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Written Reports

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Written reports are frequently used to convey information within the workplace. Reports can be informal (e-mails, memos, letters, etc.) or formal. This module focuses on formal reports.

 

Online Practice

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What is a report?

All reports have the same purpose: to convey information. Reports differ from essays in two main ways.

  • The purpose of a report is to convey information, while the purpose of an essay is to demonstrate your knowledge of the subject and writing skills.
  • The information in a report will usually be new to the reader, while the information in an essay may already be known.

There are two basic kinds of report.

  • Informational reports tell the reader about a topic. They present information without analysis or recommendations. The report writer's task is to select and emphasise the relevant facts clearly and concisely.
  • Analytical reports tell the reader to do something. They analyse and interpret data and make recommendations. The report writer's task is to select and emphasise the facts and arguments that support the recommendations.

One of the first questions to ask yourself is: What kind of report are you writing?

 

Essays and reports

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Preparing a report

The process of preparing a report begins long before you begin writing. The key questions to begin with are:

  • What is the purpose of your report?
  • Who is the report written for?
  • What are the key points of information that you want your reader to take away?

 

Preparing a report

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Sections of a report

Formal reports also take many forms depending on the field and topic. Many companies and organisations have their own house styles for reports. Formal reports are usually divided into sections with numbered headings. Although report formats vary, most reports contain the following sections.

Title page

Apart from the title of the report, which should give a clear idea of the topic of the report, a title page usually includes:

  • Your name and position
  • The name of the person or group that the report is addressed to
  • The names of anyone else the report is distributed to
  • The date

Contents

The contents page should list the main section headings of the report with page numbers. It may also list the tables and figures in the report.

Executive summary

A good executive summary allows a busy reader to get the main points of the report without reading the whole report. It should be short and should include:

  • The purpose of the report
  • The problem or issues dealt with and the main points of discussion
  • The conclusions of the report
  • Any recommendations made

The executive summary comes at the beginning of the report, but it is a good idea to write it after you have finished writing the whole report.

Introduction

The introduction explains the background to the report, its purpose and the points covered. A good introduction will be short and will help to guide the reader.

Main body

The main body of the report should contain a clear explanation of what you have discovered and how you have found it out. It is often divided into sections with headings that describe the topics covered. Another way to divide up the main body is:

  • Procedure - what you did
  • Findings - what you have found out
  • Discussion - relating what you have found out to what the reader already knows

Many reports contain tables and figures. Each table or figure should have a caption containing a number and a title. You should only include tables and figures which contribute to the information you want to convey. It is not necessary to summarise all the information in a table in your text, but you should always explain the main points illustrated in the text following the table.

Conclusion

This contains the conclusions you draw from the information presented in the main body of the report. Conclusions should be firmly and briefly stated. You should not introduce new information.

Recommendations

Recommendations are suggestions for actions or changes. They should be specific rather than general. If the purpose of the report is simply to present information on a topic for discussion, a recommendations section may not be necessary.

Bibliography

A report may contain references or recommendations for reading in a bibliography. A bibliography may not be necessary, however. In reports, full references to readings introduced in the text are often given as footnotes.

Appendices

Appendices may include tables, texts, graphs, diagrams, photographs, questionnaires, etc. You should put these in an appendix when placing them in the main body of the report would interrupt the process of reading. Items in an appendices should be referred to somewhere in the main body. If you do not need to refer to them in the main body, you might think about whether you need to include them at all.

 

 

 

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Report formats

A formal report should be formatted so that it is easy to read and looks professional. Microsoft Word and other word-processing packages can help you to:

  • Use attractive fonts and page layouts
  • Insert page numbers
  • Automatically number headings
  • Draw tables and figures
  • Automatically number table and figure captions and insert references to them in the text
  • Generate a table of contents and lists of tables and figures.

Before you produce your report, spend some time reading the help information provided with your word-processor to find out how to use these features.

If you use Microsoft Word, you may also use a report template, which will give you a basic layout for a professional report before you start writing.

 

This module is adapted from materials written by English Centre Staff for the Business Communication (BBA), EAC (Economics and Finance), PROTECH and Writing on the Job courses.

 

 

 


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