these objectives, think of the ancient
Chinese expression tao, which is translated as “a fruitful and
correct way or path.” When you’re charged with writing any
kind of report, the principle of tao, the proper way, becomes
your responsibility. Make sure your reports are
If you fail to follow the tao principle, what you provide won’t
be a report, because it won’t fulfill the objectives of a report. How Important Is the Right Information?
During the Civil War, Robert E. Lee’s
army of Northern Virginia proceeded into
Pennsylvania. General Stewart was in
command of Lee’s fast-moving cavalr y.
Lee charged Stewart with the responsibility of being the “eyes” of the army.
For a variety of reasons, Stewart was
unable to provide Lee with the information he needed. As a
result, Lee and his generals didn’t have an adequate picture of
the location or the strength of Union forces. Many historians feel
that Stewart’s failure to provide timely reports contributed significantly to the Confederate defeat at Gettysburg, which was a
turning point of the American Civil War. Types of Reports
There are two general types of reports, formal and informal.
The differences between the two, however, aren’t always clear.
In fact, there are variations of reports that fall somewhere in
between the two. Nonetheless, the characteristics in Table 1
should give you a good idea of the main differences between
the formal reports and informal reports. In this study unit,
you’ll be examining both types of reports. 2 Writing the Report TABLE 1
Characteristics of Formal and Informal Reports
Type of Report Characteristic Informal Formal Length Five pages or less More than five pages Purpose To inform or persuade To inform or persuade Readers People inside or outside the
organization People inside or outside the
organization Subject matter Less complex than a formal
report More complex than an informal report Organization Letter or memo format Formal organization with cover, title
page, letter of transmittal, table of
contents, text, works cited page, and
attachments and/or appendices Audience Generally somewhat familiar
with the writer Readers with varied backgrounds
who may not know the writer Documentation Little, if any Careful, detailed documentation Language Informal tone, but not too
casual More formal tone with careful
adherence to language usage Determining whether to use an informal report or a formal
report is usually relatively easy. For example, suppose you
want to make a suggestion to your boss about a new piece
of equipment or a new procedure for your department. Such
material would fit naturally into an informal report. On the
other hand, suppose an employee is seriously injured while
working with a machine in your department. You must prepare a report that will be read by your immediate supervisor
and other executives in your company, by representatives of
your insurance company, by the employee’s attorneys, and
by people at the employee’s insurance company. In this
report, you must include a description of the accident, why
the employee was using the machine, what caused the accident, information on the machine itself, and other related
information. This type of situation calls for a formal report. Writing the Report 3 Sometimes, the choice between formal and informal isn’t
completely clear. To help you decide on a format, consider
your audience. If your audience consists of people with whom
you’re familiar and who are familiar with the situation, then
you can probably use an informal report. If you must submit
a report to people who are unfamiliar with you and with the
topic you’re writing about, then probably a formal report
would be the better choice (Figure 2). FIGURE 2—Don’t make the
mistake of taking too casual
an approach to an audience
with which you’re unfamiliar. Formats for Informal Reports
Informal reports usually take one of three basic forms:
1. Blank form
2. Interoffice memo
3. Letter Blank Form
A blank report form is used when certain information must
be submitted on a regular basis. For example, suppose a
restaurant owner wants to keep track of certain information
about the business he conducts. To obtain this information,
he requires his waiters and waitresses to submit a report
every day at the end of their shifts. Rather than have each
employee write out a report, the owner has prepared a blank
form that the employees can complete and submit (Figure 3). 4 Writing the Report Downtown Diner
Daily Business Report Date ____________________
Employee name ____________________________________________
Hours worked ___________ to ___________ Insert appropriate number in the blanks provided below.
_______ Tables served _______ People served _______ Children served _______ Specials ordered _______ Number of people eating alone _______ Dinners returned* *Type of dinner
Reason returned
______________________________________________________________________________ FIGURE 3—This blank form could be used by a restaurant owner to track business information. Blank report forms are the simplest of the informal reports.
The writer must merely fill in the necessary blanks with the
appropriate information. Such forms are generally provided
by the organization and tailored to its unique informational
needs. This type of standardized report form is meant to
ensure that information is
• Never unintentionally omitted
• Easily located by those who have to read the form
• Clearly focused and brief Writing the Report 5 Interoffice Memorandum Form
Interoffice memos are generally used to send information
to people in the same department or to people in different
departments within the same organization. They’re the least
formal of the three types of informal reports and are often
forwarded as e-mail communications.
Since the advent
of the personal
computer and the
increased use of
e-mail, interoffice
memos have
become quite
informal. Memos should be used for information that can be covered
in one or two pages, or about three e-mail computer screens.
Anything longer than two pages should be prepared in a more
formal format. When memos are used to convey routine
information, such as the revision of a pay schedule or a
change in the procedures for reporting production, they
should be direct and to the point.
A report in the form of an interoffice memo should supply
readers with all of the facts they need to understand a body
of data or a situation. In that context, a memo typically
addresses only one main topic, such as the relevant results
of a survey, simple announcements, or conclusions and recommendations with respect to some kind of needed action. A
writer may use headings within the body of a memo if they
help to clarify the message. A writer may also insert lists if
they’re the most efficient way to summarize information. Letter Form
The classic informal report takes the form of a business
letter. Letter reports are usually longer than memos—often
exceeding two pages—and the letter format commands a
different kind of attention than a memo. For example, a letter
generally presents a somewhat more formal and courteous
approach to the message being communicated. A report in
the form of a letter may include more headings than a memo,
simply because it may be longer. Headings break up information into logical categories and make it easier for the readers
to digest the information. Like memos, reports in letter form
may contain lists—if and when lists are the most efficient
way to summarize information.
Whereas memos are generally sent to individuals within an
organization, letter reports may be intended for receivers
either inside or outside an organization. They may be used 6 Writing the Report within an organization if the subject seems too important for
a memo or if the subject demands the more commanding
look of a well-prepared letter. For example, a letter that critiques an employee’s performance or a long report on the
prospective budget for the coming fiscal year may be best
presented in letter format.
When a letter is directed to someone outside an organization,
the writer should give a bit more attention to the mechanics
involved. As in any kind of business letter, the writer should
aim for appropriate formality, a courteous style, a neat
appearance, and a positive tone. Types of Informal Reports
Reports can be created for almost any occasion on any subject imaginable. The following types of reports are the ones
you’re most likely to receive—or have to write:
• Field trip reports
• Progress and status reports
• Periodic reports
• Feasibility reports
• Troubleshooting reports Field Trip Reports
Field trip reports are frequently used
in business and industry to record
the results of on-site inspections.
Like most other types of reports,
their scope and significance determine whether they take the form of
a formal or an informal report. Field
trip reports can focus on one or two
operational problems or on a wide range of operational concerns. They may be critical, or they may be positive. Writing the Report 7 Here are the types of topics that would be appropriate for a
field trip report:
• Safety conditions at a plant
• Damage to shipments of storage sheds
• Employee complaints about management
• The overall management picture, including procedures,
policy adherence, and the morale of managers
• Operation of a new piece of equipment
• Methods to improve shipping time
Field reports can cover general topics like those just mentioned, or they may deal with a specific situation in your
organization. No matter what the topic, a field report usually
includes five kinds of information, generally in the order
given below:
1. Purpose of your inspection or inquiry
2. Identity of the site or facility
3. Description of your investigation
4. Your results, including what you observed and under
what conditions
5. Your conclusions and recommendations
Purpose of the inspection or inquiry. To familiarize your
readers with the situation, begin any field trip report with a
brief description of the purpose of the investigation. Doing
so helps to focus your report for you and for your readers.
The field trip report in memo form (Figure 4) states the purpose in one concise statement: “To investigate the causes of
employee problems and reduced work output in a shop of the
Jemco Company.”
Identity of the site or facility. Clearly identifying the site
of an investigation is especially important when you’ve been
sent to check out several different sites. However, even if
you’re examining only one site for a single purpose, you
should still identify the site under consideration. Identifying
the site is part of making sure your report is thorough—the
first part of the tao principle. Including a description will also
help in the future when you look back on the report. You’ll
know exactly which site you were evaluating. 8 Writing the Report Description of your investigation. The description of
your investigation is crucial. It lets your reader know how
you collected your data and under what conditions. For
example, if you gathered your information through interviews, you should explain what questions were asked, of
whom they were asked, why they were asked, when they
were asked, and even, at times, where they were asked.
For example, interviews conducted during short work
breaks may not be as fruitful as those conducted during
the lunch break or in a meeting with several interviewees.
Remember that a field report is intended to provide timely
and useful information to the reader. If your description of
the investigation is inadequate, you’re forcing the reader to
see the situation either dimly or inaccurately. Inaccurate
understanding on the part of your readers may lead to poor
management decisions and inappropriate outcomes.
The description of your investigation doesn’t have to be long,
but it should definitely include the who, what, when, where,
and why—as well as the time it took to conduct your investigation. Overall, your description should follow the second
and third parts of the tao principle—that is, it should be
accurate and objective.
Your results. The results of your investigation should follow
naturally after the description of how you conducted your
study. In the results section, record the data you collected,
such as the summary of answers to a questionnaire, conditions you observed, negative attitudes revealed through interviews, numbers of units produced per unit time, and so on.
List your results in a manner similar to that in Figure 4.
Use appropriate facts and figures to address each topic or
problem covered in the report. Your results will be the basis
of any conclusions or recommendations drawn from your
investigation; therefore, they should obviously be thorough,
accurate, and objective.
Conclusions and recommendations. The bottom line of
your report is revealed in your conclusions and recommendations. Although you should base your conclusions on the
facts you’ve gathered, you may also indicate your interpretation of the data, including any feelings or hunches you may
have about it. In a classic film, Fail-Safe, the president of the
United States is on the hot line with the Soviet premier. Writing the Report 9 The president directs his translator to interpret not only the
premier’s words but also his sense of the feelings or suggestions that he detects “between the lines.” In other words, a
good report should include your best judgment and your
insight into the problems you’ve investigated.
Finally, your conclusions should lead to your recommendations for some action or actions to address the problem. In
Figure 4, the conclusions section is a brief paragraph stating
that Shop No. 6 is too small to handle the number of employees who must work there. A list of specific recommendations
follows the conclusions.
DATE: August 23, 2002 TO: Mr. Frank Reese FROM: George Frankl SUBJECT: Reduced Work Output Purpose
To investigate the causes of employee problems and reduced work output in a shop of the Jemco
Company. Identity of Facility
Shop # 6, Jemco Company Description of Investigation
On visiting the site over a period of 12 workdays, I examined the tools, equipment, general facilities, and production records. I spent one full week observing all shop operations, and I interviewed
all employees and their supervisor. To conduct the interviews, I scheduled employees in groups of
three throughout the workday. We used a small conference room, conveniently located for all
employees. My main purpose in conducting the interviews was to gain insight into the problems
from the employees’ point of view. A list of the questions asked is attached to this report. Results
My investigation identified the following problems:
1. The shop employs 82 employees when it has room for only 52.
2. Equipment blocks doors, creating a fire hazard.
3. Work quality is often poor because equipment has to be shared by too many workers.
4. Because equipment is distributed on a first-come, first-served basis, it’s often hoarded by
a few workers.
FIGURE 4—Sample Field Trip Report in Memo Format 10 Writing the Report Reese—2 5. The use of only one supervisor in a shop of such diversified operations as Shop # 6 has
resulted in inefficient supervision.
6. Inefficient supervision has resulted in poor work habits among employees. Conclusions
In brief, Shop # 6 of the Jemco Company is large enough for only 52 people. It is too small to
accommodate the 82 employees who must work there. Tempers are short, morale is low, and
working conditions are generally poor. The result is substandard work. While we once led this
industry in the area around Shop # 6, we now trail our two local competitors both in sales and
in work submitted to us for repair. Recommendations
1. Add another time shift to the one now in effect in Shop # 6.
2. Require the shop supervisor to conduct weekly safety checks so that fire exits are clear and
fire extinguishers are fully charged.
3. Build a tool crib at each end of the room, in addition to the existing crib along the left wall.
Maintain a complete set of tools in each crib under the supervision of one person whose sole
responsibility is to dispense tools. Develop a system to record the tools borrowed. Include the
name of the borrower, the date the tool is borrowed, and the date it’s returned.
4. Hold each worker responsible to return tools immediately after he or she is finished with
them. Any worker who has not returned tools after a reasonable amount of time should be
charged for them. The person in charge of the tool crib will determine the amount of time
each worker is allowed to use tools.
5. Hire two assistant supervisors. These two individuals, plus the one supervisor in charge,
should divide their time between the present shift and the new shift recommended above.
At least one supervisor or assistant supervisor should be on duty at all times.
6. Direct the supervisor on duty to focus on production efficiency and quality.
7. Reassess the situation in two years. If output hasn’t increased and if employee problems
haven’t decreased, consider expanding the shop area.
FIGURE 4—Continued Writing the Report 11 Progress Reports
Progress reports generally give
accounts of work that’s currently
being worked on, but isn’t yet completed. These reports are typically
intended for managers who are
responsible for tracking a project,
so they can plan to provide or set
aside necessary resources such as
time, people, space, and equipment. Progress reports are also
intended to be a quick way to catch problems early. Problems
that go unresolved may produce a ripple effect that can influence costs, time schedules, personnel needs, and other kinds
of operational factors.
If you must write a progress report on a project for which
you’re responsible, that report can serve two purposes. First,
it informs your readers of your progress so they can plan
what they must do to complete it (Figure 5). Second, your
report can be a self-check on how much remains to be done,
how much time will be involved in reaching a completion
date, and just what resources are needed to get the job done.
In effect, a progress report can benefit both the person who
prepares it and the person who reads it. FIGURE 5—If you’re asked to
write a progress report, make
sure to include information
that will be helpful to your
reader. When I asked for a progress report,
George, that’s not exactly what I had in mind. 12 Writing the Report The basic concern of most progress reports is time. Project
managers want to know how much has been done, how
much is currently being accomplished, and how much
remains to be done. A good progress report considers the
past, the present, and the future and should include the
following items:
• Summary/overview of the whole project
• Summary of work already completed
• Description of work currently under way
• Estimate of the work remaining
• Final recommendations Status Reports
Status reports are very similar to
progress reports. In some organizations, they may even mean the same
thing. Think about it for a minute.
When you report on the status of a
project, you’re usually accounting for
the progress of that project.
The main difference between a status report and a progress
report lies mainly in their emphasis. A progress report relates
the past, present, and future of a project; a status report
focuses more on the present condition of a project. A progress
report is about change over a given time; a status report is
about current conditions.
To make sure you place the emphasis on the correct factor,
you must organize your material properly. For example, in
a progress report, you should distribute information evenly
over these topics: work completed, work in progress, and
work yet to be completed. In a status report, on the other
hand, you should focus on current conditions, providing a
wealth of specific detail. You might then add observations
about work completed and work remaining. Writing the Report When developing a


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